(And One of the Smartest)

Kathy Keeton

Kathy Keeton

In the spring of 1978, I was doing a book-promotion tour in the general area of Boston, Massachusetts. That sort of thing was usually scheduled to take advantage of the fact that I would be in that area anyway, for some other commitment such as a lecture date. The rest of that sort of tour is drudgery. Did you ever see the old TV comedy series, “WKRP in Cincinnati”? That’s it, one WKRP after another, cabbing all over some unattractive neighborhoods of Boston or Chicago or Philadelphia or Detroit or — well, any big, or formerly big, city in the USA. I guess the worst of it is that when those little stations want a five-minute guest to drag in their listeners, it’s most likely to be in drive time— 7 to 9 AM or 5 to 7 PM, when the commuters will flick on their car radios, hungry for anything to take their minds off the job.

And what I particularly noticed about that morning tour was an extraordinarily good-looking blonde woman who always seemed to be coming out of a studio as I was going in. or the reverse. And that evening as I got to my 5:30 she was waiting for her turn to go on and she looked up from what she was pecking at in her lap and said, “We have to quit meeting like this. You’re Frederik Pohl, the receptionist told me. I’m Kathy Keeton, and I’m editing the new science and sf magazine, Nova.”

Well, actually she wasn’t. PBS had a lock on that title, and rather than go through a lawsuit they decided at the last minute to change their title to another four-letter word, Omni, and it was as Omni that their first issue came a few weeks later.

It wasn’t exactly a fact that that was a good year for popular-scientific magazines to come out. Half a dozen of them had already popped up, like mushrooms after a rain. A few years later, most of them had vanished, because although it was true that the American consumer had become more interested in science than before, that didn’t mean they were interested in buying magazines about it. Omni survived a few years longer than the others, though I don’t think it ever turned a profit.

It didn’t have to. Bob Guccione, the magazine’s publisher as well as Kathy’s boyfriend, and later husband, didn’t know what to do with all the money that was pouring in from his magazine Penthouse described as a magazine like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, but just a tad dirtier. Things went sour for him a few years later, but he had no trouble diverting some of the earnings from Penthouse into subsidizing Omni.

3 Comments

  1. JD Rhoades says:

    I used to love Omni. I discovered one of my favorite SF writers, Spider Robinson, when they published his story FIVESIGHT. I was always amused that the same people published PENTHOUSE.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    What I always found unfortunate about OMNI was the psychic-phenomena third of the magazine…that and the paper stock that would smear at the slightest touch (it was almost as bad as newsprint that way, at least in the early issues). But, certainly the fiction tended to be pretty good at the worst of times…which Keeton, were she still with us, and her fiction editors Ben Bova, the late Robert Sheckley, and Ellen Datlow should all have been proud of and were/are, I gather (the excellent pay-rates didn’t hurt, but money alone doesn’t always do the trick).

    (And I still find it amusing that in 1978, Ben Bova and Ted White were for various reasons separated from their magazines ANALOG and the duo of FANTASTIC and AMAZING, respectively, which they had done excellent work with throughout the 1970s…only to be almost immediately Dragged Back In, like Corleone, by magazines with Real budgets…OMNI and HEAVY METAL, respectively)

    (Captcha doesn’t believe the Earth orbits the Sun…I guess it likes an Old Sol…)

  3. MattF says:

    Seeing this post reminded me to search online aain for a torrent or individual issues. I find that Oct 78 through Winter 95 are available at archive.org (http://archive.org/details/omni-magazine).