Thursday, January 19, 2012

Talk Studio/Pi Keyboards & Audio Digi-Atom 4800 Analog-to-MIDI interface "Control the MIDI World" ad #2 - PART 2, Keyboard 1984

Talk Studio/Zypher Digi-Atom 4800 analog-to-MIDI interface 1/3-page advertisement from page 27 in Keyboard Magazine August 1984.

Been a great winter so far. Uncommonly warm. Almost creepy. But over the last few days, we finally got our first real cold snap of the season with temperatures finally hitting negative double digits (celcius!), so I'm starting to feel a little cooped up and thinking about beaches in warmer climates. But it does help motivate my blogging.

In part 1 of this Digi-Atom 4800 blog post, I provided a brief comparison between this second ad and the first one, while at the same time giving a good demonstration of my Web surfing habits when I fixated on the Digi-Atom's new distributors, Pi Keyboards & Audio. .

Even though ads for the Digi-Atom only appeared twice in Keyboard magazine, the unit also received quite a bit of unpaid advertising (earned media) during this period. In fact, it is actually quite surprising how much play this little piece of gear got in Keyboard magazine. Either Keyboard really liked this machine, or Pi had some great connections. Or both.   :)

The first of these appearances occurred three months after that first April ad came out, when Dominic Milano reviewed the 4800 in the July 1984 issue of the magazine. Dominic introduces the Keyboard Report with the little gem below, which is really telling of the pre/post MIDI transitioning environment taking place in  83/84:
"Just when you thought you were safe from the terrors of the patch cord jungle, free to escape to the bliss of single-cord interfacing with MIDI (the Musical Instrument Digital Interface), along comes a new class of MIDI products that makes your keyboard setup look like it has more in common with a bowl of spaghetti than anything even remotely resembling hi-tech keyboards. But don't despair. There's plenty of musical good to be found even with the synthesizer-meet-wet-noodles look."
He goes on to explain how this new product and others such as J.L. Cooper's I-in and I-out, will convert CVs and gates to MIDI and vice versa, keeping "those great-sounding but 'obsolete' workhorses" alive in your rig. Obsolete? Harsh! In his defense, he did put the word in quotes.   :)

The rest of the article explains the different modes of operation and ends the bulk of the review with a connection example pulled from the manual. In the conclusion, he lists the price at $1,395.00 and the importers as Shelton Leigh Palmer & Co. Nice.

It was a month later that Pi Keyboards & Audio included this ad in the August 1984 issue of Keyboard.

Then, in September, the Keyboard monthly giveaway was the Digi-Atom 4800 Interface. The contest copy only includes Talk Studio - not Zypher - in the 'thank you' list. Included is a bit of a summary of it's functions.

After a brief hiatus, a Spec Sheet write-up in the December 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine provided a little more light on the change in distributor. As well as the price drop of over $200!
"Digi-Atom Distributors. U.S. distribution for the Talk Studios/Zypher Electronics Digi-Atom 4800 analog-to-MIDI interface is now being handled by Pi Keyboards & Audio. List price for the unit in the States has been set at $1,195.00. Pi Keyboards & Audio, 13329 Pearl Rd., Cleveland, OH 44146."
I asked former CEO David Yost about Keyboard's apparent affection with the Digi-Atom, and he explained that it was, in fact, Keyboard that initiated most of the coverage. "Their editors and writers at the time were very very sharp. In fact I think it was shortly after the Keyboard coverage [started to appear] that I was looking into selling the Digi." Turns out that David's first passion was electronic music, and David figured that getting into sales and repairs was the most obvious way to get gear. He had a few large systems that needed good CV/gate converters for MIDI control and he wanted a Digi for himself.

Who's sharp now!  :)

Before going any further, I just have to point out that logo! I'm a big fan of logos, and that Pi Corp logo rocks. Seriously. Future-retro with a touch of Borg. I expect that symbol to appear on the side of Captain Picard's face when he's taken captive by the menacing aliens. The logo was designed by local Cleveland artist Phil D'Angelo - a friend of David Yost - around 1975.

So, to summarize the marketing life of the Digi-Atom in Keyboard magazine (1984):
  • April: First ad - full page, colour, Talk Studio/Zypher listed on ad
  • July: Keyboard Report for Digi-Atom 4800 listing Talk Studio/Zypher as manufacturers, and Shelton Leigh Palmer & Co. as importers
  • August: Second ad - 1/3 page black and white with Pi Keyboards & Audio listed on ad, includes awesomely cool logo
  • September: Keyboard contest - Digi-Atom 4800 give-a-way listing just Talk Studio as manufacturer
  • December: Spec Sheet about change in distributor to Pi Keyboards & Audio
It's interesting to think that even with all of that earned media and a $200 price drop, the unit didn't seem to stick around in the market for too long. David Yost mentioned in an earlier email that they didn't sell too well. His exact words:  "I think we sold two units".

Now, I'm sure that's a bit of an exaggeration. At least I hope so because I would really like to score one at some point in the future. Otherwise, this guy might be my only hope (see photo - top right corner).  Either way, this is a good lesson that even the best gear, with advertising and lots of earned media, can't always be successful in the marketplace.

I'm not sure what else could have helped the Digi-Atom succeed. But I'm sure that if I did know, I would be enjoying myself on a beach somewhere right now spending my millions generated from telling others how to do it.

Ahhhhh.... beaches....  (sooo cooooold.... soooo... cooooold!)

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