(25th Anniversary: August 3rd, 2002)
by A. Richard Miller, Miller Microcomputer Services
visits since 020801; last updated 131019.

TRS-80 Model I, Business System (Smithsonian Inst.)

It's now 25 years since August 3rd, 1977, when Radio Shack (now Tandy Corp.) announced the new TRS-80 microcomputer. Jill and I were there. More accurately, we were there at its public debut, which didn't go as planned. It wasn't even in the right city! You might say that it bombed.

Radio Shack had a hot new product. For the first time, here was a real computer from a big company, at half the price of existing business microcomputers: only $2,600 for a hot, new Z80 CPU with 48K of RAM and two 79K floppy disk drives. The smallest version,  good enough for hobbyists, for learning, and for some dedicated tasks, had the same monitor, 4K of RAM and a slow, stock audio tape recorder; it cost only $600. What's more, these were complete and completely-assembled systems.

True, IBM was selling a finished and well-supported microcomputer, but that cost about $50,000. That year's $5,000 computers were strictly for brave hobbyists. They didn't include monitors, came with assembly instructions, and you supplied the soldering iron or learned how to wire-wrap circuit boards. Many of these computer kits, if they worked, then required you to hand-insert Assembler code before writing any "high"-level programs. If your kit didn't end up working, tough luck! It hadn't come from a well-established company; most likely, it came from somebody's garage.

Radio Shack planned to introduce its history-making TRS-80 on the steps of the New York Stock Exchange. Key staffers flew up from Fort Worth, Texas, with a couple of the new computers and some information packets explaining that this was serious equipment. Radio Shack had invited news reporters, of course, and a group of those did convene on the steps of the New York Stock Exchange as planned. But just as the presentation was about to start, word arrived that a bomb had exploded a block away.

The reporters abandoned the computer event for one they judged more exciting. Suddenly alone, the Radio Shack people looked at each other glumly. One said, "What now?" Another offered, "I hear there's something called a computer show, starting tomorrow at Boston University. Perhaps we can still rent an exhibit table."

[Watch this space for the next part of the story.]

Links to more on the TRS-80 Model I:
History of the Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer
Some details of the original TRS-80 (later designated the TRS-80 Model I)
The Smithsonian Institution's version 
Links To Other TRS-80 Resources
A Web-ring of other TRS-80 Web pages