The Final Final Word

This is my final "Final Word." Although, combined with the announcement of J. Gordon Holt's resignation, this will undoubtedly cause rumors to swirl about Emap Petersen forcing all the old guys out, I assure you that my departure is of my own volition. It's a process that started back in 1997, when John Atkinson and I first talked about selling Stereophile, and for me it reaches its conclusion here.

I never thought, when I entered the publishing world back in 1982, that my stay would last this long, or result in my being part of such a great community. My preceding 15 years, following an undergraduate degree from Harvard, had been spent in the unlikely realm of auto repair. I hadn't despaired that I'd be turning wrenches forever, but I also hadn't suspected that a chance introduction to JGH would change my whole life.

Back in 1978, Gordon had been attending a product presentation of the Hill Plasmatronics loudspeaker in Philadelphia, where he lived at the time. Alan Hill, the inventor of the plasma-discharge loudspeaker and a resident of Carnuel, New Mexico, was intrigued to hear that Gordon would soon be moving to Santa Fe, and told him to look me up. (I'd helped Alan out by lending him my first high-end amplifier, a Threshold 800 (which did a significantly better job of driving the Plasmatronics' low end than did his own Ampzilla). When Gordon's move to Santa Fe was accomplished, he wasted little time in inviting me over for "a little bit of din-din." At the time, most of what I knew about Stereophile had come from the pages of The Abso!ute Sound, which spoke—both critically and fondly—of "Ye Olde Editor," as JGH was then known. Stereophile itself was little distributed and infrequently published, so my chances of seeing the real thing were slight.

Stereophile was strictly a family affair in those days; Gordon's late wife, Polly, handled the subscriptions, and "Editor and Chief Drudge" Holt did most of the writing. I helped out by moving product around the listening room, and occasionally writing about some of it. Eventually, my desire to leave the auto-repair business coincided with Gordon's inability to keep Stereophile going on his own, and at 6pm on February 28, 1982—while on my way out of town to play in a volleyball tournament—I handed JGH a small check for the rights to try to get Stereophile back on its feet. I didn't have limited publishing experience—I had no publishing experience. For quite some time after that, I felt I'd found the only occupation at which it was more difficult to make a living than auto repair.

I've been enormously fortunate in running into the right people over the years to help me make a go of it. I met Sam Tellig at a publishing conference in late 1982; his contributions in the area of subscription promotion have enabled Stereophile to find most of you, and his writing has always been the magazine's most popular.

In the summer of 1984 another chance introduction enabled me to sign up Ken Nelson, the High End's most-productive-ever ad salesperson, followed closely by someone who remains on our sales staff, Laura LoVecchio. (Advertising pages create the space for editorial pages—sometimes to savage the very products advertised!)

My introduction to John Atkinson, too, reflected great good fortune. An acquaintance of his, the late Steve Watkinson, was also a contributor to Stereophile, and one fall night in 1985 he suggested I give John a call. Through May 1986, JA was editor of England's Hi-Fi News & Record Review—at the time acknowledged by most competitors as the best hi-fi magazine in the English language. Steve knew that we were onto a good thing with the revival of Stereophile, but he also knew that our in-house editorial skills could get us only so far.

My call came at a good time for John, and he accepted my offer of the position of editor. I was stunned. Stereophile then had a circulation of 25,000, and was still just about as "underground" as you could get. At the time, Audio had a circulation of 140,000 and Stereo Review around 500,000. And here was I, getting the editor of the best hi-fi magazine in the world to move from London to the boondocks of the American southwest!

A better move I never made. None of the people whose contributions I've valued comes close in importance to John Atkinson. If Gordon founded the magazine, and announced to the world the basic editorial precept that the magazine still today practices—evaluating sound-reproduction products on the basis of how they sound in a reviewer's home—then John was the future. Almost every writer we have was hired by John—in fact, every writer, if you figure in the goings and comings-back of Sam Tellig. The basic structure of the magazine, the progress we've made combining measured reality with heard reality—in short, everything you see on these printed pages—can be laid at his feet.

John and I have worked fabulously well together at Stereophile—he to create the best editorial product he can, me to focus on promotion and business growth. With the sale of the magazine to Petersen, the business fortunes are now on the shoulders of others, but in John Atkinson's hands the editorial product is safe indeed—not safe to stay the same, but safe to grow and change to meet the needs of its readers.

It's not easy to take my leave, even though it's a leave of my own choosing. I've made a few enemies within the industry over the years, but overall I couldn't have asked for a more friendly, more welcoming, more committed group of people to work within. This is a truly great community. The manufacturers, the magazine writers and editors, and, for the most part, the retailers, are committed people. They love sound reproduction, and they love it best when it gets better.

Most intensely, I'll miss all of you—your letters, your outrage, your praise, your eloquent discourses, your frequent conflict with one another. For a publisher and a writer, as I've been privileged to be, it's like visiting an ever-renewable spring of life-giving water. You're the best readers in the world.