There it is. The TRS-80 Model I—with cassette storage! Z-80 microprocessor; over 4000 bytes of user memory, a.k.a. RAM, which—I shudder to write it—is well over 30,000 bits! I can’t recall, nor can I now discover (though I have not tried very hard) how much could be stored on the cassette player. Operating it was tricky.
The school had the TRS 80 in the algebra room (we had a Pong machine at home) and it was on it I learned to program in Basic. About six of us (it was a small school) would take turns copying game programs printed in the back of BYTE magazine. Line after line after line after line of GOSUBs, PEEKs, POKEs, LPOSs, and the ubiquitous RUNs.
I still recall the first missile program. Press the space bar launched a missile toward some vaguely blockish object at the top of the screen. What an anticlimax to learn that the target “moved” by erasing and repainting itself every cycle. But neat, too, because we learned to modify the code to make the target suddenly appear at odd spots.Was this the RND function? Or was it RANDOM?
The most exciting game was a “casino” (I can’t recall the exact name) which would allow bets, wins, and losses as you’d expect. But what made this slick was that you were meant to bring an AM radio tuned to an unused station next to the computer. As the “slot machine” would spin the radio would make staticy clackety-brrrr-clackety-brrrr noises. Just like you were in Vegas!
Our cadre became a hit with the girls, if you can believe it. I mean, they would come to us geeks for help with their homework. Hey. Whatever it took.
They don’t have them anymore. Computers are everywhere, but as of two days ago not Radio Shacks. And not so many radios, neither.
The bankrupt stores are still in place, but as the WSJ reported, they’re already started their store-closing sales. Gizmodo says that some of the storefronts will be snatched by Sprint and others by Amazon. Amazon bookstores?
Radio Shack used to sell computers and, if you can believe it, radios. I went into one of the stores a couple of months back and could only find one. They also carried radio parts. I once bought a variable capacitor there. And even one or two shortwave antennas. Lots of connectors and other radio doodads, too. They had drawers of diodes, resistors, capacitors, LEDs, and even a chip or two. Gradually all these things were shifted further and further back, finally disappearing. The place in its death throes becomes nothing but cell phones and television extras.
You see, I am a ham. No, not that kind. K2JM to be specific. Amateur radio.
My first radio was a hand-held 9-volt transistor bulky AM made-in-Japan-when-that-was-not-a-compliment job, a gift from my maternal grandfather. I snuck (uses, snuck) it into school and surreptitiously listened to Tigers games. When we moved Up North, I’d lie awake in bed and listen to far off stations. WJR, of course; Chicago, Nashville, Baltimore, even once Atlanta. It was incredibly romantic the way the stations would fade in and out. Felt like spying.
When I first went into the service I was assigned to work an afternoon shift. I was a crypto guy and had access to racks of radios. This was when I discovered shortwave. Sitting in San Antonio, I could hear Germany! Cuba! Taiwan! Numbers stations! This was pre-Internet, folks. This was in the days when you paid extra to call people out of your area code, and really had to pony up to call out of country. The real fun was writing down the “contact” and sending a request to the station for a QSL card, decorative postcards which confirmed your contact. I still have a book of them.
It was in San Antonio I met my “Elmer” (oh how I do not love that name) who loaned me an old Heathkit on which I became proficient on CW—that is, Morse code. My first ham license was KA5YHN, which I can still tap out at blistering speed. Later, when we PCSed to Okinawa, I joined MARS, the Military Affiliate Radio Station and got a Japanese ticket.
Now that I live in the city, I don’t do much. I Maybe some sporadic 2 meters, which is not unlike talking on a cell phone. And there is no romance in that. I miss HF. I’d rather head down to the old Radio Shack and pick up a balun and see if I could talk to somebody in Botswana. Or I could just log on and do the same.
Sigh. The world has become so small.