Radio Shack computer catalog from 1983

On the Internet Archive, a hi-rez scan of the 1983 Radio Shack computer catalog, which is a wonderland of jaw-dropping prices for prosumer equipment from my boyhood that doesn't even qualify as a toddler's toy today. I will always retain a fondness for acoustic couplers, though, as they were the way I first connected to a computer, running a screenless teletype terminal connected to my Dad's university PDP by means of one of these suction-cup wonders. There was something, I dunno, legible about being able to see how the Bell handset fit into that cradle, to hear the barely audible tinny whine of the characters crawling over the wire. It was like being able to watch nerve impulses travel from a brain to a distant limb.

But $995? Please.

Radio Shack Catalog RSC-09 Computer Catalog (via Hacker News)


  1. This looks like a ripoff of the Texas Instruments Silent 700 series of terminals. Which means that the TI units cost *even more*.

    1. In the early days of the internet (ARPANET) there were separate computers (Interface Message Processors or IMPs) that were connected to the host computers, ran the network protocols, and talked to each other. One variation on an IMP, starting in 1971, was the TIP (terminal interface processor) which had interfaces and software to handle terminals – either directly connected or through modems.

      Numerous people were given Silent 700s so they could phone up TIPs and connect to any computer on the net. Almost 100% of their use was connecting to the computer where they had their email account and reading and writing emails about developing the ARPANET or other ARPA funded projects.

      That Radio Shack model is much closer to the original 700 that was used.

      1. Well, that was their official use. Their unofficial use was playing ADVENTure on some university DECsystem-10.

        1. I still have the complete rolls of thermal paper from my first learning how to play ADVENTure to finally solving it.  

          There are times when I’m staring at this massive flatpanel with wireless keyboard and mouse that I miss the TI Silent-700 days.

        2. Not for me.  I first met the Nasty Little Dwarf in the basement of Cory Hall at Berkeley, watching somebody use a CRT to talk to a PDP-11.  (On the other hand, I had played too many hours of Star Trek on a Model 33 Teletype on an earlier PDP-11 in high school.)

    1.  Hee. Actually, they are not over. Just wait a couple of years or so ’cause right now I think we are all the living embodiment of Future Shock.

          1. And I reiterate my original point.  I’m so sorry that you have to spend a couple minutes per X restarting your computer.  There are plenty of instabilities in Windows, but complaining about the most trivial of all is just silly.

    2. Around 1990 I was working on a project at another company that didn’t let us connect computers to their network for (fairly legitimate) security reasons, far enough from home that the lack of email access was a real problem. 

      I was able to negotiate with their security people to let me bring in a TI Silent 700 and connect it through their PBX (after digging it out of the back of the lab closet and finding most of the keys.)  It was dumb enough they decided it wasn’t a security threat, and hard-copy output at 300 baud was boring but good enough to read email with. 

      And it definitely couldn’t run the then-popular application “Jerusalem B” :-)

  2. It’s interesting that the terminal is equipped with an acoustic coupler although it’s pictured with a handset using a modular connector which could readily be plugged into the terminal–if it had a place for it.

    1. There’s a very good reason for that. The phone company was converted over to modular jacks way before the Feds required them to permit the connection of non-Bell equipment to the network.

    2.  Lots of places didn’t have modular jacks and multi-line/ pbx business phones definitely did not, nor pay phones.  This beast would work with almost any phone that could fit into the cups.

      You manually dialed in and when the squealing started, you jammed the handset into the coupler.

      Could not even assume tone dialing back then.

      1. Another thing you couldn’t assume was being able to find an electrical wall socket close enough to a phone to be able to use the portable terminals.  In an office you’d be ok, but in an airport it was often really difficult (and the terminals didn’t run on batteries… :-)

  3. @clamb remember that for years it was still technically illegal to connect (electronically) anything not owned by the phone company to your home POTS line. The acoustic coupler created a physical interface that kept the early modems FCC-legal.

    1. It may be telling that this Radio Shack offering is from 1983. In 1981, Hays introduced the Smartmodem – FCC certified for direct connection, relatively cheap ($299), and easy to use. This replaced many fixed location modems that previously used acoustic couplers. So there may have been a glut of acoustic couplers on the market. But still there was a need for portable terminals for people on the road.

  4. But how many BAUD was the connection? I remember we had one TTY with a 1200 BAUD connection that we’d all fight over, until we got a bunch of Glass TTYs in ’84, which had a 1200/2400 switch on ’em!

          1. You couldn’t run 1200 bits per second on an acoustic coupler.  They were usually 300 baud by the 1980s, though occasionally you’d have a need for 110 or 75 baud.  (I think the terminals for deaf people ran 75 baud Baudot code.) 

      1.  I remember using an acoustic coupling modulator-demodulator at 300 baud, and watching the l  e  t  t  e  r  s     c  o  m  e     c  r  e  e  p  i  n  g    o  u  t …..

    1. I used to have one of these; a friend of my father’s purchased it for way more than it was worth, believing it to be a full-fledged computer. When we found out that it was just a connector, he gave it to me, knowing that i’d enjoy it.

      It had a switch to set the speed for either 110 or 300 baud. The paper was similar to paper rolls used for older fax machines. I rcall that the print head was very thin compared to my Epson dot-matrix.

  5. This was not just an acoustic coupler, it also has a keyboard and printer in a portable form.  The portability is why it’s so expensive.

  6. By 1983 this was already obsolete, though RS didn’t know it.  The short time-to-obsolescence cycle that we understand today was just starting to take hold.  Inexpensive modems which didn’t require a coupler went back at least to 1981, and relatively portable “appliance” home computers with a serial port that Hayes or Anchor modems could plug into were already common (I could afford one on a graduate TA’s salary, and wrote my dissertation on it in ’82-83.)

  7. So… This was like a terminal (a la Linux/OS X) on paper? Better not have the Java compiler set to verbose…

  8. Yeah, that looks like the acoustic coupler terminals I used in college in the late ’70s.  By the time I was studying programming in 1980 they were obsolete for fixed location use.  Certainly used only for portable applications.  Today I stay in touch with my business network from anywhere in the world with a laptop and a cell modem.  And it’s still a pain to haul it around on airplanes.

  9. I once tried using a teletype with an early chat program at my university for fun.  It was going nonstop trying to keep up, especially when I made the mistake of telling people what I was doing and they started bombarding me with messages.

  10. Accoustic modens are seen In the 1999 movie Fight Club and implied in The Matrix. And there is no internet, because the stories were written a couple years earlier

  11. Sheesh, $2495 for a 5MB hard drive.

    I had (actually, still have) a Model I, bought it from my cousin 30 years ago for $300. My dad put up $200 and I paid the rest.  It had what I liked to call a “cassette drive.”  We paid someone another $100 to upgrade it up to Level 2 Basic (and a whopping 16K of RAM) and add lowercase letters.  Problem was that after he finished, we had to press “SHIFT” to type in lowercase.  Granted, it has no moving parts but it has outlasted a half-dozen or so other computers that I’ve owned in the meantime.

    EDIT: I had the “Haunted House” and “Dancing Demon” games on page 20. The latter was, I guess, like a sequencer. By the end of 1983 or early 1984 those games might have cost “only” $2.00.

  12. TRSDOS – the first OS I ever used. SCRIPSIT – the first word processor. To an 11-year-old, that felt like the command deck of USS Enterprise at the time.

    1. My first word processor was also SCRIPSIT.  Even then it seemed less than ideal — the screen on the TRS-80 we had wouldn’t display the entire width of the page, so to proofread a document, I printed it out, then entered any corrections. All in all, it was still better than messing with White-Out or correction tape.

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