The Custom TRS‑80 and Other Mysteries
The TRS‑80 Color Computer, commonly nicknamed the CoCo, was the first in Radio Shack’s line of inexpensive home computers. Introduced on July 31, 1980 (the same day as the TRS‑80 Model III and the TRS‑80 Pocket Computer), the Color Computer was also known as the Colour Computer outside of the United States, and later as the Color Computer 1.
The Color Computer was part of Radio Shack’s attempt to diversify their computer product line. Costing only $399.00 for its basic model, it was designed to compete with other lower-cost computers, such as the Atari 400 and the Commodore VIC-20. But the Color Computer inspired a wide range of uses, multiple support magazines, and a vibrant third-party software and hardware market. The Color Computer series was probably the best selling of Radio Shack’s own computer models.
The TRS‑80 Computer Whiz Kids (later renamed the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids) was a comic book series that was created by the Radio Shack Education Comic Book Program. The series consisted of eleven issues, running from 1980 to 1992, which were distributed for free to schools. Any teacher (writing on school letterhead) could request a free packet of fifty comic books from Radio Shack.
The comic books focused on classmates Alec and Shanna and their teacher, Ms. Wilson. Alec and Shanna were the so-called TRS‑80 Computer Whiz Kids. Ms. Wilson, her students, and the many visitors to the classroom all made frequent use of many different Radio Shack products.
Ask Tandy” was a column that appeared in 80 Micro from the November 1984 to the September 1985 issues. It was described as “a column in which the Tandy people in Ft. Worth answer your questions about their products and services.” “Ask Tandy” was an official source of TRS‑80 information from the notoriously secretive Radio Shack.
Because 80 Micro was the most popular magazine (by far) for Radio Shack TRS‑80 users, cooperation from Radio Shack might have seemed like an obvious idea. But the relationship between Radio Shack and 80 Micro had always been strained, particularly while Wayne Green was still publisher.
The TRS‑80 Model II was the first in the line of Radio Shack business computers that eventually included the Model 16, Model 12, and Tandy 6000. It was introduced at the June 1979 National Computer Conference in New York City. Radio Shack began taking orders that month for delivery in October, shipping 1,000 Model II’s by the end of year.
The introductory price for the Model II was $3450.00 for the 32K version (catalog number 26-4001) and $3899.00 for the 64K version (catalog number 26-4002). A 32K system could be later upgraded to 64K by purchasing the 32K add-on (catalog number 26-4102) for $449.00.
The Model II was actually the second business computer that Radio Shack sold. The previous year, Radio Shack offered the Tandy 10, a relabeled ADDS System 50. The Model II cost less than half the price of the Tandy 10, yet was far more powerful.
“80 Applications” was a popular column that first appeared in the January 1980 premiere issue of 80 Microcomputing. Written by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, “80 Applications” covered a wide range of TRS‑80 related hardware projects and ideas.
The first “80 Applications” column was only one page but it soon grew to become one of the most detailed columns in 80 Microcomputing. As that initial column promised:
In the coming months, this column will present unusual applications of the TRS‑80 in everyday and not-so-everyday life. Hardware and software extensions and fixes will be described, and some of the fascinating inner workings of this first computer-for-the-people will be revealed.
AIDS-III, also known as MTC AIDS-III, was a very popular database system for the TRS‑80 Model I, III, and II. Its unfortunate name (in retrospect) stood for Automated Information Directory System. AIDS-III was a highly regarded program and final member of the family of AIDS products.
Robert Fiorelli, the primary author of AIDS-III, described it not as a “database management system” but as a “data-management system”:
AIDS-III is a data-management system. This is different from a data-base management system. The former is generally faster, more flexible, and is suited for selecting and ordering information in a highly dynamic fashion. By contrast, the latter has higher capacity, is slower and more cumbersome, and is suited for easily accessing individual items of data. Think of it as the difference between driving a station wagon and a bus.
Alien Defense Commented is an unusual book that contains the complete source code listing for the Soft Sector Marketing game Alien Defense (which was still being sold at the time the book was published). It was written by Larry Ashmun, the author of Alien Defense, and was intended for programmers looking for “details of one approach to game writing.” As the advertisements promised:
Never Before Has Anyone Sold a Book Like This!
If you write in machine language; if you have thought of writing a machine language game; if you ever just wondered what a machine language program looked like in its uncompiled form — this is your book!
Microsoft Multiplan was an early spreadsheet program and the first piece of application software from Microsoft to target end users. It was introduced in 1982 with versions for CP/M, MS-DOS, and the Apple II. Versions for many other computers, including various TRS‑80 models, soon followed. Multiplan was the first (and for a while the only) third-party software package available when the Apple Macintosh was introduced in 1984.
Multiplan (sometimes called the Multiplan Electronic Worksheet) was a “second generation” spreadsheet, designed to compete with VisiCalc, the original (and incredibly popular) spreadsheet program. Multiplan was written by Douglas Klunder under the direction of Charles Simonyi, the head of Microsoft’s new application software group.
The Super4 was a popular speed-up board for the TRS‑80 Model 4. Introduced in 1984 by Alpha Technology, Inc. (not to be confused with Alpha Products), the Super4 was both inexpensive and easy to install. As the advertisements stated, it required “No trace cutting. No soldering. No wires to connect.”
The Super4 package contained everything necessary for the speed-up, including a faster Z80 chip. Installation consisted of unplugging the 4 MHz Z80 CPU from the Model 4 and plugging the Super4 into the now empty Z80 socket.
“Fun House” was one of the best remembered columns that ran in 80 Micro magazine. It was written by Richard Ramella, author of the 1982 book Computer Carnival: Sixty Programs for Starters. “Fun House” first appeared in the September 1982 issue of 80 Micro and ran until April 1984, with one gap for the February 1984 issue.
Computers were still a scary unknown for many at the time and “Fun House” encouraged people to have fun with computers. Ramella used his gentle style to focus on a different theme each month: