The Third Personal Computer, The Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1

TRS-80 Model 1
The TRS-80 running the first computer game I played, Trek. The computer I used was at the Radio Shack in Burney, CA. The tape drive was poor and loaded only about half the time, a few times taking up to five time to load the game.

In the early 1970s, from coast to coast people were purchasing CB radios for fun, work, safety, and more. Cars would have CBs and the car’s call sign was usually printed on the car, actively listing for another CB enthusiast to chat with on a long drive on a freeway. Many TV shows and movies included the multi-channel communication device and one of the best places to buy it was a Radio Shack. (Yes, many of my uses of Radio Shack are more properly attributed to Tandy.)  During this CB boom stores appeared around the country, and world. Radio Shack has more then CBs, including fancy looking home entertainment centers, electronics parts, and batteries. When the CB crazy started to die down Radio Shack needed something to move on to.

Superman with a TRS-80 microcomputer.
Superman gives his unbiased opinion about personal computers.

Don French was the Radio Shack excessive that convinced Radio Shack to investigate selling a personal computer. They hired Steve Leininger, inspired by the Altair 8800 and member of  the Homebrew Computer Club this guy would design them that computer. He worked on making a personal computer prototype for Radio Shack. Radio Shack was in a great position as one of the first Personal Computer makers; with development, manufacturing, and world wide retail stores. The stores sold parts and the average price in the shops were low, so it was planned to sell kits and have the consumer put them together. Leininger convinced that company to sell the computer as complete and functional device.

Roach convinced the company to manufacture 3,500 one for each retail store. In case the computers didn’t sell they could use them in the stores for inventory.

In August 3, 1977 the Z80 powered TRS-80 was shown in New York City. Unlike Commodore and Apple, Radio Shack was ready to deliver and in September units were being delivered to the customers. The first month they had 10,000 orders, the number that Roach suggested they build.

This silver and black computer had a nice keyboard, even though it lacked a numeric pad. Like the PET it lacked color and like the Apple II it had only upper case characters.

As personal computers gained in popularity the manufacture of the TRS-80 got ramped up. In 1978 over 100,000 units were sold, more then twice the number of PETs and Apples combined. With the best selling computer they had the largest number of software programs.

The company was on a roll, and the only thing that could stop the TRS-80, was Radio Shack. When the Model II was launched in 1979 it was software incompatible with the original.

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