The Custom TRS‑80 and Other Mysteries
In the early 1980’s, many people thought that interactive computer services over the telephone would be the “next big thing.” TRS‑80 VIDEOTEX was Radio Shack’s solution for accessing centralized information services such as CompuServe, The Source, the Dow Jones Information Service, or custom VIDEOTEX services. It was described as “two-way information retrieval system for home or office use.”
Here’s a description of TRS‑80 VIDEOTEX from a 1981 Radio Shack catalog:
The TRS‑80 VIDEOTEX Concept
Imagine having a public library that never closes right in your home or office! Or volumes of stock market data at your fingertips! Picture a continuously updated newspaper you don’t have to fetch from your doorstep! Or a low-cost electronic mail service!
VIDEOTEX makes interactive information retrieval a reality anyone can take advantage of—today! You simply dial a phone number, press a few keys, and watch the desired data appear on your TV or personal computer screen!
Before long, you’ll no doubt see many information suppliers offering data you can access with your TRS‑80 VIDEOTEX system. You might even see electronic shopping, banking, car rental, classified ads, travel and theater reservations!
Radio Shack applied the TRS‑80 VIDEOTEX name to three different products:
TRS-Opera, written by Richard Taylor, was an early TRS‑80 music program. It was distributed by Acorn Software and sold for $9.95.
TRS-Opera is a BASIC program with an embedded machine language sound routine. The sound routine plays notes through the TRS‑80 cassette port very rapidly, simulating more than one note at a time. The “opera” part of the name derives from the choice of music included with the program:
I have upgraded TRS32, my TRS‑80 Model I/III/4 emulator for Windows, to version 1.19. In addition to a few bug fixes, the primary addition is a new Model III, Level I mode that works with the ROM image recently extracted by David Cooper. If you are interested, you can download it at my TRS‑80 emulator site.
The Lobo MAX‑80 was a TRS‑80 compatible computer sold by Lobo Systems (originally known as Lobo Drives International). Introduced at the 1982 National Computer Conference (where one could be reserved for a $100 deposit), the MAX‑80 offered an impressive array of features including:
- a Z80B running at 5.07 MHz (making it one of the fastest microcomputers at the time)
- 64K of memory standard, with sockets for an additional 64K
- a double-density floppy disk controller with support for both 5¼″ and 8″ drives
- a hard disk controller interface
- video support through a standard RCA phono jack
- a screen size of 64 by 16 or 80 by 24 with a partially redefinable character set
- a TRS‑80 style keyboard with CONTROL and ESCAPE keys, as well as F1 through F4
- one parallel port
- two serial ports
- real time clock with battery backup
One of the more intriguing TRS‑80 clones was the Phoenix, first advertised by Progressive Electronics in the August 1983 issue of 80 Micro. Designed by Keith Helwig, one of the proprietors of Progressive Electronics, the Phoenix was manufactured and sold in Lancaster, Ohio.
The Phoenix was offered in two configurations. The first was the “Basic kit” which cost $599 and included:
In 1982, CompuServe changed their menu structure to “promote ease of use.” The new menus were grouped under six categories:
- Home Services
- Business and Financial Services
- Personal Computing Services
- User Information
Any user could go directly to a page by using the “Go” command. For example, typing “Go HOM-1” would go to the “Home Services” menu page.
CompuServe was the most famous of the early online services and the one with closest ties to the TRS‑80. It actually started in 1969 as a timesharing system, renting mainframe computer time to businesses over phone lines. However, what most people remember as CompuServe dates to August 1979, launched as an online service for microcomputer users named MicroNET.
MicroNET opened the CompuServe network, normally reserved for businesses, to consumers with a telephone modem. Access was only available outside of business hours, when their mainframes were normally idle. MicroNET provided more or less raw access to the CompuServe mainframes running the TOPS-10 operating system. Users could use the included programs or create and run their own programs on the system.
The Amdisk-III was an external dual-3″ (not 3½″) floppy disk system introduced by Amdek Corporation in 1982. The TRS‑80 Model III version was originally priced at $899, but that price was soon reduced to $599 and later $499. Versions were also available for the TRS‑80 Color Computer, the IBM PC, and the Atari 400/800. 80 Micro tested a prototype version for the Model I, but it is unclear if that Model I version was ever sold. Amdisk also sold a single-drive system, the Amdisk-I, that was only available for the Apple II.
In 1982 to 1983, there were four “microfloppy” formats competing to replace the 5¼″ floppy:
The LX‑80 was an alternative to the Radio Shack Expansion Interface that took a different approach to compatibility than the competition. It was originally announced by Lobo Drives International in Fall of 1979, but problems with the supplied operating system meant that it wasn’t released until closer to 1981. The original price was $799 (without memory), although that price had been reduced to $510 by late 1982. Lobo Drives also briefly advertised the LX-50, but it is unclear how that differed from the LX‑80.
The LX‑80 unit was extremely solid (constructed of 1/8″ thick steel) and was designed to have the Model I monitor rest on top. Although more expensive than other Expansion Interfaces, the LX‑80 came with an impressive set of features:
The LemonAid Loader was a device which greatly improved the ability of the TRS‑80 to load programs using a CTR-80 or CTR-80A cassette recorder. It was designed by Wayne Lemons and sold through his company, Lemons Tech Services. The LemonAid Loader was available in two versions: the original which cost $12.99 (later $19.99) and a “deluxe” improved version which cost $18.99 (later $23.50). Both versions were compatible with the Model I and Model III, although cassette filtering was especially useful on the Model I.
The LemonAid Loader was described this way by a product announcement: