This page contains interviews to people that have been involved in CreatiVision-related projects during the 1980's.
The list or interviews will increase in the future.

Interview with Jamieson "Jim" Rowe | May 2015

Jim RoweI contacted Jim as suggested by Mr Dick Smith a few months ago. Jim was the Technical Director at Dick Smith Electronics between 1980 and 1984. He managed and produced several projects, including writing the programming books "Fun Way into Computers with your Wizzard" and "An introduction to home computing with Funvision".

Jim was more than happy to share his memories and stories with the CreatiVision and the Wizzard fans through the CreatiVEmu website. I would like to publicly thank him for this and wish him all the best!


Luca: What were the circumstances of your joining Dick Smith Electronics (DSE), and can you tell us a little of your professional background?

Jim: I joined the staff of the magazine "Radio, TV and Hobbies" in 1960, while I was doing a university course (part-time) in electronics. Then when the magazine changed its name to "Electronics Australia" in 1965, I was appointed its Editor (under Editor-in-Chief Neville Williams). I remained in this position until late 1979, writing articles in the magazine as well as a few magazine-format books on the Fundamentals of Solid State electronics, Digital Electronics and building a baby learning computer (the EDUC-8) which I had designed. However in late 1979 I was becoming restless.
Our largest advertiser at that time was Dick Smith, who visited the magazine office from time to time to find out about our latest construction projects (so his firm could decide whether they would market kits for them).
At that time Dick was building a large office and warehouse complex in North Ryde, and I learned that they would be moving their head office to the new facility as soon as it was finished. They were also starting to get involved with personal computers, and Dick asked if I was interested in joining his company as its "Technical Director". It seemed to be an opportunity too good to miss (especially as the salary was significantly higher than my salary at the magazine). So I joined DSE in early February 1980, at the North Ryde head office.

Luca: What was your initial role at DSE, and can you mention some of the assignments you had?

Jim: My initial role was mainly to evaluate samples of new products (especially small computers, peripherals and other technical products) obtained from overseas, in order to help Dick decide whether they would be good products to market in Australia. However this role quickly grew, since many of the products had little or no documentation. So before long I was also writing User Manuals and Technical/Servicing Manuals for quite a few of these products. I think this began with the Exidy Sorcerer CP/M based microcomputer, and continued with products like the System-80 (a Taiwan knock-off of the Tandy TRS-80) and the VZ-200 and VZ-300 (from Hong Kong).
With these latter products I gained the further role of commissioning and testing useful software that we could sell to support them.

Luca: I know that BASIC programs released on cassette tape mostly came from VTech in Hong Kong, whereas there were a few of them produced locally by DSE. How did you manage the commissioning and testing activities? Were the programmers in-house at DSE or consultants?

Jim: I think you're right in proposing that some of the software was produced at Video Technology in HK - mainly the games. We had to produce the more serious software ourselves, and most of this was done for us by contractors. I can't remember all of their names, but some of them may be in your listing.
All I did was test them out and see if there were any bugs (and if they were, arranging for the contractor to fix them) before we arranged for them to be prepared for sale in DSE's stores.

Luca: What software programs and methods did you use to create the books and their layouts?

Jim: From memory, I used a System 80 microcomputer (fitted with two 5" floppy disc drives) to write most of the books, using a simple word processor program. The text files were passed to DSE's in-house advertising department, where we had a phototypesetter and quite a few layout artists - plus a skilled photographer.

Luca: What memories do you have about the "Fun Way into Computers Using Your Wizzard" book, and about Sue Robinson, its co-author?

Jim: My memory is a bit vague about this, but I think we first made contact with Sue Robinson when I needed some assistance in preparing some of the user manuals and software manuals for the VZ-200 and VZ-300. Sue proved to be very capable as a technical writer, and as a result we also used her in preparing some of the later books.
I don't remember much about the "Fun Way into Computers Using your Wizzard" book, but I think we asked Sue to adapt the material in a similar earlier book she and I had produced, directed towards the VZ-200 and VZ-300.

Luca: Can you recall why the Wizzard book was re-released as "An Introduction to Home Computing with Funvision"?

Jim: I can't really remember the reason for this, but I think it may have been because Dick felt that the Funvision needed to be seen as not just an el-cheapo video game, but an easy way of learning about personal computers as well.

Luca: Do you remember the reasons behind DSE starting to sell the Funvision at the same time as the Wizzard was still popular?

Jim: Again, I can't quite remember the reasons for this - sorry!

Luca: What was your last job assignment at DSE, why did you leave, and what projects you faced after leaving DSE?

click to enlargeJim: Not long before I left DSE (in mid-1984, I think), Dick had sold a half-interest in the company to major retailer Woolworths. Before this Marketing Director Gary Johnston had also left, to acquire and rebuild the electronics supplier Jaycar Electronics (which he did with great success). I was asked to take over the Marketing role, but I soon learned that I was very poor at this.
Then I was approached by the publisher of "Electronics Today" magazine at Federal Publishing, asking if I would be interested in taking over the position of Managing Editor for that magazine and two others: "Your Computer" and "Sonics". So I accepted, leaving DSE and joining Federal Publishing in Rosebery.
Before long FPC also purchased my old magazine "EA" from Fairfax/Sungravure, so it was added to my responsibilities.
However not long after this management made quite a few changes, and I found myself without a job.
Luckily within a few weeks I was approached by Owen Hill, who had just gone public with his firm Microbee Computers. Owen offered me the job of Technical Writer, which I accepted (I had a family and there were lots of bills to pay).
Anyway, to cut the story short I wrote various documents for Microbee (also becoming Advertising Manager as well), but the company struck trouble within about 18 months. Then I was approached by Michael Hannan, the MD of Federal Publishing, asking if I would like my old job back as Managing Editor of EA and ETI (which were being merged). This was mainly because my old magazine colleague Leo Simpson had left to start up his own electronics magazine "Silicon Chip".
So before long I was back at Federal Publishing, which had moved to Alexandria.
I worked at EA again until 1999, when management decided that I was a bit too old and inflexible. So they pushed me into an early retirement, and I became a freelance contributing writer. However the magazine didn't last much longer (after they had revised and updated it), and the contributing work dried up.
Luckily my old colleague Leo Simpson had achieved great success with his magazine Silicon Chip, and I was able to keep earning a crust contributing to his magazine. And that's the situation today, I'm happy to say.

I hope these answers are of interest, Luca, and best wishes.

Jim Rowe