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Commodore 64 Program Discovered on 35-Year Old Vinyl Album (2019) (popcultureretrorama.com)
208 points by clockworksoul 25 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

Some interesting bits from the BASIC code (as seen 14:36 into the video):

- POKE 53272,23 forces character set 2 (big/small letters). I knew it could be done by a PRINT CHR$(142), but this is new to me. In general, it seems that the address 53272 can also be used to supply a custom charset: https://www.c64-wiki.com/wiki/53272

- C64 BASIC seems to be doing lazy tokenizing. Observe how line 1 ends with :END:TCB1984 – there is no TCB statement in BASIC, but it is never executed since it comes after the END statement.

I got rid of my C64 26 years ago when I was 10 or so, but I still can recite a rough memory map and a few KERNAL addresses. For the kid that I was back then, C64 was truly a magic device.

Many BASICs of the time did lazy tokenizing. You would bury code to be executed later, or binary data for graphics or assembly language after certain tokens, numbers or the closing quote of a string. BBC BASIC would tokenize on ENTER, ATOM BASIC didn't tokenize, but like a good text adventure game, you could write P. instead of PRINT, and P. in RAM was only two bytes compared to PRINT which was five bytes.

CHR$(14), actually. 53272 is one of the VIC-II's pointer registers; it's also used to set the location of the hi-res screen in the 16K bank the video chip is looking at. To make this work in the lowest 16K, the VIC-II is made to see an image of the character ROM in the middle of memory ($1000), which is where both the upper case graphics set (POKE with 21) and upper lower case set (23) originate from.

I still find having a basic in like 9 kilobyte and the bios (kernal) in 7 kilobyte close to magic. Thats with average of 2,5 bytes per command like 6510 lines of assembly code, I wouldnt be able to write the datasette reader in it, or even the parser for basic, or the floating point number functions.(well any of it probably, but all of it?)

VIC-20 with cassette-drive was my intro. I played the tapes on my stereo once, sounded like a modem: Kkkkkkkk.... ;-)

Wasn't POKE 686,0 something?

Don’t know about 686, but 646 controlled the text color. POKE 646,0 would change it to black.

Poke646 was the name of a mod for the original Half-Life...I'm getting the feeling that isn't a coincidence

Ninja edit: Yep, confirmed http://www.poke646.com/index.php/3-faq

Yes, 646 it was. Now I won't forget again!

Putting 0 into 686 wouldn't to anything, unless you had a program running in the background there, like a DOS wedge. 679 through 767 was empty at startup.

This was tried by a few computer hobby magazines in the early 80's. A thin square of plastic called a flexi-disc with the program on it came inserted in the pages and you'd tear it out.


Keyboard magazine included one every month for several years! I remember one was actually printed backwards somehow. (That is the audio on it was backwards, so it sounded like putting the needle on the record and manually spinning it backwards by hand.) If I recall, they corrected it the next month.

I own an old guitar primer book that includes one of these flexi-discs, with the edges clearly cut with scissors a long time ago. Still haven't tried it yet, but maybe I'll pop it in tonight.

Ha yeah and even music samplers came like that occasionally in magazines. In fact when I saw the headline to the thread I thought "Oh someone discovered a Todd Rundgren Easter egg."

EDIT: I just checked the article. It was an Easter egg from a music group, but not Todd Rundgren.

I'm old enough to remember when the back of a cereal box had a record imprinted on it. You cut it out and played it on a record player.

Oh man I forgot about that.

Anybody remember when McDonald’s did a promotion with a flexible record in the sunday newspaper for their menu song?


Haha I don't remember that. It must not have gotten much traction in Charlottesville.

Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom) released a single with a B Side containing a "video" for the Sinclair ZX81: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u9ZyV-BHFA

And of course The Thompson Twins had an adventure game for the ZX Spectrum on one of their releases: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAo4dj0O0c4

Chris came up with the idea for Frank when he made “The Biz” on the ZX Spectrum, too.

This reminded by about a vinyl album that I own from 1987 called "Poniżej krytyki" by a Polish synthpop band Papa Dance that contains a program for ZX Spectrum on both sides of the record. According to instructions on the album it's a quiz and you could send the answers to a postal address and win some prizes :-)

Did you?

This is similar to Peace & Love, Inc.[0] from Information Society. You may remember their song, "What's on Your Mind" that sampled Spock saying "Pure Energy." On Peace & Love, Inc. they include a track named "300bps N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode Or Ascii Download)" that is modem tones. When captured by a modem at the right settings it displays some text from the band.

According to [1]: > When decoded, the content is a tale by Kurt Harland about a bizarre but purportedly true event that took place when the band was playing in the city of Curitiba, Brazil.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Society_(band)#Pea....

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_and_Love,_Inc.

It's a fun story. I made a video about extracting that track too, by running my CD player into the 300 bps modem on my Commodore 64: https://youtu.be/bVFem3I9B9w


For anyone craving more C64 nostalgia, I wrote about my first coding experience on the wonderful old beast: https://martinrue.com/give-yourself-more-playtime/

For anyone interested in what the C64 is doing today:


Most productions have links to youtube as well as binaries you can run on a C64 emulator.

The C64 is alive and well in the demoscene. People are still putting out amazing code/art on the C64.

If you have any interest in C64, you should check out all of the 8-bit Show and Tell channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3gRBswFkuteshdwMZAQafQ

He styles his videos on the legendary Jim Butterfield (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9WnHuGjZ38) and they are all just as informative and interesting (well, if you're into that sort of thing)!

I'm pretty sure one my first programs did exactly this. Enter a password. Boom! I'm the master of the computer.

This is what really launched me into coding, though: https://archive.org/details/Gortek_and_the_Microchips_1984_C...

The feeling of being able to make the computer do my bidding was amazing.

I still have somewhere a LP record published in the mid 80s by the band "Kissing the pink" in which one track contains a program for the BBC microcomputer. IIRC, the track once recorded on tape and run would produce video effects to be played along with the album songs. Never had the chance to try it however, as I had a C64 and the BBC micro over here was less than unobtanium. Those (actually a few years before) were the years of new wave music, and many small bands were experimenting with microcomputers before MIDI made things much easier. I still recall a friend of a friend of a friend interfacing 8 different electric shavers to the C64 user port then composing tunes for them. It was hilarious enough to be picked up and transmitted live on a local FM radio station. Good ol' days...

Looks like someone recorded it and posted on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zLlc-IYr2c

Pete Shelley's album XL-1 had a Speccy programme on one side. If you loaded it into the Spectrum it played a little light-show that went with the song and displayed the lyrics in time with the music.

Love the title of this Hacker News post. It sounds like something made up when trying to describe what you can find on Hacker News.

The part of this that amazes me is that while it seems plain to lots of folks what it -probably- is and how to record to tape, pop in a 'C64' and pull it in as a file, it seems that in all of the internet, barely dozens of people might have expressed having actually done it.

That kinda makes me sad

Dozens? I would assume that there are millions on the internet that grew up with these 8-bit computers or even punch cards.

In fact, there is a significant retro scene alone of people collecting and even still writing and believe it or not SELLING games for the C64 and similar computers of the era. Check out Planet X-2 (I think for 8-bit) and Planet X-3 (I think for DOS). They were successful Kickstarter campaigns and shipped in physical form. There are many others too. I watched someone play "Hibernated 1 - This place is death" on an old computer and that game came out recently for a lot of different machines of the era. It's a pretty cool little fandom in my opinion.

> Dozens? I would assume that there are millions on the internet that grew up with these 8-bit computers or even punch cards.

They mean not many people will have recorded the sound from this record and then loaded it on to their C64.

I doubt there are that many people who've even heard of this group[0], let alone owned anything anything by them.

While this article is interesting, and something most people, including me, didn't know about, it's not something that was just discovered. The group's own label told people to look for a "hidden message", and gave a new computer to the guy who found it first.[1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prodigal_(band)

[1] http://popdose.com/dw-dunphy-on-prodigal/

It should be noted that although it was terribly designed the Commodore 1541 disk drive was by far the most common peripheral sold with the machine. It was fairly uncommon for C64 owners to load off of tape unlike other 8 bit systems. Loading off of vinyl requires even more hardware hackery (building the adapter cable) so I wouldn't be surprised if you're right that only a few dozen people have ever done it.

As terrible as the 1541 was, it was still better than the touchy unreliable tape drives of the day, which were generally just cheaply built audiocassette players. It was a factor in making the C64 so dominant in its era.

> It should be noted that although it was terribly designed the Commodore 1541 disk drive was by far the most common peripheral sold with the machine. It was fairly uncommon for C64 owners to load off of tape unlike other 8 bit systems

I think this was true for the American market.

However in Europe (and I believe in Australia as well) tape was the main medium people would have used. Certainly when the C64 was being marketed towards children as late as the early 90s, it was being sold as a cheap games machine and came with the trusty datasette.

I don't think that it was until the Amiga 500(and of course the Atari st) where the disk format really took off for the home market this side of the pond.

Anecdata alert - I grew up on the C64 in (reasonably affluent) Norway. Everybody and their dog had the C64.

For quite a while, I only knew of one household in addition to mine which had a 1541 to go along with it - when I wanted to, ahem, exchange evaluation copies of software with friends, I had to copy it onto tape.

IIRC, a 1541 retailed at 2/3 of the price of a C64. You could buy an awful lot of tape for the money you saved on going with a tape drive instead.

> It should be noted that although it was terribly designed the Commodore 1541 disk drive was by far the most common peripheral sold with the machine. It was fairly uncommon for C64 owners to load off of tape unlike other 8 bit systems.

That doesn't match my experience. Fewer than half of the C64 systems I encountered had disk drives, and all of them had tape drives. Turbo Tape was the most common software in use.

Do you have sales figures on this claim? The only person I knew with a 1541 was a college professor; most Commodore owners in my area didn't start getting floppy drives until they got extremely cheap on the secondhand market. The Commodore tape format was miles better than its competitors, since it had parity operations.

I wouldn't say "miles better" as it was the slowest of all, despite the custom manufactured player/recorder (C2N Datasette). ZX Spectrum, for example, was able to save and load ~4 times faster using any cassette player with stock ROM routines.

Ah lol. Ok I understand now. My apologies and thanks for correcting!

For a similar but more modern experience, somewhere on youtube there's a linux distro encoded as video. IIRC it gives the command line necessary to decode back to iso or whatever, but my search-fu is failing me.

Lots of people still do this today. Especially for old computers that are hard to get disk drives for.

But instead of reading the files off an actual tape, they're store on MP3 players, or voice recorders.

There are even programs, like the ones in the PET era, that will speed up the audio so that the "tapes" will load faster.

I never tried recording my own cassettes. I wonder if a data cassette recorder only has 1 track compared to the 4 tracks an audio recorder would try to use.

The data cassette recorders were more robustly built than regular tape recorders so that the motor speed wouldn't fluctuate as much.

If a Pet Shop Boys recording was off a few percent, it wasn't a big deal. But if you were loading a program, you'd get errors if the speed drifted too far from spec.

I don’t think it was 4 ... it seems a waste they didn’t use the extra channel actually ... but there was a track for each side.

But it was 4 tracks. That's why you could use a regular cassette in a 4-track recorder. If you used a regular cassette in a 4-track recorder, you would hear the 2 tracks from Side A as normal, and then the 2 tracks from Side B in reverse.

Only if stereo. You only need 2 tracks for mono. One for each side.

But that's not how audio cassettes worked, otherwise they would not be compatible. Consumer cassette players/recorders were 4 tracks.

Yeah, duh. Two tracks for each side.

That he felt the need to explain the cassette leader made me feel very old.

On the Atari side the 410 cassette recorder was popular with the "I cannot afford the disk drive" crowd. I can imagine hooking up a record player instead. After all, I had a lot of story records including some Godzilla stuff so why not programs.

I once discovered a C64 program I wrote in the 80s, buried in a box of cassettes in the garage and filed between The Cars and Dio. No lie. Still alphabetized.

What did it do?

I can't remember the details; I think it was some kind of hexadecimal-binary converter.

This is so classic, bravo!


That’s super cool. I love how forward thinking this is.

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