ONE DECADE LATER
A New Introduction to ZIP Beep (1984-1989)
by Chuck Strinz
When I bought that first 300 baud modem in 1982, life changed.
I was a freelance copywriter. My overhead was low, save for mileage driving to and from several Twin Cities ad agencies, plus the $2400 I spent on an Osborne "portable" computer (26 lbs.) and a NEC dot matrix printer. I carried my office with me, a smug hired gun, ready to bring order out of chaos when given a pile of information and a door I could close.
The Hayes 300 came on a winter day when the thermometer dropped below minus 30 degrees. My home was warm. Most of my clients had Apple IIs or those first generation IBMs with 64K on the motherboard. Nobody believed I could send ad copy to their corporate computer from mine if only they would buy a modem. And faxes were little more than a wiggling gleam in QUME's eye.
Through a complicated set of circumstances not worth detailing here, one year later I found myself establishing an online home mortgage database for real estate professionals. This grew into an email system I used with my ad agency clients. Several new online business ventures ensued. One gave me the opportunity to produce a syndicated online humor magazine -- the first, I believe, in the world.
I was always partial to pioneering things. I realized in college that I would not write the Great American Novel. It had been written. Several times. So, after earning my BA in English (UICC, 1976), I began working for an ad agency in Chicago while pursuing graduate studys in filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1978, I entered into my filmmaking training. This was about four hours before the video revolution hit. So much for timing.
But in 1983, online communications (or videotex, or modeming, or BBSing, or any of a number of quixotic terms we used to describe the something-or-other we were doing), was a fresh pallet.
ZIP Beep was a natural outgrowth -- more of a marriage, really -- of my desire to explore this new medium and my existentially profound experience of having created an "underground newspaper" while a high school senior in a small conservative Nebraska town (c. 1970).
I could wax on. But I'll spare you. The relevant facts are these:
ZIP Beep started in 1984. Its final issue was compiled in 1989.
For much of its life, it was syndicated to 150+ Bulletin Board Systems in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, via the BBS Press Service, transcendental brainchild of Alan Bechtold (who has neater stuff cookin' these days).
There was some "high tech" humor in ZIP Beep, but I tried to limit it, just as I tried to appeal to a widespread audience while retaining a Minnesota flavor.
Much of the humor was topical. You'll see a lot of Reagan jokes. (I hope to provide backgrounders in hypertext at some time in the future. But, well, you know how these things go.) Dated material can be interesting precisely because it is dated, as with the Leno interview when he was a frequent Letterman guest, and the Seinfeld interview before he met Kramer. And what humor publication could be without a Top Ten List ripoff? In ZIP Beep's case, though, it actually pre-dates Letterman's.
(BTW, all of the addresses and phone numbers have long since passed into other hands or oblivion, as you may well imagine. They, and various other references in ZIP Beep articles, are included here for the dual sakes of historical accuracy and anal compulsion.)
Some articles are good, a few are great, some stink. Some may be offensive in today's politically correct culture. Like Eco-Bum. Others bothered people back then, which was part of ZIP Beep's reason for being. I was heartened, occasionally, when certain people rose above it all to compliment me despite (and sometimes because) they belonged to a group that was at the heart of a joke. One night, after I spoke to a computer user group, an assistant to John Cardinal Roach told me he had fielded a complaint from someone who missed the satire in U.S. GOVERNMENT BOUNTY HUNTERS WANTED (ZIP Beep #14), and expressed wonderment at the guy's ignorance.
The funny thing is, I thought I was living in oppressive times back then! I tried to walk the fine line between subversion and banality. This is why I told the writers to give me "articles you wouldn't be afraid to show to your mother, assuming your mother is a little bit twisted."
Some articles are missing (notably all of Issues #31 and #33). Please help if you happen to have copies, I find their absence personally painful and embarrassing.
Formatting is inconsistent but (I hope) not too bad. This was in the days when ASCII was the only practical format for wide distribution, and I have tried to keep that spirit by not adding a bunch of HTML bells and whistles.
Certainly not of least importance is the fact that ZIP Beep involved the efforts of many people. While I take pride in having created and driven it, I would be remiss were I not to credit them for their direct and indirect contributions.
My wife, Kathy Rice, endured my inattention in the week or so before every monthly (and, while I was insane, twice-monthly) issue. This was typically on the third Friday of each month.
Numerous people wrote articles for ZIP Beep. Some of my favorite writers were Ed Eubanks, Gary Finseth, The One True Steve Anderson, Peter Leppik, and the incredibly wry Dennis Wallaker. I have lost track of many of them. (I would still like to take Dennis to lunch, if I could find him.) But I will gladly provide links to the URL or email box of anybody involved who apprises me of same.
Ray Douglas (a.k.a. Radio Ray) of TCCN was a fellow pioneer, and although our trails have diverged, he continues to hold my respect.
Ron Berry is my former "boss" from US West, former associate from Interface Partners, LLC & several sister companies (including Gizmode Databank, LLC), and continuing friend in this odd thing we call life. He went to bat for me more than once.
Harvey Kurtzman's HELP magazine inspired me to push the envelope. Dennis Kitchen didn't respond when I requested an interview, even though he lives one state away, but I admire his creative and business acumen anyway. Cap'n Billy's Whiz Bang was a magazine before my time with a title I liked. I still have pristine, early editions of the National Lampoon, Rip Off Press comix, and reprints of MAD Magazine from the Kurtzman days. But The Firesign Theatre remains the essential well of everything I hold humorously dear, and the source of the name "ZIP Beep" (Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers, side 2). Check them out. I understand Rhino has rereleased most of their early material, in case you get a hankerin' to visit your local CD store.
Finally, and most emphatically, I must thank Don Fitzwater. Don and I were introduced by phone when I called him at 9AM after he didn't show up for an 8:00 interview. I was interested in joining his comedy troupe and had responded to a newspaper ad. Unfortunately, 8:00 meant 8PM. Geeze! Theater people! My mistake. Geeze.
Don went on to write many articles for ZIP Beep, become its associate editor and chief organizer, and do me the great service of creating a formidable position for himself in the development of interactive media while providing me with professional assistance and personal friendship that goes beyond description. Don, we should get together for beers more often.
ZIP Beep was a labor of love. It brought in some small advertising revenues, but never paid for itself directly. Indirectly, however, it was responsible for getting me a lot of advertising and other writing work. I still do that stuff. Send email to me (email@example.com) for details about my services and fees.
And now.....forward into the past!
April 19, 1996
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