TRS-80 Strings

written by Matthew Reed

TRS-80 Strings by Stephen B. Gray

"TRS‑80 Strings," later known as “Tandy Gram,” was a column in Creative Computing magazine that focused on TRS-80 computers. It was written by Stephen B. Gray for most of its run and first appeared in the November/December 1978 issue.

Stephen B. Gray was best known for founding the Amateur Computer Society in 1966, a group for “anyone interested in building and operating a digital computer that will at least perform automatic multiplication and division.” Gray was also the publisher of the newsletter for the Amateur Computer Society (better known as the ACS Newsletter) that claimed to be (and probably was) “the first hobby-computer publication in the world.” The ACS Newsletter published 40 issues from August 1966 to December 1976.

In 1977, Gray ended the ACS Newsletter and became editor-in-chief of Creative Computing. In late 1977 and 1978, he wrote many articles for Creative Computing about the newly introduced Radio Shack TRS-80 (later known as the Model I). This led to the creation of the “TRS-80 Strings” column in the November/December 19781 issue of Creative Computing. Here’s how he described “TRS-80 Strings” in his first column:

I’ll try to report on all the hardware made for the TRS-80 by Radio Shack and everybody else. As for the software, I’ll check out most of what Radio Shack has to offer, and at least one cassette (or whatever medium) from each company (or individual) producing programs. I’ll report on various TRS-80 User Group Notes, and publish interesting contributions from Creative readers (but no long programs, please — just clever shorties.) In short, just about everything relating to the TRS-80 will be covered in this column, other than hardware modifications of a lengthy kind involving schematics and requiring a lot of knowledge about electronics.

“TRS-80 Strings” soon became one of the best sources of TRS-80 information available. It contained software and hardware reviews, information about upcoming products, and even information for programmers. Topics covered ranged from a June 1980 review of the word processor Scripsit to a January 1981 discussion with Leo Christopherson about creating graphics using string packing. Another frequent topic was computer music2, with a nice review of the Orchestra 80 in the February 1981 column.

The 1983 book The Creative TRS-80 reprinted “TRS-80 Strings” columns from May 1982 to March 1983.

Tandy Gram

Stephen B. Gray’s final “TRS-80 Strings” column (his 67th) appeared in the October 1984 issue of Creative Computing. The November 1984 issue didn’t include any of the regular columns because it was a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Creative Computing. But the column re-appeared in the December 1984 issue with a new title, “Tandy Gram,” and with a new author, Jake Commander. Jake Commander was well known to TRS-80 users for his “Commander 80” column in 80 Micro and articles in Color Computer Magazine. Here is what he wrote in his first column:

This is a welcome opportunity to share some of the TRS-80 secrets I have managed to unravel during many, many hours of work. For the last seven years, I have been using a TRS-80 in one form or another and can honestly say I have never regretted my original decision to buy one. The product line seems destined to be as long-lived as this magazine.

Unfortunately, Jake Commander wrote only ten “Tandy Gram” columns3 before Creative Computing itself ended with the December 1985 issue.

  1. “TRS-80 Strings” wasn’t the only machine specific column introduced in the November/December 1978 issue; there was also “The Apple Cart” (for the Apple II) by Richard Milewski, and “Personal Electronics Transactions” (for the Commodore PET) by Gregory Yob. Unlike “TRS-80 Strings,” which had a new column every issue, the other two columns published irregularly for quite a while. ↩︎

  2. Stephen B. Gray died on June 22, 2014. His obituary described him as “an avid musician, he enjoyed playing the piano, guitar and accordion.” ↩︎

  3. The October 1985 “Tandy Gram” column was written by Ed Juge, at the time director of market planning at Tandy. He wrote about “the future of the company and its machines — not only the new ones, but the old standbys as well.” “Tandy Gram” didn’t appear in the August or December 1985 issues. ↩︎

Categories: Magazines