34 Remember the Blender mag CD-ROM and editor Dale Hrabi? INTERVIEW

Today’s Guest: Dale Hrabi, editor, Blender

Original Publication Date: January 27, 1997

Metallica: Testing Their Metal (Blender Vol 4, Pop-Culture Magazine on CD-Rom)
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How many times have you read a celebrity profile in some magazine and thought, “I wish I could actually hear So-and-So” actually say that.”

Or maybe you just wish magazines came with their own soundtracks, the way TV shows and movies do.

Well, take your favorite print magazine’s celebrity interviews, add in interactive pop quizzes, computer games and the World Wide Web access, plus audio and video and what do you get?

Blender, the magazine on a CD-ROM disc.

Now in its third year, Blender is a pioneer and survivor in one of modern media’s most experimental and risky formats. It’s not even a magazine really — the “articles” are barely more than 125 words. And it’s not a TV show — because of space and computer limitations, CD-ROMs can only accommodate short videoclips.

“There’s almost no precedent for it,” says Blender Editor-in-chief Dale Hrabi, 33. “A lot of people look at the Web and say, ‘This is boring. Things don’t move.’ I think the time is right for people to discover this medium.”

The Wall Street Journal [Fire App/WSJ Digital](Kindle Tablet Edition), Mr. Media Interviews
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In the latest issue, the “cover story” is the rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek. Which is better? Which is stupider? Blender offers a side-by-side visual comparison of the two, contrasting everything from hairstyles (Princess Leia’s cinnamon buns vs. Capt. Picard’s bald head) to robots (R2D2 vs. Data).

So far, so traditional. Even Mad magazine did that.

But click on a word or phrase in blue or red type and your computer will unlock a videoclip in which Kevin Smith, writer/director/star of the cult movie Clerks — and a noted Star Wars junkie — offers his comments. Even better, the crew of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” share anecdotes.

“We were very low in sex in our first two to three years — and it showed. You could see the strain in people’s eyes,” says actor Patrick Stewart, aka Capt. Jean-Luc Picard.

You can also learn whether you take all this space stuff too seriously by playing “Unmask Your Inner Geek: A Psychometric Quiz.” Other interactive gadgets on the current Blender disc include:

“The Mystical Weezy Board.” A pop variation on the Ouija board, your most personal questions are answered by Louise Jefferson of the TV show “The Jeffersons.”

“My most vivid memory of her was her operatic eye-rolling, ever the beleaguered skeptic,” Hrabi says. “And if you play it for a while, you see she’s not very helpful.”

Indeed, Weezy frequently blames Satan for things, answers “Tatooine” for geography questions and says “Bug me later” if she doesn’t appreciate an inquiry.

“The Automatic Band Name Generator.” Type in your name plus a few identifying traits and in seconds your quartet will have a moniker. For Mr. Media, the Generator suggests: “Satan’s Hair,” “Black Oak Brooklyn,” “Namledna UK” and “Calvin’s Generation S Rotting Pretzels.”
Hrabi says many Blender fans load it at parties.

“They like the stuff that lets people play,” he says. “It’s not a medium that’s suitable for thoughtful essays; personally, I’d rather read the New Yorker for that.”

The Week, Dale Hrabi
The Week, Dale Hrabi

So while War and Peace could easily be squeezed onto a CD-ROM, don’t expect any heavy reading from Blender. “This generation is used to dealing with computer screens,” Hrabi says, “but their fondest image is of computer games. We’ve come to the conclusion that people don’t want to read more than 100 to 125 words on a computer screen. We’re trying to reinvent the magazine story as a game. I can imagine Entertainment Weekly doing it with ‘How to Sell a Screenplay.’ ”

In a previous issue, Hrabi and his staff noted that while Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe are frequently sighted despite being dead, nobody ever claims to have seen John F. Kennedy. So they created the utterly tasteless “Find the Ghost of JFK” game, a virtual reality tour of downtown Dallas where the president was assassinated.

Next issue will be a pop culture sex issue, answering burning issues such as “Was the Kool-Aid Jug a virgin? Was Mr. Clean?”

And if you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to movie and record reviews, you haven’t seen Blender’s take on Pat Boone’s “In a Metal Mood” CD. Besides playing his swinging version of either Van Halen’s “Panama” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” on an endless loop, it also offers Boone recalling an anecdote from his last prostate exam.

Or there’s a review of the new Rutles CD, which has video of former Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash saying, “The Rutles were the most instrumental band, ever.”

“We let you experience more fully the thing you’re reading about,” Hrabi says. “A music review with music is umpteen times more helpful.”

Each Blender CD-ROM is intended to entertain viewers for six solid hours if every element is played. If you have an Internet Web browser, it also will connect to a Blender home page, which offers more shenanigans.

“Surprise is one of the big dynamics,” Hrabi says. “It’s what I call the ‘What’s Behind Door No. 3 Principle.’ Whenever I watched ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ I always wanted the contestant to go for what’s behind the curtain or in the box — whatever they couldn’t see. Blender taps into our eternal hope that something cool will be behind the curtain.”

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Kicking Through the Ashes by Ritch Shydner, Mr. Media Interviews
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