On this day in 1977 Radio Shack announces the TRS-80 computer

August 3, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Radio Shack announced its TRS-80 Model I, which was the company’s first personal computer offering, August 3 1977.

The TRS-80 was also one of the first personal computers commercially sold to the general public.

(Apple and Commodore also had personal computers available in 1977, but today’s column will focus on the TRS-80).

Okay, what does T-R-S and the “80” stand for.

The T stands for Tandy, the R stands for Radio and the S stands for Shack.

The 80 stands for the Z80 microprocessor it used. The Z80 was made by a company called ZiLOG, which in 1974, became a corporation based out of California.

The Z80 microprocessor had an original clock speed of 1.78 MHZ.

In August of 1977, your humble columnist had just graduated from high school and looked at this new “computer” with some curiosity, but not much interest.

It was also the same year and month Elvis Presley died, but don’t get me started on that.

In 1977, I thought of computers as mostly being used by NASA, Honeywell, and IBM. I also knew computers made accumulating the US Census numbers much easier too.

During the mid 1970s, if a person wanted their own computer, they would normally need to order the parts and build it themselves.

I remember back in the late 70s reading a hobbyist’s magazine called Popular Electronics, which included many how-to articles in it. One article was about how to build your own computer.

A person could order “Heathkits” from this magazine, and one of the kits included the parts and instructions on how to build your own computer.

I recently did some research on the Internet and found the computer kit from Heathkit was called the H-8. This kit was available in 1977.

Getting back to the TRS-80, it came equipped with 4KB (4,000 bytes) of RAM, (Random Access Memory) and Level I BASIC ROM (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code – Read Only Memory).

The computer processing and associated components were located inside of the keyboard housing.

The TRS-80 came with a monitor and cassette-tape storage deck for loading and saving data.

Yes kids, these were the days when you loaded and saved your data and programs on cassette tapes.

The use of floppy disk drives in personal computers didn’t come into common use until a few years later.

In 1980, the TRS-80 floppy drive did become available, but at a very pricey cost of about $425.

During the first year the TRS-80 was available, the public reacted favorably on being able to buy their very own computer – fully assembled – for less than $600

The first month alone, Radio Shack sold 10,000 TRS-80 computers.

I was reading on the Radio Shack historical home pages about how their stores soon were flooded with orders. In fact, the Radio Shack stores soon sold out of the available TRS-80s in stock. They were back-ordered for months.

After the first year, 55,000 TRS-80 computers were sold.

There was not much in the news, either, when the TRS-80 was first announced, but I do remember the TRS-80 became a huge success for being one of the first home computers a person could buy fully assembled. Plus, it was a “computer” – which impressed folks.

Was the TRS-80 a truly portable computer? Well, not really, but you could purchase an “official” carrying case for it from Radio Shack in order to lug it around with you.

I was reading the history of Radio Shack and learned it was founded in 1921 by two brothers, Milton and Theodore Deutschmann.

The company’s office was located in the center of Boston, MA. The reason for starting this company was to provide electronic radio equipment for radio officers and ham radio operators. That’s why the name “Radio Shack” had been chosen.

The term “Radio Shack” is the actual term used to mean the location for a small cabin that houses a ship’s radio equipment.

In 1962, the company was in bankruptcy and was sold for $300,000 to Charles Tandy, who correctly foresaw the increased popularity in the consumer electronics market.

If you would like to see a full page color advertisement for the 1977 TRS-80 computer, check out this link which I made into an abbreviated URL: http://tinyurl.com/ngtav8.

Radio Shack stopped manufacturing the TRS-80 in 1981, and stopped making computers altogether in the mid 1990s.

To learn more about the original Radio Shack TRS-80, you can visit http://tinyurl.com/8znzz.

The history of the Radio Shack company itself can be found at the corporation’s web site, http://tinyurl.com/37654x.

If you visit the Web Site of The Week forum, you will see I posted some vintage pictures and information about the TRS-80 computer.