How time flies. 20 years ago this month I left Timber Trades Journal, the award-winning weekly business periodical, to join respected AV editor Steve May as his deputy editor for a new magazine launch – Home Cinema Choice (HCC). After a lot of hard work getting the editorial balance right and ensuring it looked the business, the fabulous first issue finally hit newsstands in September of 1995, and boy did the AV industry love it!
Sister title to AV stalwart What Video, HCC tapped into the new consumer appetite for home cinema (hence the name!), with reviews of new kit, features, how-to articles and VHS reviews.
Yes, this was the time of video tape, CRT televisions and Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound – three or four years before DVD and flatscreen TVs turned AV on its head. It was also pre-internet – in the offices of WV Publications at least – so all AV press releases would come to us via Royal Mail! Seems a long, long time ago…
And although HCC was designed using Quark Xpress, the then industry standard, every image in the mag had to be scanned low-res, meaning that they had to be pasted to a page printout and sent down to the printer for hi-res scanning (and most images were transparencies too!). This, of course, led to mistakes: the wrong image scanned in or – horrors! –the magazine being printed with a low-res scan (basically because the image went missing between design/production department and printhouse). Fun and games!
I eventually moved on to oversee other AV titles – Home Entertainment, What Home Cinema, What Plasma & LCD, What DVD, What HDTV – and my own trade title, Home Cinema Digest (HCD) – before launching Bigger Boat PR in 2009 (itself very much geared towards consumer and pro AV). But while all these and many other AV mags have fallen by the wayside, HCC keeps on truckin’ under the watchful editorship of Mark Craven, alongside sister titles Hi-Fi Choice (HFC) – itself hitting 400 issues next month – and Hi-Fi News. But it’s been something of a bumpy ride!
Something of a nomad, HCC started life at WV Publications, run by the somewhat maverick Alan Smith. Based in Camden, next door to the office of dance pioneers Soul II Soul, WV would not pass health and safety today. A rabbit’s warren of small rooms, with very few windows and gaffer-taped carpet, WV’s fire exit was often restricted by an unhappy neighbour who disliked the idea that we’d all climb into his garden to escape the smoke and flames. Working conditions weren’t great then, but what a great time we all had working there. Many an AV journo and PR started their careers at WV, and although he was a pain to have around the office, we’ve all got Alan Smith to thank, in part, for our subsequent working lives.
Favourite memories? Playing multi-player Doom at lunchtime on very slow, stuttering Macs (although Steve’s or course ran smoothly, aiding his regular wins!); dressing up as Judge Dredd for a HCC photo shoot; drinking in Camden’s various pubs in the lovely summer of ’96 (Football’s Coming Home…); WV’s legendarily Christmas parties; amazing office camaraderie.
Smith eventually sold WV to Highbury House (becoming Highbury-WV), which is where I returned, as a freelance editor to join Steve May again in launching What Home Cinema, HCC’s budget younger brother, in 2002. We also launched What Plasma & LCD TV, before Highbury was swallowed up by Future Publishing – somewhat ironic as one of my previous titles, Home Entertainment, had been sold by Felix Dennis to Future, alongside Hi-Fi Choice, half a dozen years previously, ultimately leading to my decision to go freelance. Now I was back again with the Future crew, this time as a freelance editor.
But the HCC story doesn’t end there. Towards the end of 2009, Future realised that the future (no pun intended!) of tech mags was online, and decided to either outsource or sell its clutch of ‘specialist’ AV mags. These included HCC, What Home Cinema, What Video, What Satellite & TV, What Plasma & LCD and HFC. I’d recently let go of the reins of What Plasma in order to launch Bigger Boat PR, but that didn’t stop Future approaching me to ask if I could head-up some or all of the mags on a contract basis out of my Lyme Regis office – something I’d already been doing for a couple of years with What Plasma. Ultimately the Future board decided that this approach wasn’t viable, and decided to sell. Asked if I was interested, by now I was too busy with Bigger Boat PR and in any case had grown tired of publishing having seen my trade title, HCD, stutter and die in the wake of the banking crisis.
In the end, My Hobby Store (AKA My Time Media), publishers of The Woodworker, Homemade with Love, Horse, Military Modelling and others, snapped up HCC, What Satellite and HFC (they’d not long since acquired Hi-Fi News, so it was a good fit). HCC dep ed Mark Craven took over at the helm as long-time editor Steve May finally went freelance after 15 years, and ex-HFC staff writer Lee Dunkley was bought in as editor of the sibling hi-fi title after initially editing What Satellite, which unfortunately folded. (Lee had also been my dep ed on Home Entertainment and freelance reviews ed on What Home Cinema years before.) And it has to be said that My Time Media are doing an incredible job with both HCC and HFC.
So 20 years on, a lot has changed, but it’s surprising how much hasn’t changed. Many of the original writers still contribute to HCC, including editor Steve May, one-time dep ed (Big) Johnny Archer and ex-What Video editors Adrian Justins and Danny Phillips. And HFC retains many of the writers who have contributed to the title throughout its 400 editions – and what a milestone that is! Indeed, you may have seen one or two opinion pieces, reviews and features penned by yours truly in this most excellent hi-fi publication. I hope to also contribute to Home Cinema Choice again soon, if Mark can find room for another HCC old boy.
Happy 20th birthday Home Cinema Choice. Thanks for opening the AV door for me all those years ago.
By Bigger Boat PR Chief of Police Rob Lane – still lovin’ AV and hi-fi after all these years