live broadcast sound collage

When home computers became available in the late 1970s they did not include what we have come to know as a “hard drive” and there were no affordable options for mass storage.  Not only that, but a floppy disk drive could cost upwards of several thousand dollars.  

Enter the audio cassette.  Tapes and cassette recorders were cheap, readily available to consumers, and soon became the preferred method of distribution for computer programs.  The Apple II, TRS-80, Commodore 64, TI-99, and ZX Spectrum all supported cassettes.  The first IBM PC, which came on the scene in 1981, also had a cassette deck.  And since the internet did not exist at this time, the simplest way to share a program was to dupe a tape and put it in the mail or… broadcast it over the radio to listeners waiting by their tape decks.

Since the data rates that computers could process at the time were very low, this transfer of 200 bits per second over the airwaves actually worked.  In the 1980s shows such as Datarama (UK), Hobbyscoop (NL), and Ventilator 202 (Yugoslavia) broadcast 100s of computer programs over the air.

This 8-bit wireless revolution was short lived.  When the era of 16-bit computing was ushered in by the Intel 8086 processor in 1985, audio cassette storage became obsolete.  A cassette simply could not hold enough data, and wireless downloading did not become possible again until the advent of IEEE 802.11, aka Wifi.  

This edition of Special Collections pays homage to the pioneers of digital audio broadcasting with a sound collage of early 80s computer data cassettes.


Broadcast date: March 26th 2019
KCHUNG Los Angeles 1630AM

SPECIAL COLLECTIONS is a broadcast project by Sam Rowell.
Each edition is mixed live on the air.