Before there were cell phones, before there were laptops, before there were PCs, there was Wayne Green, a ham radio enthusiast turned magazine publisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Starting in the early 1960s with an army of can-do, build-it-yourself amateur radio fans behind him, Green encouraged readers of 73 magazine (73 means "best regards" in ham radio lingo), his first and longest-lived publication, to push the limits on the electronic bits and pieces that would evolve into today's e-mail systems, cellular networks and PCs.
Green was there at the dawn of the microcomputer revolution, committed to two ideas that were novelties at the time: that home enthusiasts could build and program their own computers, and that they'd be willing to subscribe to magazines and buy books that told them how to do so.
He was one of the world's first microcomputer software distributors -- his Instant Software company sold reader-submitted programs that could be loaded automatically from cassette tapes. He predicted the rise of the "pico" computer, better known as the laptop. And he encouraged his readers to build a grass-roots wireless telephony network -- a nationwide array of amateur radio repeater towers that was the precursor to today's cellular networks.
Starting in 1975, Green built a small publishing empire in rural Peterborough, N.H., that included the magazines BYTE, Kilobaud (later called Microcomputing), 80-Micro (for enthusiasts of the TRS-80), inCider (for Apple II fans), Hot CoCo (TRS-80 Color Computers) and RUN (Commodore-64).
He rubbed elbows with high-tech elites such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and met international figures such as King Hussein of Jordan, an amateur radio buff.
Then he abruptly sold out -- in 1983, to IDG (Computerworld's parent company) for $16 million -- and, he says, never looked back.
Green went on to found a few shorter-lived publications -- Pico, for laptops, and Tele, which covered the nascent cellular industry -- as well as CD Review, which helped establish the compact disc as the successor to the music LP. Later still, he founded Cold Fusion Journal, covering the controversial field of "tabletop" nuclear energy, a subject about which he remains passionate. All titles have since ceased publication, with 73 magazine finally folding in 2003 after a 43-year run.
Now 86, Green lives in a 250-year-old farmhouse on 200 acres along the back roads of Hancock, N.H., from which he runs Wayne Green Books, a cottage business that offers titles such as The Secret Guide to Health and Moondoggle -- Apollo Hoax Expose.
Famous for his outspoken editorials over the years, Green's views have, if anything, become more controversial. A self-proclaimed "conspiracy factist," Green is convinced that man never set foot on the moon, that cell phones cause brain tumors, that the foods we eat are toxic, that the IRS and the Federal Reserve should be abolished, and that big oil has undermined efforts to prevent the development of cold fusion as a cheap and unlimited source of energy for America.
For all that, Green is not a pessimist, nor is he wallowing in the past. For him, only what's ahead matters. "I'm always impatient with [the pace of] new technologies. I live mostly in the future," he says.
Computerworld national correspondent Robert L. Mitchell, who formerly worked for Green, caught up with Green at his farmhouse to look back on his role in the computer revolution; to find out what the upbeat entrepreneur, visionary and high-tech publisher has been doing since; and to hear what comes next.
Your first exposure to technology was with amateur radio. How did that come about?
In 1936, I went to Sunday school, and a fellow came in with a box of radio parts and said, "Do you want these?" I said, "You bet." So I took them home. There was an article in Popular Mechanics on how to build a cigar box radio. So I built it and it worked. It changed my life.
[Later] I was an engineer at WPIX New York. While I was there, I [asked] permission to have a ham station on the top of the building. It was a 38-story building, and boy, did I have a line of sight from the top of the building.
Can you talk about how you promoted teletype over ham radio messaging, which was really a precursor to e-mail?
At the top end of the ham band, I heard these strange noises. Someone said, "That's Johnny Williams in Flushing with his hand teletype." So I went out to see him and the next thing you know I built a converter for a ham teletype. It was like e-mail is today, where you can send a message to anyone that can receive you. It turned on the printer automatically, received the message, and then turned everything off and sent a little "beep-beep" acknowledging the message.