Ken Pohlmann interviews himself. Again.
We continue our discussion with Mr. Pohlmann to get his faulty recollections of his early days at the magazine.
Your first Signals column appeared in Stereo
Review in March, 1989. Didn’t you get a Pulitzer for that one?
Well, no. The lead paragraph noted that the Space Shuttle was in orbit, George Bush (the first) was president, and that Vanna White had just starred in a made-for-tv movie. Pretty hard-hitting journalism, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, the quality of my work has dropped precipitously ever since.
Your column has run continuously for 30 years. You employ an overseas sweatshop to write those, right?
Nah, I do the columns myself. On the other hand, writing test reports is hard. You have to pick up the box on your doorstep (lift with your knees, never your back— Daniel Kumin taught me that), carry it into the lab, unbox it, figure out how to work the darn thing, listen to it, write it up, box it back up, call Fed Ex for a pick-up, then vacuum up all the loose Styrofoam peanuts. Whew! In contrast, writing a column is easy. In fact, I could write a column about how to write a test report, and never have to lift a finger. Writing test reports is for suckers. Of course, reviewers actually get paid money, whereas columnists apparently don’t. I am still checking my mailbox every day for that first check from 1989 to arrive.
Oh, don’t worry, the check is in the mail. In addition to reviews and columns, you’ve written a number of in-depth features for the magazine.
Those assignments were some of the most enjoyable because they afforded me opportunities to travel, see interesting things, and meet fascinating people. I’ve toured lots of factories and facilities and met many of the movers and shakers of the industry. I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with giants like Akio Morita, Dr. Amar Bose, and Sidney Harman— men with brilliant minds, and delightful raconteurs. And I should mention that as a newbie, I was appreciative and honored to be welcomed into the magazine business by established insiders like John Woram, Gene Pitts, Julian Hirsch, Len Feldman, and many others.
You’ve written about dozens of major events over the years, from format wars to new product launches. Which new products or technologies impressed you most?
The product that impressed me the most was one that I never reviewed for the magazine. It was 1998. I was doing technical consulting at a big patent law firm in Manhattan; an inventor was patenting a means to log on to a central music library, search its contents, then download music files. What a crazy idea. Anyway, I’m sitting in this fancy conference room; along one wall is a glass case filled with correspondence with former clients of the firm— guys like Edison and the Wright brothers. The firm was responsible for killing Wilbur, but that’s another story. An attorney walks in and pulls out a little plastic box from his pocket. It was an MPMAN F10 MP3 player from an outfit called Saehan. He had just bought it in South Korea. The clouds parted, a blinding beam of light shone down, and I could clearly see the future. I was holding perhaps the first MP3 player in the United States. I offered him a ridiculous sum of money for it, but he refused. On the taxi ride back to JFK, I strongly considered flying to Inchon to get one. But it was the dead of winter, so I took a flight back to Miami instead. True story.
Fascinating. And that about wraps it up for us. Any last words?
Were you kidding, or do you really think I have a shot at a Pulitzer?
Oh, it’s in the mail.
An inventor was patenting a means to log on to a central music library, search its contents, then download music files. What a crazy idea.”