snf-travolta

Revisiting the Bee Gees of home computers, the TRS-80

I was fourteen years old in 1977 when John Travolta strutted his stuff on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees’ hits from the film’s score ruled the top 40 charts. The high falsettos of the brothers Gibb could do no wrong as they rhetorically asked How Deep is Your Love? and suggested that You Should be Dancing… yeah!

But it only took a few years before the crest of disco they were riding in flared-bottom, bejewelled, polyester pants would crash, and the three boys from down under would be the butt of many, many jokes, even by those of us who still had the double 8-track of the movie’s soundtrack tucked away safely for the sake of nostalgia.

Radio Shack’s TR-80 personal computer would suffer a similar fate.

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Released in the 1977, the same year as Saturday Night Fever, the TRS-80 was one of the earliest personal computers that a consumer could just drive down to a local Radio Shack and purchase. Looking at it now, given its limited capacity and with the fog of the passage of 37 years, one could easily imagine a kid saving up a hundred bucks and pooling it with some spare cash from mom and dad to buy one. But that was far from the case.

On a recent trip to Canton, Ohio, I came upon a TRS-80 on display (with a line printer) in a local museum with a price tag of $4,961.

trs80-description

Even more stunning is if you put that in context of what the dollar was worth back in 1980. If you were to make that purchase today, it would run you $14,350… for a TRS-80 and a printer!

A couple of line items of particular note (and I’ll use inflation-adjusted values for a context of today’s prices), an extra 32K of memory to add to the standard 16K on-board was $1,677, and three floppy disk drives cost a combined $4,330!

trs80-form

As disco and bell-bottomed jeans fell out of favor, so too did the popularity of the TRS-80. It would eventually be referred to unsympathetically as: the Trash 80.

So, I stared at the exhibit of this quaint relic thinking, mostly, how did I get so old that something I would have used is in a museum? But, also, how far we’ve come technologically in just a few decades, and if I returned in another 35 years, would the first iPad that Stark County ever purchased be on display under glass? If so, I’ll chuckle at its charm and think to myself, how cute, as I continue on with my visit surrounded by the technology of the present day, things we can’t even begin to imagine today.

And hopefully, as with the Bee Gees, we’ll all have slowly come to realize that Justin Bieber wasn’t really all that bad. Perhaps.

John Travolta photo credit: Paramount Pictures