First Home Computer,TRS-80

TRS-80 Computer in 1977 Radio Shack Computers catalog.

The TRS-80 Micro Computer System is a desktop microcomputer launched in 1977 and sold by Tandy Corporation through their RadioShack stores. The name is an abbreviation of Tandy/RadioShack, Z80 microprocessor.It is one of the earliest mass-produced and mass-marketed retail home computers.

The TRS-80 has a full-stroke QWERTY keyboard, the Zilog Z80 processor (rather than the more common Intel 8080), 4 KB DRAM standard memory (when many 8-bit computers shipped with only 1 KB RAM), small size and desk footprint, floating-point BASIC programming language, standard 64-character/line video monitor, and a starting price of US$600 (equivalent to US$2500 in 2018).

An extensive line of upgrades and add-on hardware peripherals for the TRS-80 was developed and marketed by Tandy/RadioShack. The basic system can be expanded with up to 48 KB of RAM (in 16 KB increments), and up to four floppy disk drives and/or hard disk drives. Tandy/RadioShack provided full-service support including upgrade, repair, and training services in their thousands of stores worldwide.

By 1979, the TRS-80 had the largest selection of software in the microcomputer market. Until 1982, the TRS-80 was the best-selling PC line, outselling the Apple II series by a factor of five according to one analysis.[3]

Left to Right: The Commodore PET 2001-8, Apple II and TRS-80 Model I. These three computers were referred to a the “1977 Trinity” of home computing in Byte Magazine.

In the mid-1970s, Tandy Corporation’s RadioShack division was a successful American chain of more than 3,000 electronics stores. Among the Tandy employees who purchased a MITS Altair kit computer was buyer Don French, who began designing his own computer and showed it to vice president of manufacturing John Roach, Tandy’s former electronic data processing manager. Although the design did not impress Roach, the idea of selling a microcomputer did. When the two men visited National Semiconductor in California in mid-1976, Homebrew Computer Club member Steve Leininger’s expertise on the SC/MP microprocessor impressed them. National executives refused to provide Leininger’s contact information when French and Roach wanted to hire him as a consultant, but they found Leininger working part-time at Byte Shop. Leininger was unhappy at National, his wife wanted a better job, and Texas did not have a state income tax. Hiring him for his technical and retail experience, Leininger and French began working together in June 1976. The company envisioned a kit, but Leininger persuaded the others that because “too many people can’t solder”, a preassembled computer would be better.

Tandy had 11 million customers that might buy a microcomputer, but it would be much more expensive than the US$30 median price of a RadioShack product, and a great risk for the very conservative company. Executives feared losing money as Sears did with Cartrivision,and many opposed the project; one executive told French, “Don’t waste my time—we can’t sell computers.” As the popularity of CB radio—at one point comprising more than 20% of RadioShack’s sales—declined, however, the company sought new products.

In December 1976 French and Leininger received official approval for the project but were told to emphasize cost savings; for example, leaving out lowercase characters saved US$1.50 in components and reduced the retail price by US$5. The original US$199 retail price required manufacturing cost of US$80; the first design had a membrane keyboard and no video monitor. Leininger persuaded Roach and French to include a better keyboard; it, a monitor, datacassette storage, and other features required a higher retail price to provide Tandy’s typical profit margin. In February 1977 they showed their prototype, running a simple tax-accounting program, to Charles Tandy, head of Tandy Corporation. The program quickly crashed as the computer could not handle the US$150,000 figure that Tandy typed in as his salary, and the two men added support for floating-point math to its Tiny BASIC to prevent a recurrence. The project was formally approved on 2 February 1977; Tandy revealed that he had already leaked the computer’s existence to the press. When first inspecting the prototype, he remarked that even if it did not sell, the project could be worthy if only for the publicity it might generate.

Information Gleaned from

Radio Shack TRS-80 TV Commercial, 1978

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