Get the Latest News! On Your TRS-80! Via a Dial-Up Modem!

By  |  Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 5:27 pm

When and if the Internet kills off the daily newspaper, it’ll hardly be a crime of passion. Actually, it may be the most premeditated murder in the history of premeditated murders–it all started decades ago, and the dirty deed hasn’t been completed yet. Here’s proof in the form of a wonderful 1981 San Francisco local TV news report on bleeding-edge Bay Area newshounds who were dialing into CompuServe and downloading online newspapers–which took, according to the report, a couple of hours to do.

If you were using computers back in 1981, this clip is extraordinarily nostalgic, from the TRS-80 Model 1 with cassette player to the TRS-80 Color Computer hooked up to a TV to the rotary-dial phone and acoustic coupler to the reference to $5 an hour access fees to the vintage newspaper office equipped with green-screen terminals. I love the PC owner (“Owns Home Computer”) and the anchorwoman’s arched-eyebrow skepticism about the whole idea. And the misleading newspaper ad that shows a highly graphical online newspaper was simply a few years ahead of where newspapers would eventually get.

If you didn’t use computers back in 1981–maybe because you hadn’t been born yet–the clip is a great short course on what those of us who did went through. I miss many things about the old days, but not monochrome text-only screens, tape decks, or 300-baud modems.

I’m skeptical, incidentally, about the report’s statement that only two or three thousand folks in the Bay Area had home PCs. Especially given that the Bay Area was the epicenter of the home computer revolution and PCs of various sorts had been around for six years by then.

Twenty-eight years later, the daily newspaper is still with us, but it’s in extraordinarily fragile condition. It’s hardly making a daring prediction to say that we’ll end 2009 with fewer major newspapers than we started it with (actually, predicting that we won’t would be the gutsy guess). Anyone want to speculate on whether newspapers will exist in any form at all in, say, 2037? (My guess: Probably not. But magazines will still be with us, at least sorta.)

(Thanks to Charles Forsythe–with whom I spent much of my waking hours using TRS-80s at high school in 1981–for finding this on DailyKos…)



3 Comments For This Post

  1. Tyler Lemke Says:

    I use to have both a TRS-80 Model I and Model II, my dad had a Model III at work with the big 8 inch floppy disk drive. I remember connecting with a modem with my friends across town and play old text adventure games. I had another friend who had a Model III and we would play some Olympic game on it Friday nights. Those were wonderful days.

    I consider the TRS-80s the first home computers. Didn’t buy my first Apple until the Classic II. Haven’t looked back since. Hated my Gateway in college. Oh ya, I had the first Commodore 64 and Amiga too. Sad to say I had a PC Jr., but took it back after two days and bought a normal IBM PC.

  2. pond Says:

    I see a lot of articles about how Internet is killing newspapers, but none of them talk about the effect that TV news had back in the 1950s and 1960s. The Evening News broadcast killed the afternoon papers, which either folded, or tried to compete as morning editions. Most towns ended up with only one paper, and this killed the competitive impulses of editors and publishers – which had always been fearsome.

    This led to the decline in a lot of features that had nothing to do with news, but could’ve helped the papers stay healthy: like comics pages, which are now squeezed so tiny you can hardly read them, and added magazine sections. These kinds of features are not so timely that they can’t be just as enjoyable once a day – unlike breaking stories where the Internet has the best advantage.

    It also led to a decline in investigative journalism and scandalous ‘crusades’ of the papers, sensational bits that were really only done to drum up circulation and beat out the other papers.

    The decline in literacy among Americans must be a big part of it as well, unfortunately.

  3. Sharon Says:

    I worked at one of the daily newspapers that joined the CompuServe experiment in either the 2nd or 3rd batch, and remember it well. In fact, it was just a short time later that I was inspired to launch what we nicknamed “Fred,” a dial-in BBS service for the Middlesex News – one of the first dial-up information services at a daily newspaper. I remember being able to watch what people were typing in as they were typing, thanks to the rather unzippy 300-baud modem speed.

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    […] did the basic ideas become practical? In the 1980s and 1990s, more and more people began using electric screens to read news and transmit messages, although the screens usually weren’t built into walls and the […]