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It's the 40th Anniversary of Radio Shack's TRS-80 ( 301

An anonymous reader quotes Smithsonsian: It was with minimal expectations that, on August 3, 1977, Tandy Corporation teamed up with Radio Shack to release the TRS-80, one of the first personal computers available to consumer markets. While Don French -- a buyer for the Tandy Radio Shack consumer electronic chain -- had convinced some Tandy executives of the need to release a personal computer, most felt it was unlikely to gross substantial profits. This bulky item with complex operating procedures would never sell, they thought, more than 1,000 units in its first month... As it turned out, the TRS-80 surpassed even the most cautious sales estimates by tenfold within its first month on the market; the burgeoning prospects of a new era in personal electronics and computing could no longer be denied.
It had no hard drive and four kilobytes of memory, according to the article. Radio Shack's $600 PC was preceded by the MITS Altair, as well as PCs from both Apple and IBM, but "the TRS-80 was one of the first products that came fully assembled and ready to use, bridging the gap in accessibility between hobbyists -- who took interest in the actual building of the computer -- and the average American consumer, who wanted to know what this new, cutting-edge technology had in store for them."

Does this bring back any memories for anyone?
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It's the 40th Anniversary of Radio Shack's TRS-80

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:13AM (#54950127)

    20 GOTO 10

    • by jlowery ( 47102 )

      The first PC I programmed, using Logo. And I didn't have to come in at midnight to find an empty console. 1977.

    • TRS-80 III, cassette backup that was impossible to reload small programs. I would spend a full day typing in a basic program listed in a Magazine I forget the name of now, it taught me debugging; and the fact that no matter how perfect it looks, let someone else have a go to really make sure.

      Radio Shack wanted to sell me a 300 buad modem for $300 "I go to AOL and start printing out the news, go upstairs and have dinner when I'm done the news is almost finished printing". The clerks hardest selling point.

  • My first experience with trek was on a trs-80. Dual floppies!

    • 75kb floppies and the ability to write an infinite loop without draining my university account for cpu time. It was a big deal at the time.

    • by rfengr ( 910026 )
      Telengard here.
    • cassette drive...

      • Oh right, the one I used was Model III, with the floppies. I'm getting old, the memory is starting to lose cohesion . . .

    • I think it was probably the first home computer I got to touch, the local RS dealer was showing it off at a school open house (the school went with PETs) In high school they got donated a TRS-80 and I got to borrow it for a few months (so technically, first home computer too), That cheezy cheapo monitor I think added character to it... Had level3 BASIC to play with it as well as some other stuff, was kinda fun made me appreciate the PETs BASIC editor though (bith the TRS-80 and Apple II both had some weird

    • The first computer I ever saw was a TRS-80 M1 that had cassette tape only, I played backgammon on it.

      My first computer I owned was a Dick Smith System-80 (TRS-80 M1 clone) that I then upgraded to 48K of RAM, still with cassette only. 20 minutes to load "asylum"

      Got a genuine TRS-80 M3 after that, the joys of 1200 baud

      My first computer with Floppies was an Amstrad PCW8256. I also owned a Kaypro 4. Ahh the joys of CPM 2.2 and CPM 3

      I now own about 400 old computers ranging from Casio c
  • I later upgraded it to 48k (the max, 16k was used by the display), added an expansion board, floppies, and updated the character ROM.

    Learned both HW and SW on that puppy.
    • I lucked into a used Apple ][ I could afford in 1980, but I hung around with kids who were using Trash-Eighties. They all had major problems with keyboards and were expert at fixing them. I had major problems with the limitations of Applesoft BASIC and envied their BASIC (it seemed more capable). Also the TRS-80 didn't put worms on any nearby TV the way the Apple, with its lack of shielding, did.

      Whether Apple or Trash-Eighty, we all got hooked on the incredible high of getting a 100 line program to run. Th

      • Also the TRS-80 didn't put worms on any nearby TV the way the Apple, with its lack of shielding, did.

        The TRS-80 had a modified TV for a monitor, the Apple ][ typically used an RF modulator (the do-called Sup'r Mod was very popular) to put it's display on a TV.

        The issue wasn't the Apple ][ and it's lack of shielding, the TRS-80 was equally unshielded.

      • What was way-cool was that around 1984 someone was making an extension card for the Apple with an 8088 CPU and firmware CP/M, that used the Apple IO devices and memory.

        It was a Z80 card, it was called 'Z-80 Softcard' and it was released by Microsoft. []

      • Of course, the first thing colleges and high schools did was forbid the use of word processors and computer printers. None of that laziness here, no sir! :D

    • Re: Mine had 16k (Score:5, Informative)

      by kenh ( 9056 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @12:40PM (#54950669) Homepage Journal

      later upgraded it to 48k (the max, 16k was used by the display)

      No, it wasn't.

      The base Model I supported 16 Kilobytes it the main unit, another 32 Kilobytes could be added to the Expansion Base.

      The video display in the TRS-80 was character-based, and displaying 16 lines of 64 characters did not occupy 16 Kilobytes - the base model only had 4 Kilobytes.

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:22AM (#54950163)
    "four kilobytes of memory" ... and was running Windows 0.00000010
  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:25AM (#54950183)
    I was stuck using "Trash 80's" through middle school; hell, my first computer was a direct descendant (the deliberately crippled and non-standard Tandy 1000EX with proprietary memory, proprietary video and audio and floppy drives that popular disk-copy utilities wouldn't support, etc).
    • But you still had Tandy Color Graphics and Tandy 3-voice sound. Weren't most people of that era stuck with CGA graphics and a crappy internal speaker?

      • Comparable PC's were at least equipped with EGA (similar to Tandy 16-color but an actual VESA standard) and some (IBM PS/2 series) with VGA.

        Re: audio, I don't recall the built-in speaker in my 1000EX putting out much in the way of hi-fi...

        • audio, I don't recall the built-in speaker in my 1000EX putting out much in the way of hi-fi...

          It was no Roland MT-32 but it sure was better than the standard internal PC speaker.

  • At that time, I had near-constant access to an IMSAI 8-bit computer with a Micropolis dual drive and a Xerox Diablo printer. I got on board the notebook craze a while later with the PX-8. Mine ran BASIC and had a mini-cassette tape drive for long-term storage, It had a serial port that tied into a 2 meter ham radio transceiver and I could do text messaging via amateur packet radio. Was so cool.

  • I was 5 or 6 and in RS with my dad. Wondered over to one sitting out and pushed the orange button. Scared the shit out of me with a bunch of buzzing and clanking. Must have been 8" drives. Thought I had broken something. Few years later we had some in the school computer lab (really a closet). Learned to program on those. Only 1 had 5" floppies, and the rest were networked via the cassette ports via a cool rotary switch box. You could upload your basic code to the server and save to floppy. The sev
    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Only 1 had 5" floppies, and the rest were networked via the cassette ports via a cool rotary switch box.

      The exact same thing was in our school, where I learned to program.

    • by Nkwe ( 604125 )

      Only 1 had 5" floppies, and the rest were networked via the cassette ports via a cool rotary switch box. You could upload your basic code to the server and save to floppy.

      That box with the rotary switch was more of an audio distribution device as opposed to what we would call a network today. The main computer would save a program and the switch box would send the audio that would normally go to a cassette recorder to all of the other computers. (Everyone had to load at the same time.) The rotary switch would select which computer the master would get the audio from and the process would be reversed, one computer at a time. Actually worked pretty well for instructor to send

      • by rfengr ( 910026 )
        May have been an optical card reader; don't recall. It did have the silver/black color scheme of the early Tandys, but don't recall if it was Tandy branded. In any case no adult could get it working so they challenged the students and some senior (textbook computer nerd); I was only in grade school at the time. Yeah, I remember setting all the PCs to "load" prior to class, and the instructor sending all the data. One of those boxes was on eBay recently. Fun times.
  • My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 with 64KB of RAM and tape drive. About eight minutes to load the game "Popeye" if I remember correctly.

  • From 1975, another of the early S-100 bus microcomputers. []
  • Never owned one, but was using an Apple ][ at the time. Spent a lot of time back then going to various computer stores and obsessing over things like the Commodore PET (before the Commodore VIC20 and C64). Couldn't believe how enthusiastic the Radio Shack employees were as cheerleaders for the thing. Me, I couldn't get past the fact you needed to boot it from a cassette drive to use a floppy drive (at least when demoed to me at the time).

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:37AM (#54950233)

    He and a couple of whiz kids saved Metropolis [] with it!

  • My high school purchased the original 4 kB version, and then upgraded it to 16 kB the following year. The school generously allowed me to take it home on weekends. There were two Apple IIs in the lab as well, with actual floppy disks. I chose the TRS-80 simply because I could get more time. The Apple IIs were busy playing games most of the time. Did anyone learn to actually code on those machines? Not that I noticed.

    This was my first actual computer. In my first week of programming, I tried to write:

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      This takes you back to the subroutine.

      I got that wrong in my mind, didn't I? It takes you back to the call point. Oops. Difficult business, this is, dredging up memories from once-upon-a-forever-ago.

      I'm pretty sure I wrote that program for maximal obfuscation, so there could have been another for loop in the subroutine, and I really was ping-ponging wildly.

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        From The custom TRS-80 & other mysteries" []

        One of the most maligned aspects of the TRS-80 is its cassette loading procedure. Interestingly, it is a lengthy and skillfully designed piece of coding, a victim of a combination of poor hardware (an inexpensive cassette recorder), the inclination personal computer owners have to purchase the least expensive tapes they can find, and the lack of foresight on the part of the engineers designing the routines. But there's no question that with a good tape recorder

    • My SIG is very relevant to your comment, but I encountered it learning to program IBM Advanced Basic (BASICA.EXE) in 1982.
  • by LVSlushdat ( 854194 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:52AM (#54950273)

    One of these was my first computer. Bought at the Yuma Arizona Radio Shack store sometime in 1977. I was in the Army at the time, stationed at the US Army Yuma Proving Grounds. Paid $795 for one of the Level 1 4K systems. Hard to believe today that you could actually *do* anything on 4K of ram, and an integer BASIC, but I sure did.. Wish I still had it, although I do still have my 8K TRS-80 Model 100, and it still works!!!

    • by wwphx ( 225607 )
      I still have my 24k Model 100, aside from some corrosion on the battery contacts it works fine. I also have the disk/video interface and the 3.5" floppy somewhere. Wonderful computer. I understand they're still very popular in marine biology: easy to seal in a big Ziploc and you've got a great keyboard to type on. I was discussing it just recently and someone pointed me to an M100 emulator: why would I want to bother with an emulator when I have the real thing?
  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @10:57AM (#54950293)

    The TRS-80 wasn't my first computer but a friend had one which I used. It was a good intro to concepts for it's time.

    The first 'personal' computer I used was a KIM-1 which was a motherboard with a hex keypad and hex LED output. So the TRS-80 was a huge step up from that.

    My second computer was the Apple I at school which was very barebones but again a step up from the KIM-1.

    I bought a Z-80 based Exidy Sorcerer which came with minimal memory that I boosted by piggy backing the additional memory chips literally on the backs of the built in memory and doing a little soldered wire wrapping to reroute a few signals.

    But the first computer I used was a mainframe at UNH at Keene, NH. That was punch cards. So all of the above were huge steps up from that. Mostly because of time. With the university mainframe one only got a little bit of time to use the system. With a home computer one is able to really work with it, mod it and learn.

    So while many people diss the TRS-80, calling it the Trash-80, they are missing the point. For it's time it was a good intro to computing.

    • I still have a 64KB memory card for the original IBM PC (5150), which has chips piggybacked on top of each other. It looks as if all 16 pins on each chip are connected, so I've always wondered whether the chip on the bottom is different from the chip on top, perhaps to have a single inverter on one pin so it responds to the address strobe differently from the chip it's mated with.
  • When I was growing up, I think I was exposed mostly to whatever survived this era. The Apple IIe was commonplace, as were similar machines. However, the only place I ever saw a TRS-80 was as a bunch of disassembled components stashed in the corner of someone's office.

  • My brother had one with a serial number in the 500's. Out of the box, the first generation had a version of basic that supported only two string variables. $a and $b. That was all you had to work with until you got the upgrade a few months later.

  • Wikipedia says

    [ the Apple ][ ] was one of the three "1977 Trinity" computers generally credited with creating the home computer market (the other two being the Commodore PET and the Tandy Corporation TRS-80)

    So what did Apple do right (haters need not comment here)? Or What did Commodore and Radio Shack do wrong?

    Yes, it's really more of a rhetorical question.

    • by shmlco ( 594907 )

      The Apple had about a half-dozen expansion slots and Apple published the schematics and circuit board diagrams. That openness encouraged people to expand it, and even let Apple expand it with the floppy drive controller, serial cards, parallel cards, and RAM cards.

      The Pet and the TRS-80 did not.

      In fact, I still have an original Apple ][ "red" book...

    • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @03:29PM (#54951325)

      So what did Apple do right (haters need not comment here)? Or What did Commodore and Radio Shack do wrong?

      Yes, it's really more of a rhetorical question.

      As well as the expandability mentioned by others, Apple had far better graphics than the TRS-80 (huge blocky 2x3 character-based things for pseudo-pixel-based graphics) or the PET (no pixel-based graphics, just the distant ancestors of emoji...) ISTR they also got a boost from being the original platform for Visicalc the first successful spreadsheet (I'm sure it had antecedents) and probably the first truly "new" application of the microcomputer age.

      However, Apple may have been the market leader (at least in the US), but Commodore, Radio Shack, the numerous CP/M-based small business systems and many others had a sustained run of success - and Apple can't claim responsibility for their demise.

      Commodore did better in Europe/UK (where Apple charged silly prices), SInclair, Acorn, Commodore and Amstrad dominated in the UK. There was a bit of a shake-up in the early 80s which killed off most of the also-rans, but the big 3 got though that. Then the IBM PC Clones arrived at home/small business/hobbyist prices (I don't think IBM alone would have got that far - remember the PCJr?) and squashed everything... and would probably have squashed Apple if that young lady hadn't burst into the auditorium and thrown her hammer at the screen.

      The Mac, or maybe even just that ad, is probably the only reason we're not saying "Anybody remember Apple? What happened to them?" today is the Mac, and maybe even more specifically that famous 1984 advert.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Mac, or maybe even just that ad, is probably the only reason we're not saying "Anybody remember Apple? What happened to them?" today is the Mac, and maybe even more specifically that famous 1984 advert.

        I think the effect of the ad faded pretty quickly. It's more likely the 2 reasons we're not saying "remember Apple?" are the LaserWriter and Aldus PageMaker.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        Two things allowed Apple to survive while the others withered. The first is that the first microcomputer spreadsheet, VisiCalc, ran on Apple first. Why the Apple II was picked has a lot of conflicting stories behind it, and may just have been happenstance: one story is the PET and TRS in the dev office were being used by others. Some say Steve Jobs gifted them an Apple II to write for it, but that hasn't been confirmed.

        VisiCalc's popularity exploded, giving Apple enough money to pursue GUI's...

        And then the

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @11:23AM (#54950381)

    ... in February of 1978.

    It was the first in my area.

    I wrote articles in Kilobaud Microcomputing and 80 Microcomputing.

    I attached an A-D converter to build a temperature probe and a battery tester.

    I also wrote a primitive word processor that inverted the normally all-cap keyboard.

    It was a great starter kit.

  • I had two of them! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @11:25AM (#54950387) Homepage

    I had two of them (both "model 2") with floating point BASIC and more memory. I did the popular "lowercase conversion" to both of them - the standard model ONLY HAD UPPERCASE. Amazingly, all you needed to do was add an addtional RAM chip to store the extra bit in the frame buffer and everything else "just worked"! The OS and the character generator ROM were all compatible with that! This strongly suggests that Tandy had originally intended it to have lowercase support - but decided to "cheap out" and save the cost of that extra RAM chip.

    I built a wire-wrapped floppy disk controller (5" drive) and adding an external ROM with code to read and write files from disk.

    I desperately wanted to port CP/M on to the TRS-80 but the way the boot ROM was placed in the address space made that impossible.

    I wrote a couple of machine-code games for it - and sold maybe 100 copies of one of them (a side-scrolling space shooter)...which seemed like a lot at the time! Sadly, mass-producing tapes using a standard audio tape drive was kinda flaky and I ended up sending out replacement tapes to a lot of customers which meant I didn't make as much profit as I hoped.

    It wasn't a *great* machine. The Apple ][ was better - but it was what I had, and I loved it.

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @11:32AM (#54950411)

    The nickname for these was "Trash 80" and it was quickly eclipsed by better offerings from Commodore and Apple. As the personal computer market took off, they were seen as the bottom of the barrel in terms of performance, software offerings and curb appeal. But it was a start. We did have a lot of them in my Jr. HIgh and that's what we played Oregon Trail and some math programs on, before Apple became very aggressive about placing their machines in schools, and Apple IIc's and IIe's started to show up. I was a commodore user at home, starting with the Vic-20, then C-64, 128, then every flavor of Amiga, while PC's were still in a pretty sorry state for graphics and sound. (CGA, EGA, and good sound only if you could afford a Roland sound card, and had games that supported it)

    Did not migrate to PC's till the Doom era of the mid-1990s, although I did teach myself basic on a PCjr (286) in the early 80s my dad had access to at his work.

    • The nickname was indeed "Trash 80" but it was kind of snobbish of some of us to call it that. I was fortunate. There was kind of a cyber-race when I was growing up. I had the first computer in the neighborhood.

      It was an orange toaster (Poly88) which we later upgraded to an 8813 http://www.polymorphic-compute... []

      But by then my friend had a TRS-80 and later I got an Apple ][ which remained the most advanced computer in the neighborhood until this other guy's parents bought a Lisa.

      I still respect the TRS 8

  • by mfnickster ( 182520 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @11:42AM (#54950449) []

    Tandy executive: "We don't have time to get a book written on TRS-80 BASIC, so just take this book written for modem teletype time-sharing programmers and slap a TRS-80 on the cover. Done!"

  • by seven of five ( 578993 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @11:53AM (#54950495)
    "surpassed even the most cautious sales estimates by tenfold"

    Easy to surpass a cautious estimate. Harder to surpass a wildly optimistic one.
  • Still have my TRS-80 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cheryltisland ( 5044249 ) on Sunday August 06, 2017 @12:36PM (#54950665)
    I still have mine in the original box with the original price sticker. I bought it with my babysitting money in 1981 when I was 11 years old. I hung out at Radio Shack often back then and put it on layaway until I paid it off and brought it home in 1982. I hooked it to my small black and white tv and my cassette player and started learning BASIC. Went on to become a software engineer and general geek for about a 30 year career. I have never been able to part with it.
  • I was a junior in high school when my father said he'd buy a TRS-80 if I moved a (literal) ton of coal from a basement room to an outdoors shed. I did, and he did, and I've been programming ever since. Aside from BASIC, I learned Z-80 machine language programming on that machine -- and because I didn't have an assembler, I manually converted my programs to the numeric machine instruction codes and POKE'd these into memory.
  • I don't remember which model of TRS-80 it was, I want to say CoCo 2, but they used to have one with a Thexder cart plugged in at my local (Capitola, CA) Radio Shack pretty much perpetually. They would also let you play with it pretty much endlessly so long as you were polite, which I was. I don't understand why more shops don't have that policy, because it serves as a demo. Software Etc. used to let me play with their Amiga 500 and that actually turned into a sale, eventually. The CoCo could have, if it wer

  • Yes...the memories where we went to RadioShack because they had merchandise we wanted to buy. Before RS went belly up they could not even get you a plain simple diode unless you bought one in a grossly overpriced kit.
  • My first computer was a TRS-80 Model II. It had 64K of RAM and a 10mb SCSI external hard disk drive. It was a beast that also had the external disk array. I learned BASIC on it. We also had the Tandy Daisy Wheel and Dot Matrix printers.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.