As in the 1980s, people downloaded radio games

Original author: Lewis Packwood
  • Transfer

Bristol, 1983, July, Monday evening. Your parents are watching Coronation Street on the first floor of the house, and you are hiding in the bedroom, pretending to be doing homework. In fact, you bent over a cassette recorder, holding your fingers over the buttons, waiting impatiently. Goosebumps of joy run over your body when you hear the announcement on the radio: "And here is the moment you all waited for." A pleasant click is heard after pressing the "play" and "recording" buttons simultaneously, and after a few seconds the room is filled with a strange metallic screech.

You listen to the Datarama show on Radio West and participate in the first attempt in the UK to send a computer program on the local radio. Joe Tozer, one of the hosts of the show, recalls how it all began: “I think it was one of those moments of insight, when I realized that once a program for a home computer was recorded on an audio tape, then why not broadcast it? It seemed like a cool idea. ”

Sinclair Spectrum

Joe was one of the first people who touched home computers, he wrote programs for 6502 Tangerine ', ZX80 and BBC computers since 1979, and worked for Radio Radio West in Bristol since 1981. “At the beginning of its activities, the station was very interested in niche content, - says Joe, and together with the chief engineer Tim Lyons, I proposed to conduct a weekly show dedicated to home computers, with a unique feature, transferring programs from tapes that were then used as storage devices. ” So Datarama was born, but only in July 1983, before the release of the fourth episode, the program received the go-ahead from the British regulator, IBA, to transfer computer data.

Transmitted image of Cheryl Ladd and her real photo

So what program did Joe and Tim choose to broadcast during this momentous program? Cute, that they decided to hand a photo of Cheryl Ladd , stars of the series “Charlie's Angels”, taken from the 1975 Evening Standard magazine. Joe remembers the moment when the image of Cheryl's face flew all over West Country: “It was very exciting. I myself wrote the code for Cheryl Ladd graphics, the program was small, and it was easy to write for the BBC and ZX81, and it seemed amazing that the images could be transmitted on the radio. I think we had a couple of test transmissions without an announcement, just to make sure that it worked, and found that AM is better suited for this than FM. In the evening, when we distributed the recording of the program, everything worked, and here it appeared on the screen - Cheryl Ladd in a magnificent resolution of 40x80 pixels in the form of a black and white teletext. ”

Surprisingly, transmitting the program turned out to be as simple as pressing the play button on the radio: “To be honest, it was all quite simple,” says Joe. “The capacity of the cassette was extremely low, probably a few hundred bits per second, so everything just worked.” Listeners liked it a lot, and soon Joe and Tim transferred all kinds of programs they wrote for the show, including small games, and applications that turned the keyboard input into Morse code. Initially, they distributed programs for the BBC and ZX81, but later expanded the range, including computers such as Commodore, Dragon, FORTH, and "in fact, everything that was then available."

Tim and Joe did not know that, just a few kilometers away, in Worcester, a man named Simon Goodwin also experimented with transmitting computer programs over radio waves. Simon has been writing games and articles for home computer magazines since 1979, and in 1983 his game for Spectrum, “Gold Mine,” was on the All Formats Top 20 list. He was also one of the leaders of the Computer Club program at Radio Wyvern , and in December 1983, he programmed an animated “Christmas card” on BASIC to be sent to listeners.

The postcard was sent in two versions, for the Sinclair Spectrum and for the Tandy TRS-80, together with the music and the prancing deer. But could the listeners download it? “Some have succeeded,” says Simon, “but not everyone who tried was lucky. It was especially hard with the TRS-80, this format was prone to errors (despite the fact that its speed was three times less than that of the ZX). One person managed to read the TRS-80 version on the Nascom computer, a very different system that was popular in Britain in the late 1970s, but it required very clever programming. "Unlike Joe and Tim, Simon found that downloading programs from a higher frequency FM was easier than from AM."

Tandy TRS-80

Simon came up with the idea of ​​transmitting a Christmas card after he read an article in Personal Computer World magazine about a Dutch station broadcasting ASCII text. However, it turned out that the Dutch were transmitting computer programs on the radio much earlier in 1983: the local radio show Hobbyscope transmitted code through radio waves as early as the 1980s.

Hobbyscope did transmit programs throughout 1980, and the creators of the show even invented a method that made it possible not to transmit the same program many times for each version of the computer. They used the BASICODE format, which could be downloaded to any computer system that supports BASIC; all that was needed was for the user to start the translator first.

Britain and the Netherlands were not the only countries whose residents enjoyed the amazing opportunity to download radio programs: this mania captured the whole of Europe. In Finland, Kai Lehtonen, inspired by the Dutch broadcasts, tried to make a similar operation on the public radio station YLE, and in 1985 his team successfully transmitted the program, which they could download at a distance of 600 km from the station.

Probably the biggest download enthusiasts lived in Serbia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. Zoran Modli, host of the Ventilator 202 program at Radio Belgrade, editor of the computer magazine Galaksija offered to transfer the program to the Spectrum via radio waves. Zoran recalls the first time he performed this program: “My team and I were very excited. I had to inform the radio technicians who were on duty at the remote transmitters that within a few minutes they would only hear hissing and squeaking. Ordinary people were perplexed: “What is this madman doing there?” But the listeners, who heard us and understood everything, joyfully called us on the phone to say that they successfully managed to download the program to the computer! "

Zoran Modli with two team members in 1984

From 1983 to 1986, Zoran transmitted about 150 computer programs, most of which were sent to him by his devoted listeners. It included programs for mathematical calculations, short educational programs, small encyclopedias, simple games, and even a flight simulator. The programs became so popular that the national television of Belgrade even showed them in their Sunday program “Sunday Day”, so every weekend for two months the audience was given out noises and scratches of zeroes and ones.

Mania data transmission over the radio stopped only the spread of floppy disks. In the late 80s, 16-bit home computers began to appear, audio tapes were a thing of the past, and wireless downloading of programs returned only after the spread of WiFi in the 21st century. And even if audio cassettes will somehow be used again as storage devices, modern games have such a huge amount that it takes much more to transfer than a couple of minutes.

As Codemasters employee Simon Goodwin concludes: “If we tried to transfer GRID for PS3, Windows or Xbox 360 in TRS-80 format, it would take four years and would require a tape of 2 million seconds to record the results.” So the next time, frustrated by the low speed of downloading the game, just be glad that you do not have to download it on the radio.

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