Sunday, November 16, 2014

TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids

TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids
Archie Comics / Tandy Corporation
March, August, October, 1984

My local comic book store got in a large pile of old, 1980s comics, and lying within the pile was this giveaway book, published by Archie Comics in 1984. It was a part of the Tandy Corporation's efforts to promote the TRS-80 personal computer, sold by Radio Shack.

Whenever I look around today and see junior high and high school kids sitting with their smartphones, I feel like tossing them a copy of 'Whiz Kids' to let them know how it was, 30 years ago.....
The TRS-80 was first introduced in 1977, and by 1984, had been upgraded to the Model 4:

One of the more surreal aspects to the 'Whiz Kids' comic is that the artists, Dick Ayers and Chic Stone, were regular contributors to the super schlocky, deranged Eerie Publications black and white comic magazines...... !
I won't belabor the plot of 'Whiz Kids', which deals with an effort by a criminal gang to hold an entire museum hostage. Schoolchildren Shanna and Alec use their knowledge of computers - and Tandy products - to foil the gang.

What is interesting is the promotional blurbs for the TRS-80 that occupy much of the narrative.

In these pages, Shanna demonstrates how to boot up the TRS-80's word processing program, 'Scripsit' :

The demonstration is interrupted by the arrival of ace reporter Judy Baker, who shows off her 'portable' PC, the TRS-80 Model 100 (the machines we know as laptops really didn't exist back in 1984).
Judy also demonstrates a primitive modem - the 'acoustic coupler' !
That's how you communicated with other electronics, through phone lines, back then.....

Later on in the story, the class takes a trip to the museum (the same museum where the crime gang are plotting to hold everyone hostage). There, Mr. Anderson walks them through an exhibit devoted to explaining the operating principles of the modern computer:
To defeat the criminals, Judy Baker, Alec, and Shanna make use the Judy's Model 100 and acoustic coupler to send word to the authorities:
The criminals are of course soon brought to justice, thanks to Judy, Alec, and Shanna. As the comic ends, the kids eagerly rush to boot up their Model 4s....along with the 'Network 3 Controller' software, which enabled up to 16 TRS-80s to be locally networked for learning purposes.
If you read 'Whiz Kids' back in the Summer of '84 and wanted a Model 4, well, how much did you have to shell out ? Depending on the memory and floppy drive capacity, anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000....compared to today's PCs, this was quite a bit of money at the time. And it didn't include peripherals, like a printer or modem. But still, it was competitive with IBM's PC Jr, which retailed for $670 - $1270, and it was even more affordable than the Apple MacIntosh ($2495).

In case a new Model 4 was beyond your means, Radio Shack had less costly merchandise that allowed kids to experience the thrills of modern electronics and computing....
That's how it was in those ancient days......nowadays, a single smartphone has more computing power than the TRS-80. Who knows what the next 30 years will bring ?

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