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1983 Radio Shack Catalog (archive.org)
190 points by bane on Dec 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments

Oh wow. This is delightful.

As a younger(?) (24) person I am astonished at how many options there were for different home computers back then. Computers computers computers. I wonder what the margins were like back then compared to today (HP and Dell have around 5%, and PCs arent even the most lucrative in % parts of their biz). Does anyone know where we could find such numbers?

I highly encourage people looking at prices to adjust for inflation to get a feel for things. Here's one such calculator: http://www.westegg.com/inflation/

Word processing for $200 ($450), crappy games for $10-20 ($22-44 today), real games (page 48) for $15-35 ($33-78!!!). I feel spoiled rotten.

Today people throw better-than-the-best-games-in-this-catalog at us for free. For a lark. For a laugh cause they were bored and made something in Flash or Canvas that is fun and incredible and we click and move on.

I think its interesting how little game prices have moved since the cost of making a game has gone up so astronomically. I remember a lot of people balking when the change for A-titles went from 50 to 60 dollars, but in terms of money invested, that's so damn cheap.

I wonder if that contributes to modern game-makers hesitation to pursue really innovative titles. Common A-titles when I was growing up were things like The Secret of Monkey Island, a hilarious point-and-click adventure game, and Warcraft/Starcraft. Both of these genres are nearly dead in the mainstream except for names with a lot of clout behind them (Starcraft) and indie developers.

Big publishers, it seems, want to stick to the (admittedly very popular) formula of shooters where you fight Russians, Arabs, Aliens, and Zombies.


Also note that not a single mouse (or pointing device of any kind) was mentioned in the catalog.

I actually don't find it very surprising that game prices haven't moved. Software is essentially a fixed cost affair. So although the cost of making a game is higher than in 1983, so too is the potential audience of the game. The higher costs can be spread out among the larger audience.

If you see paid iPhone games, for example, part of the reason prices are so low (generally $1-$5) is because the cost/complexity of making an iPhone game is very low, whereas the audience is extremely large.

A mid-80s era issue of Computer Shopper magazine is worth looking at. Giant magazine, literally hundreds of pages of ads for gear. Man, I loved those things.

Byte back in the early 80s too. Page after page of esoteric gear. So many different kinds of computers before the PC completely dominated the world.

The other really cool magazine was early 90s, I think. Midnight Engineering, run by a guy named William Gates (different one), which was all about tech entrepreneurship from the very bottom up. Guy printed the magazine himself, bought this huge industrial printing press. His columns on getting it up and running were one of the best parts of the magazine. Also, a running theme was that patents were useless for the little guy since you couldn't afford the costs of protecting them.

Same as it ever was.

Contemporaneous article on Midnight Engineering and the printing press: http://www.westword.com/1995-10-18/news/one-s-company/

More fun with Byte here:


I'm curious why you didn't mention the $4999 computer ($11110 after inflation), which is the very first price you see. I'd guess that the reduced cost of hardware is at least one factor in why game prices haven't increased. Less because it makes the cost of producing a game lower, and more because it makes the market larger for selling the game into.

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64, "each C64 had an estimated production cost of only US$135" while they were sold for $595.

That was probably the biggest margin as Commodore was fully vertically integrated.

Commodore - A Company on the Edge by Brian Bagnall covers the Commodore side of the "Troika of 77" (Tandy / Radio-Shack, Apple and Commodore" who made up the bulk of the volume sales in the early home computer market).

Commodore's ongoing hunt for vertical integration and their huge margins in periods were definitively impressive, and the numbers you cite probably indicate their peak margins (at least in percent)

But Commodore rode waves - they kept getting close to crisis and then rode through it once they had their next temporarily high margin product for a while, then their margins would get squeezed either by their competition or their own decisions, as their product lines were aging and they were too slow to replace them. It happened with the PET, the Vic-20, the C-64, and eventually did them in with the Amiga.

With the Vic-20 and C-64 it was actually Tramiel (Commodore's founder) himself that dropped margins massively to force Texas Instruments out of the home computer market.

The $595 price lasted for a very short time, as Commodore went through wave after wave of slashing VIC-20 prices (eventually to under $100) and C-64 prices. With a $100 trade-in offer, the C-64 dropped as low as $300 in 1983, and at Spring CES they dropped their prices to dealers to $200-$250...

The result was that TI lost $100 million a quarter, and was forced to quit the home computer market entirely. Commodore was still making money at those prices, but obviously their margins had been slashed massively, and so again R&D suffered.

Towards the end their vertical integration was pretty much gone - Commodore Semiconductor Group had seen so little investment that they were not competitive at all, and more and more of Commodore's chip manufacturing was done by partners.

BTW, I had a TI-99 4/A. It was an okay machine, but not part of the troika, and I think I was the only kid I knew with one. I do remember when TI decided to get out of the business and do a fireside sale of all its inventory. The computer which had been so expensive ended up under $99. But I still couldn't afford the expansion box which was needed to handle a disk drive.

Also, while it's been covered in HN before, you might be interested in Jimmy Maher's ongoing series on the history of interactive fiction, including how it's tied into the mainframe hardware of the 1970s and micro hardware of the 70s and 80s. It's at http://www.filfre.net/ .

Toward the end of their popularity (but before the C-128), I remember buying new (or packaged as) C-64's at Target for just above $100.

Up until 1998 or so, PCs regularly yielded 20%+ margins. I basically paid for college hocking PCs at retail 20 hours a week. Corporate sales guys made very nice livings selling PCs.

Looking on the "New! Monster Maze", the description reads, "By the way, they sometime shot through the walls!". Not sure if this a bug or a feature. Some one who played would be able to tell the experience.

Super Mario 64, and I think most of the other top-end N64 exclusives, had a $70 MSRP in 1996 dollars. According to that calculator, that's $99 in 2011 dollars.

I can't believe how cheap games are today.

I remember I wanted to buy Zaxxon for the Colecovision, and it was $59.99. This was in 1983. It seems that the top games are always $60. Of course, $60 in 1983 dollars is $140 in 2012 dollars. That's a lot of money for a faux-3D sidescroller!

I used to be a systems integrator for the TRS-80 Model 16's. we would hack them to add extra serial cards to get 8 serial ports! You could have 9 people logged in at once and doing well if the application was carefully designed.

Funny but true it ran Microsoft Xenix!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenix and had a Microsoft Multiplan (excel like) you could run from a tty or the console.

I have a customer who still has a running copy of Microsoft Multiplan that I have to hack once in a while to keep runnning. It's quite amazing that this customer still keeps a ton of stuff in that old system using telnet/ssh to the SCO Unix box that they host Excel on.

I did my first commercial C code development on these monsters! After a time I even had one in my house so I could do development at home without 1200baud modems dropping my connection etc. And I had a "test" environment to develop code before deploying to my customers machines.

I had all my customers setup with UUCP so they could email me and my staff and alerts from low disk space, backs etc would come to us at the central machine via UUCP emails.

Those were the days.. ;-)

EDIT: iPad autocorrect pain and corrected memory error

The programming manual that came with the TRS-80 Color Computer was among the best introductions to programming ever. Really as good as Why's poignant guide to Ruby. There were similar books at Radio Shack for the TRS-80 Models I and III, also. The books were funny and informative, and easy enough for me to follow along when I was 11.

I got a Color Computer for Christmas and my parents gave me the instruction books several months early. I read them through several times and wrote programs in my notebooks at school.

And that's how I learned to program without having a computer. :-)

I also started with a notebook, before getting a commodore vic-20. Pencil and Basic, you were the CPU.

Nice one. I read every computer book and magazine in the library, years before I could get a computer. Then my parents and I split the $99 for an Australian made VZ-300, with a z80 and 16kb ram. To write in assembly, you needed a 16kb addon. Loved it.

Friend of mine still writes actionscript by hand on occasion.

This site has a boatload of catalogs from '39 onward.


My 'golden years' were in '79 - '84 so much changed, so fast, you felt like every year there was new chip or a new gizmo that you could do _something_ cool with. Later, in the 90's it became a sad joke. We had an informal contest at the Robotics club to come up with anything you could build out of just Radio Shack parts.

These days they are kind of confused. They started adding Arduino kits, and stuff from SeeedStudios (an interesting business model there [1]) I look at the AdaFruit catalog and see hints of the Radio Shack of my youth.

[1] Originally gave you a place to 'sell your design' for other folks who wanted to build it, they were cheap. But now they are selling those same designs through retail channels which seems not quite in spirit with what they started as.

What caught my eye was that Radio Shack was selling a version of UNIX back in 1983!

From page 5:

"TRS-XENIX is derived from the powerful UNIX operating system developed by Bell Laboratories. UNIX has been extensively field-tested for the past decade and has demonstrated outstanding performance under heavy workloads. The TRS-XENIX "core", or runtime package, includes the modules required to set up and operate a multi-user system. It includes a hard disk initialization routine, a text editor for modifying the parameters of the system, utilities to transfer files from TRSDOS diskettes, RUNCOBOL to support our COBOL software, and full password protection."

One question, though: is this the same XENIX that Microsoft was licensing from AT&T?

According to Wikipedia, yes.

"Microsoft did not sell Xenix directly to end users; instead, they licensed it to software OEMs such as Intel, Tandy, Altos and SCO, who then ported it to their own proprietary computer architectures."


Yes the boot screens would say Copyright 1983 Microsoft.

You also had to pay $750.00 just to get Vi and a C compiler!

From my bad memory;

You could run XENIX programs on Windows NT up to NT 3.51

It is very likely there are still traces of XENIX left in Windows 8.

You must be thinking of the POSIX subsystem. NT's design was meant to have several personalities, of which Win32 was one, OS/2 was one, and POSIX was one, supposedly on equal footing. The POSIX subsystem still exists, I believe you can get it by the control panel under "Programs and Features", "Turn Windows features on or off", and when you check the box it directs you to a website to get GNU tools to run on top of it. (This part used to come from a company called Interix, acquired by MS in '99 according to Wikipedia.)

I know one of the ex-Interix guys it was an interesting story.

eskimo.com in Seattle ran on a Model 16 for several years. It was definitely Microsoft Xenix. My brother wrote the multiuser chat system on there, nice piece of software.

hell, Microsoft's internal mail system was Xenix. The last remnants of Xenix weren't removed from Microsoft until the Tide servers came online - ITG ran a xenix machine as a Usenet spool and telnet proxy until 96 or 97.

Not a lot of people cared about TRS-80s by this time. By 1983 the IBM PC was the microcomputer of choice, and it was in turn to be superseded by the Mac in 1984.

In the heyday of the TRS-80, they looked like this: http://mew3.us/images/vintagecomputer/trs80m3.jpg

The Model I TRS-80 (1977-1981) was the inexpensive computer of the proletariat. Schools and the well-off went with the Apple II.

Then Radio Shack came out with the later TRS-80 models (as pictured) attempting to move into the business market. Never got traction.

The IBM PC was the serious business computer. I don't think you could say it was superseded by the Mac. The Mac was for artist types and relatively expensive.

Then the PC clones came along and the Mac was marginalized.

    The IBM PC was the serious business computer.
IBM PC's lost of TRS-80 Model 16's all the time until ethernet came along. Remember multi-user SMB customers needed to have multiple people working on the same systems.

IBM PC's were stand alone for quite some time. We had many "bake offs" between Model 16's and a couple of IBM PC's with arcnet or other hodge-podge solutions and win most of the time.

When you have an office with 8 people in it and 4 people need to get into A/R and several need access to G/L for financials the TRS-80 Model 16's with Xenix (UNIX) were great solutions.

I don't say this as a FanBoi I say it as someone who was there and sold and supported them for a long time. What Tandy failed to do was understand the shift in the market to networked systems and they died almost over night when IBM PC's became more affordable AND networked with reasonable software allowing multiple people to work on the same stuff.

This is exactly spot on. I was of that generation and I remember it fondly. The only people we knew who had Apple IIs were rich kids. This was just a fact; at that time it was too early for there to be any real fanboyism yet. We couldn't even afford PCs. So it was TRS-80 and Commodore 64 for us all the way (my paper route money financed the TRS-80, the Commodore, Atari, &c. were generous Christmas gifts).

    The IBM PC was the serious business computer. 
    I don't think you could say it was superseded 
    by the Mac. The Mac was for artist types and 
    relatively expensive.
Yes, I think that is a serious overstatement. I've never even seen a mac before I got my first job when I was 18 (in 2001) but everyone had PCs (I/my parents had a clone since 1987).

It's not surprising as I don't think Macs have ever owned more than about 10% of the market.

I wrote video games for Big Five Software (Miner 2049er was our big hit), and we actually used Model 16s with a compiler we wrote to compile to cartridges for the Atari 400/800. At the time, it was an awesome computer. We even had a 5MB hard drive. A drive so massive at the time, that it actually had a KEY on the front to lock it.

Thanks for that! I spent untold hours playing Miner 2049er on my Apple ][.

spent quite a lot of time on Miner 2049er here ! other big atari titles at that time were Jumpman and Pogo Joe.

> By 1983 the IBM PC was the microcomputer of choice, and it was in turn to be superseded by the Mac in 1984.

That's a completely different picture from where I lived. The Mac was a curiosity that you'd come across every now and then but pcs were everywhere.

It really wasn't clear throughout the whole market what the "right" computer was -- for businesses, sure, PC, but there were a lot of people still using "word processors" with CP/M, various old machines, etc. And there were crazy quasi-video-game systems sold to schools, like the Commodore PET.

My first computer was a ColecoVision ADAM, around Christmas 1984, which was really a horrible choice -- never shipped in large quantities, and discontinued a month later (which is why it was cheap). An older or less capable machine with a larger userbase would have been a whole lot better. I hate that I missed out on Apple II, C64, and TRS-80 culture.

Fortunately I went to a crazy gifted/talented pull-out program once a week which had a lab full of Mac 512k (and later, plus and SE) (for a public school in Pennsylvania!), and even better, there was a modem. I went out of my way to be there as much as I could (skipping regular classes to "work on projects" there, etc.). Eventually I got a dumb terminal and modem of my own. Mmm, VAX/VMS and Cyber 205.

Most businesses cared very much about the TRS-80 systems. They were cheaper alternatives to very expensive mini-computers (VAXen etc.) and much more useful then the IBM PC's without any networking.

We installed a lot of these machines for many years while PC's were just beginning to be "interesting".

I loved how the old systems would prompt for memory size on boot. Ok, maybe not loved, but at least had my nostalgia spurred.

My personal favorite of that era is the TRS-80 model 100, of which I own several. I give them to my kids when they turn 10. Best notebook keyboard of that era (and periodically, since then).

Do you remember why they asked for memory size?

It was the ROM asking you how much memory you wanted to allocate for BASIC variables. You could tune this for various programs and/or if you were planning on running machine language programs you wanted to have BASIC get out of the way and leave your program more memory.. :)

Sadly, my high school, in 1989, was teaching BASIC on TRS-80s, the same computers and language I had mastered in the 3rd grade. It seemed like computers were not progressing; I had no idea so much had changed because that was all I had exposure to.

That's right, in 1984 I was learning to program on a TRS-80 in a public middle school in a random small town, and dreaming of an Apple.... by this time the "Trash 80" was definitely not state of the art!

I absolutely loved my trash-80! I remember the book on basic that came with it and working through all of the programs in the back. The last one was like 200 lines of code and all it did was reproduce 4 basic geometrical shapes on the screen.

Sadly, that amount of typing (I was 10 or so and not very quick back then) for such little output stopped my interest in programming.

I'm 38 now and over the last year have renewed my interest in programming having self-learned html, css, js, python, and django. Really wish I had stuck with it back then.

Man though, does that catalog take me back.

You're the first person in this thread to also call it the "Trash-80" which for me is a term of endearment.

Great memories programming those, but especially reading the manuals, books and mags made for them; they were much more focused on programming than for other home computers at that time and I like(d) programming!

I have 2 pocket TSR-80s, 1 TSR-80 'laptop' (model 100) and a model III in my 'museum'; all working. Switching them on is an interesting change from my ipad/mbp retina tools. What I find most interesting about all 80s computers I have is that they still work and work perfectly.

I really wonder if that would be the case with after '95 computers. I have a lot; they are all broken except my Sun E450, SGI O2, Sparcstation 5s and Ultra 10. Almost none of the over 50 laptops, netbooks, pads and desktops from '95 till now I have work perfectly. It depends in how far they do not work; most desktops do nothing (besides spin up the power), most laptops come on and start beeping. And I don't work in a builder yard; i'm a programmer, so I didn't expose them to the elements. Computer museums and retro collectors depend a lot on the fixability of computers; all 80s stuff you could easily solder / repair yourself and it is worth it. In the 90s you still could, but after a certain time it gets annoying and people just 'buy new'. We now moved in the everything SMT, micro, system on a chip, glued computers, which means repairing them, especially in 30 years from now, will not be so easy I recon.

Like you, I have a small suite of old computers still ticking away .. Oric-1/ATMOS (6 of them, soon-to-be networked to an Oric Telestrat), Atari Portfolio, C64, SGI O2, BeBox, PPC-based tiBook, &etc.

Old computers are still hell useful. The value you get out of it is entirely arbitrary.

I worked at Radio Shack in 1990.

Funny thing: People would come in all the time needing RAM for their 1983 TRS 80's. And we sold it for about $2,000 per 4k.

Why didn't they upgrade their computers? Legacy software running in their auto mechanic shop or similar.

Best part most everyone is missing out on:

Page 17.. yes you had to PAY $750.00 just to have a C compiler and VI!

Seriously, you only got 'ed' with the basic system, no C, no Vi, lots of stuff missing.

I remember trying to beg my customers to buy it so I could use Vi and compile code on their systems. Otherwise I would edit code on my system and have to compile and transfer binaries via 8" floppy disks!

Worse was explaining to them why they had to pay $250.00 for the COBOL Compiler PLUS another $750.00 for the Development system so we had Vi on the system to edit files with! :-)

Look at those prices!

I am so thankful for my parents paying an arm and a leg to get me a computer at a young age. I'm guessing the Apple ][ they bought me 30 years ago must have run them a few grand at least.

"I am so thankful for my parents paying an arm and a leg to get me a computer at a young age."

Myself as well. My first computer was an Atari 800XL, tape drive (cassette no less!), floppy drives, etc.

I attribute my deep interest in the IT field (along with my high salary) to their early support/nudging. Thankful, very much so.

Yeah! Atari 800XL with cassette! We had one of those, my favorite game you had to load in by tape was Zeppelin. I was 5 or 6 at the time, so this game was frustrating as hell and probably made me cry more than once.

Video of Zeppelin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBLUmXUprvU

My dad also had a computing magazine where you could transcribe small programs or text based games into your 800XL and make your own simple programs - which probably has a lot to do with why I'm a software developer today.

That and the IBM PC junior. Good times.

Many a night I stayed up transcribing games into my 800XL :)

Still remember my dad opening up the car trunk to reveal the Apple ][ GS Woz Limited Edition. I was hooked.

What would the 201X version of this be? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRS-80_Model_100

It ran for 20 hours on 4AA batteries. It was instant on and daylight readable and had a full sized keyboard. Maybe something like a largish netbook or 11" Macbook Air with a lowish resolution transflective display, the ability to sleep for a month or run for a week in a low power/console only mode. What I'm describing isn't a mass market item, of course. It would be more for field research. (Just a few years back, I'd heard that some Model 100's were still being used in this capacity.)

The AlphaSmart Neo 2. 700 hours of battery life on 3 AA batteries. http://www.neo-direct.com/default.aspx

Cherry keys switches? If it had a bigger screen, it would be perfect.

Don't let the screen size stop you. I have an older version of the AlphaSmart and using it with Markdown is full of win.

I believe there are some reporters in the field that still use it because of the quality of the keyboard. There is even a wifi mod.

Open Pandora?


I regularly get 12 hours of usage out of mine.

Are these worth anything? I think I have an older one with the Model I somewhere.

This is obviously a much later catalog because of fancy 5mb harddrives and the model III is in there.

We could never afford any of this but I learned Basic one summer by repeatedly visiting the store demo unit and flipping through the books. I vaguely remember it only had the "level 1 basic" rom so there was only $A and $B (whopping 4k of ram?)

Wow, this totally reminded me of hanging out in RS at the mall while my parents shopped and getting tips from other geeks hanging out around the demo computers. This is how I learned MS-DOS Shell (and gorillas & nibbles) :D

Are these worth anything?

Perhaps as museum pieces? From what I've seen, old computing hardware practically never becomes more desirable.

LOL for those who don't get his joke, its a traditional bathtub curve. Check some recent ebay sales... You want a new car or a PDP-8? An original Apple-I or an oceanfront house? True there's a gap of about a human generation in the middle where its scrap metal prices.

Also there's a strong supply/demand component. The supply of PDP-8 hardware is low enough that the prices are about the same per pound as silver, or at least copper. But PDP-11 and VAX equipment (currently...) has a large enough supply that its hard to exceed triple digits.

The year is 1999 and the sky is becoming packed with "spy saucers." It's up to you to shoot 'em down in "real time" with your laser cannon.

Sounds like people shooting drones down with their shotguns. Some things were on the mark.


However, I am waiting for the Allied Radio catalog collection http://alliedcatalogs.com/ to be up and functioning. I got a few of my radios from there when I first became a ham in the early 60's. When I went to the university in 1965, I actually got to visit the store, which was a thrill.

I'm surprised that even the desks and chairs have improved.

Their swivel workstation chair would be $450 in today's dollars. My chair is much nicer for much less money.

Sometimes we get fixated on how Moore's law or related effects are churning out better tech, but forget that this is against a backdrop of refinement towards better quality, less expensive consumer goods overall.

SOme of that goes on. But there's also the 'free market death spiral' where things get a little cheaper and a little worse in each iteration, until you can only buy broken crap for almost nothing. Or you can buy boutique goods at 1000X the price.

My Aunt taught me to program in the 80s on her TRS-80 Model III. She gave it to me once it was obsolete and I continued to use it until 91 when I got a 386. Seeing dancing Demon in the catalog brings back memories. Hardware prices have sure come down, but software seems to be similarly priced.

HOw about a nice Tandy 15MB hard drive for only $2495? (Installation kit? Additional $500.) https://lh3.ggpht.com/_osrVjnPbdEM/TLAcKFueMqI/AAAAAAAAfy8/1...

Tandy nearly gave the computers away, then made big $$$ on add-ons/peripherals.

Or how about $1244 for a Heath 8080 computer system KIT? (The H8 originally sold with RAM as an OPTION.) http://www.informationtechnologyschools.org/wp-content/uploa...

Wow, this made my day! As a 13 year old kid, I spent hours pouring over that very exact catalog, dreaming of all of the fun stuff I could do with those cool computers.

After playing on Model III and Model IV's and Commodore 64's and VIC-20's, my parents bought me a TRS-80 Color Computer in 1983. Just like the one in that catalog. 4k of RAM. 4K!

But that little TRS-80 changed my life; it introduced me to the joys of programming. Fast forward 30 years and I still love to program; have had a great career and have spent the past 10 years running a software company.

And it all started in the very same 1983 Radio Shack catalog. Thanks for sharing!

Just imagine the difficulty in designing and publishing the actual catalogue considering the power of the computers advertised.

It's full of big charts and text wrapped around deep etched images. Making me dizzy just thinking about it.

Yup. Paste-up layout, Letraset... much different tech back then.

Radio shack had a good early start, the first personal computer I saw was a TRS-80 (model 1) looked nice and the software was cool (think I saw backgammon as the first program) the monitor was cheesy though, literally a cheap BW TV in a somewhat nicer case. School went for Commodore PETs which I really enjoyed. I did get to use a TRS-80 for a few months the BASIC was great had simple character block graphics, program line editor kinda sucked. (except for the Commodore, all of the other computer BASIC line editors were pretty bad.) Another recollection of TRS, was the disk drives were pretty expensive - had to buy an expansion bus, a disk controller then the drive(s). I just used tape.

Radio Shack by then was it was long on the tooth with soundless black and white computers (OK, you could get sound by using a radio to tune into RF interference - not kidding). The color computer was kinda of a late comer, with the Apple, Atari then Commodore already on the market with compelling color systems... and games.

Another trend that was emerging was they were pretty much working on a lock-in strategy, it was buy only their stuff or the highway, all the way down to printers. They kept with that MO into their PC clones which had slightly incompatible card spaces in their PCs to force customers to buy RS cards.

RS users seemed to be a pretty nice sort though, I'm sure a lot of HAM radio guys got them since they frequented the store already. Their magazines like 80 Micro were informative.

Seeing these prices reminds me how the C64 became so popular during this period - it was just a computer/keyboard which plugged into your TV - similar capabilities at a much lower price.

I think they were positioning these TRS-80's more for business markets while C64 for the home? That was a mistake obviously as IBM was firmly there already. Same mistake Philips made in Europe with MSX and after that PC. The home market was fine, but making the systems very expensive for the business market was a crap strategy as you could buy an IBM compatible (with horrible graphics/sounds, but he, we are talking business here) for the same price as for instance the 8250 or 8280; why buy the latter?

That went on for Amiga/Atari as well; for the entertainment market (graphics, video, audio and games) these systems were excellent and great value; upping the price with the Amiga 2000 for instance and selling it 'for the business market' was a nail in the coffin.

The C64 was more comparable with the TRS-80 Color Computer, which was extremely mediocre by comparison but only modestly cheaper.

In fact it kills me they charged $100 extra just for extended BASIC. But I guess in retrospect I'm glad my parents sprung for it as Bresenham's was a bit out of my league when I was 6.

> The C64 was more comparable with the TRS-80 Color Computer, which was extremely mediocre by comparison but only modestly cheaper.

The CoCo & its UK clone the dragon 32 had 64 K ram (it took a while to figure that one out), a better screen and a much better processor (the 6809) on which you could run (with some fiddling) os/9.

Those were redeeming features. The C64 was a fantastic gaming machine with hardware sprites and a really nice audio chip, the CoCo/Dragon was the better machine if you wanted to learn how to program.

Computers back then were not as simple to compare as they are today, depending on what you wanted to do with your computer then one or the other was the better choice.

Loved the Trash-80 so much. I consider myself lucky to have used one when I was a child. My favorite game was Android Nim:


When I was young I thought that game was unbeatable and the adults who could beat it had a secret code or something. Now I realize it just plays a perfect game but you can win if you understand it.

Oddly enough one of the movies that I remember best when I was a child was also (seemingly unrelatedly) called "The Secret of Nihm"


I'm so glad I was born in this time when computers are cheap and plentiful. For $50 I can have a computing device that can do anything that any of these computers could do, only many times as fast.

Can you program the CPU of a new computer to make music on the radio via radio interference? ;)

Whoa awesome...My dream lists as a 5 year old...oh the endless hours i would have wasted pouring over these catalogues...

But then it reminds me of how thankful I should be for the times we live in now :D

Same here. I had a decked-out Model I, but that did not stop me from daydreaming about a Model IV with a hi-res card, two half-height floppies in one bay, and a 5 megabyte hard drive in the other. I swear I saw this configuration in an issue of 80 Micro.

It was a different time. I was in highschool in '83 and was fortunate enough to have a father who taught at a technical college, an uncle that repaired everything digital, and friends with home computers. The true geeks then were the ham radio and astronomy folks. Steve Ciarcia and game programmers were heros. And computers were expensive and something we lusted after. Between game and role-playing, hours would be spent discussing what new system was featured in Byte...

I learned Unix and C on a Model 16 (which was actually very old by the time I got to play with it).

When, many years later, I found that I couldn't test out of my college's C programming course which was a prereq for a CS major, I sighed and showed up for class -- with the exact same dog-eared copy of K&R 2nd I'd used to attempt to teach myself C on the old Tandy.

"Put on a Show With 'Dancing Demon'

This amazing devil actually tap dances to computer accompaniment of "Ain't She Sweet"! You can even create your own musicals and dance routines! Requires audio amplifier.


(p. 20)

Is there anywhere I can see this in an emulator?


It's a very cute and well-known program.

Wow.. People really had time to read long texts back then.

Pre-Internet. Information overload hadn't been invented yet. We relished whatever rare information we could dig up on what interested us.

You exaggerate. "Information overload" in the fully modern sense was invented before the first ARPANET node sent its first packet in 1969.

For example, ISI was talking about "data scientists" and the "information explosion" back in the 1960s. Here's part of an ad from theirs in the 1966 "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" at http://books.google.com/books?id=WAgAAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA49...

"Despite the deluge of scientific and technical papers, only a small fraction falls within the area of each individual's specific interests. ... So your problem may not be one of information overload at all. You may actually have a shortage of information."

(I'm reading through a collection of essays, written during the 1960s from the founder of the ISI. The complaints about there being too much information haven't changed in the last 40+ years.)

BTW, the earliest Google Books hit I could find with that phrase comes from 1963: http://books.google.se/books?id=jPgqAAAAMAAJ&q=%22inform... .

It's worth noting how comprehensive Radio Shack's solution was. They seem to have offered it all.

Its hard to believe now, but back then RS had a general corporate policy of selling everything required, all the way down to installation tools and nuts and bolts. Not just computers but car audio, telephones, what would later be called home theater, any line of business they entered, they jumped in both feet.

Its almost noteworthy what they didn't stock. They didn't stock much in the line of non-electronics raw materials and power tools, so if you made a subwoofer for your car you'd need to buy the wood and saws elsewhere.

It was very popular and was very profitable, at least compared to now. There's probably a greater entrepreneur lesson here that your customers don't "buy things" they "do projects" and every different place they have to visit to do a project probably costs about 50% in sales, or at least a ridiculous number.

In many ways Tandy were the Apple of their day in terms of sales strategies. Not only did they sell systems soup-to-nuts, but they also controlled the retail channel (Radio Shack locations nationwide) and attempted to monopolize service and repair, both things we recognize from the modern Apple model.

My dad still sometimes recounts the story of how he bought a TRS-80, and found that the screws holding the case together were sealed in place with Glyptal. When he wanted to upgrade the system he drilled through the Glyptal to get at the screws, and then placed a few stern calls to Tandy HQ in Fort Worth, admonishing them that once a computer was sold, it belonged to the consumer and the manufacturer had no right to prevent the consumer from repairing or modifying it himself if he so chose.

Tandy listened, and future TRS-80 models were sold without the Glyptal on the screws. Which means, I guess, that some things HAVE changed after all...

30 years later, future generations will see the mbp i'm using now with the same amazement.

The greyish white cases with black monitors and keys, so stylish, so... futuristic

I lost countless hours reading through these catalogs as a kid. Great memories.

Page 8, top-right graph looks like the MATLAB logo.

Man I'm so glad to be around right now.. I remember catalogs from the 80s.. what we have now is so incredible compared to then. Feels good man.

who would have thought... I remember the 2000-in-1 electronics kit

I want a plotter!

Access your computer by phone! Hah that picture is hilarious.


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