Radio Shack and the early days of the PC (pictures)

The TRS-80 and the rise of consumer electronics.

James Martin
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Lewis Kornfeld personal computer legacy

In 1977, Lewis Kornfeld, former president of the Radio Shack Division of Tandy Corporation, named Radio Shack's first computer the "TRS-80" -- the Tandy Radio Shack computer with the Zilog Z80 microprocessor.

Kornfeld, who died Friday at the age of 97 in Fort Worth, Texas, recognized the future potential of the personal computer and saw a unique opportunity to make Radio Shack a manufacturing name as well as a successful retailer.

Behind the mass distribution ability built in to the Radio Shack network of 3,000 stores, the TRS-80 was the early leader in a personal computing market that was virtually uncontested at the time.

The original "TRS-80 Micro Computer System," which was launched in 1977 and later known as the Model I, was one of the earliest mass-produced and low-cost personal computers.
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1977 TRS-80 Microcomputer System

The original version, renamed the Model I when the TRS-80 Model II was announced in the summer of 1979, was invented by Don French, a buyer for Tandy, and Steve Leininger, the head of the Homebrew Computer Association.
The TRS-80 name became a generic brand name on other future versions of computers sold by Tandy, including the TRS-80 Model II, TRS-80 Color Computer, and TRS-80 Pocket Computer.
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In the office

After problem with radio interference -- the TRS-80 Model I was disrupting other nearby electronic devices -- the Model I was discontinued in January 1981

By the time it was discontinued, the Model I had sold more than 250,000 units -- 197,000 more than Tandy had originally intended to manufacture.

This page from the 1978 TRS-80 Catalog shows the office computing power of 1978.
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Expanding world of TRS

The Model I shipped with an initial Level 1 setup, a $599, 4K RAM, monitor, and cassette, including all cables and adapters in what was at the time an unmatched, simply, plug-and-play setup.

Level 1 was soon replaced by a 16K Level II System, which also included a numeric keypad.
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TRS-80 Model II

The Model II, which first shipped in October 1979, included an 8-inch drive and sold for $3,450 -- marketed as a business machine.
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New frontiers in computing

A advertisement from the 1981 TRS-80 Catalog touting Radio Shack's new frontiers in computing.
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Accessories for the TRS-80 in 1981

Accessories for the TRS-80 in 1981 included the Quick Printer, a telephone interface, a cassette recorder, a video receiver, and joysticks.
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Radio Shack made it happen

From Radio Shack's catalogue: "Just what is a computer? It's a tool for managing data. Working with numbers and alphanumeric data like names, words, addresses and stock numbers, a computer can be programmed to repeat the same function over and over. It evaluates information given to it, acts on its own findings, stores huge volumes of data for future use, references and updating and even 'converses' with its operator."
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32K or 64K of RAM

From the 1982 TRS-80 Microcomputer Catalog, Radio Shack pitched their new series of TRS' as business machines. With either 32K or 64K of RAM, the ads said said you can store "32,000 or 64,000 characters of information in the computer’s internal memory."

The disk drive provided 416,000 characters of storage - ..."on interchangeable 'floppy' diskettes. If that’s not enough, just plug in a Model II Disk Expansion Unit with one, two or three more drives. Each added drive stores another 486,000 characters, bringing the total capacity of a four-drive system to about two-million characters.

"To fill this amount of memory would require something like 96 hours of non-stop typing at 70 words per minute! Of course, a 32K Model II can be expanded to the full 64K of internal memory at any time, via our 32K RAM Add-On option."
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Programs for work and play

But the machines weren't all business. This 1982 ads also pitched "programs for work and play," including Space Assault, Art Gallery, and Color Cubes.
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The place to shop for your computer

Even in 1983, ads proclaimed Radio Shack was "the place to shop for your computer," costing less and delivering more.
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The biggest little name in computers

The 1984 TRS-80 catalog -- entertain and educate.
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Advanced programs for every need

The 1984 TRS-80 catalog. Popular Tandy 2000 MS-DOS software, advanced programs for every need.

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