Still remembering 'The Computer Chronicles'

Feb. 13, 2017
by Mark Ollig

The Sinclair ZX81 was the first computer I ever owned.

I purchased it via mail order in 1981.

Short programs were coded for this small-sized computer using Sinclair BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).

Using the Sinclair ZX81 marked my entrance into the personal home computing revolution.

While I was attending high school, computers were not yet seen in the classroom.

The only keyboard I was punching on back then was attached to a Smith Corona typewriter.

But, I digress back to the start of the 1980s.

Being I worked in the telecommunications industry, I felt it was time to educate myself about personal computers and their potential.

I decided to learn about MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System).

The first Microsoft Windows platform would not be available for a few more years.

Yours truly purchased a lot of MS-DOS books and VHS tapes (what are those, grandpa?), which introduced me to computer basics, and how to use MS-DOS script coding for creating useful batch commands and utility programs.

Other folks decided on going with the Apple computer, and its proprietary operating platform and software programs.

By 1983, I was using an IBM personal computer with a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processor, 512K (kilobytes) of RAM (random access memory), and a 20MB (megabyte) hard drive the size of an eight-slot toaster.

This computer included a monochrome CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor, and an IBM printer using a parallel cable plugged into the computer’s DB-25 connector.

My DOS programs written onto 5.25-inch floppy disks were loaded into the computer via a single-sided 160K 5.25-inch floppy drive.

As the 1980s progressed, computer hobbyist clubs were started, as were a network of online virtual communities made up of hundreds of telephone dialup CBBS’s (computer bulletin board system) in cities all across the country.

The internet in the 1980s was navigated using text commands; the World Wide Web was not yet established.

In 1983, a new computer program began broadcasting Friday evenings on my local PBS (public broadcasting service) television channel.

“The Computer Chronicles,” created and hosted by Stewart Cheifet, focused on the excitement generated by the personal computer industry.

This weekly program featured the latest in computer technology, software, and people with expertise inside the industry.

Cheifet was a correspondent for the PBS “Nightly Business Report” covering the high-tech industry located in the famous Silicon Valley of California.

We were always greeted at the start of the show with these familiar words: “Welcome to the Computer Chronicles.”

Cheifet talked about the evolving computing industry in a knowledgeable, relaxed manner; he demonstrated how various computers worked and enjoyed delving into the latest technology.

He presented personal computer technology in an easy-to-understand approach; often having guests on who would address the latest in computer technology, and the companies creating the hardware and software.

“The Computer Chronicles” encompassed more than just IBM and Microsoft; they also included segments of the show covering the Apple and Macintosh computer world.

Another of the show’s segments, “Random Access,” highlighted the past week’s computing news.

The show was right for the times. It was like going to school each week – and enjoying it.

Software and hardware representatives from the computer industry would appear on the show to demonstrate their products, and to be interviewed by Cheifet.

As this fast-evolving personal computer technology exploded upon us, many took comfort in knowing Cheifet would be there to explain it, and teach us something new when we tuned in each week.

Every week, it seemed some new technological revolution in the personal computing world occurred.

Tuning into this weekly television program kept us informed concerning the computing news which occurred during the past week, and what we could look forward to.

This program, on the air nearly 20 years, reported on the personal computing revolution, the internet, and the World Wide Web.

“The Computer Chronicles” had a very loyal fan base.

When the program was cancelled in 2002, letters and emails (including mine) were sent to PBS asking them to keep the show on the air.

Today, many of those past programs have been archived on the internet and are available for viewing.

“The Computer Chronicles” television program from July 14, 1988 began with Cheifet looking at a desk where a Commodore Amiga personal computer was located.

“Welcome to the Computer Chronicles,” spoke the computer.

“A computer that talks!” excitedly exclaimed Cheifet.

Feeling nostalgic? Then re-experience those exciting times when the personal computer revolution was at its beginning.

The internet archive website stores many of the original “The Computer Chronicles” programs at: http://bit.ly/2kJ7FVT.

Follow Cheifet @cheifet and myself @bitsandbytes on Twitter.

This column was originally published April 30, 2007 and was recently modified by the writer.

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