How people learned to download games using radio
This happened on Monday night in July 1983 in Bristol. While the parents watched the next series, the advanced teens locked themselves in their bedrooms under the pretext of doing homework. In fact, they frantically prepared their tape recorders, their fingers hovering over the keys in a thrilling anticipation. When at last the voice on the radio said: “And now what you all have been waiting for ...”, many were struck by an exciting thrill. Then - press the "record" button, and after a few minutes the room is filled with a strange metallic crack ...
It was a Datarama radio program on Radio West, and this was the first attempt in the UK to distribute a computer program using local radio. Participant of the experiment, Joe Tozer, recalls how it all began: “At some point, I thought that the program was the same tape recording as sound recording, so why not spread it over the air like the sound? It was a great idea.
Joe was one of the first enthusiastic fans of home computers, he worked with the 6502 Tangerine, ZX80 and BBC models since 1979, and in 1981 he got a job at the Bristol radio station Radio West. “The station was very interested in finding a niche and getting fans,” says Joe, “so we, together with the chief engineer Tim Lions, offered to organize a weekly program during which we will broadcast the recorded songs to cassettes are computer programs from their collection (at that time, conventional tape cassettes were used as carriers) ”. This is how the “Datarama” program appeared, but only in July 1983, before the fourth radio broadcast, did the owners of the radio station finally receive permission from the Independent Broadcasting Authority to transmit computer data.
So, which program was the first one that Joe and Tim began to distribute over the air? It was the image of movie star Cheryl Ladd from Charlie's Angels, taken from the 1975 Evening Standard. Joe remembers well the moment when Cheryl's face scattered over the West Coast: “It was an exciting night.I myself wrote the graphic code of the image, it was small and therefore could easily be encoded for both the BBC and ZX81 Micros. It seemed to us incredible that the images are transmitted by radio. Earlier, we have already done some test tests without wide publicity and, to our surprise, found that the transmission in the AM band worked better than in the FM band. On the night of the program’s broadcast, this helped us greatly. ”
Surprisingly, the program’s radio broadcast was no more difficult than a regular live broadcast. “Honestly, it was pretty simple,” says Joe. - The speed of computers on cassette carriers at that time was very low, about a few hundred bits per second, so there were no problems. ” Listeners liked it, and pretty soon Joe and Tim began to broadcast all kinds of programs that they themselves wrote, including mini-games and an application that converted keyboard input to Morse code. Initially, they sent programs for BBC Micro and ZX81, but later they expanded the range and began to broadcast programs in "almost all computer languages that existed at that time."
At about the same time, regardless of Tim and Joe, another person, Simon N. Goodwin, also began experiments on the transfer of computer programs over the air, a few miles from the Worcester track. Simon wrote programs for games and articles for home magazines, starting in 1979, in 1983 the Gold Mine game he wrote for Spectrum computers entered the top 20 video games. In addition, he was one of the leaders of the Computer Club program on Radio Wyvern. In December 1983, he wrote an animated “Christmas card” on BASIC to be sent to radio listeners.
The postcard was distributed in two versions: for the computers of the Sinclair Spectrum and for the Tandy TRS-80; it was bundled with music and a picture of a jumping deer. How successful was the broadcast? “It was part of the people who started the recorded program, but not everyone,” says Simon. - Most of the problems were with the version for TRS-80, it turned out the most distortion. (Although its speed is three times lower than that of the ZX.) One person managed to read the version for the TRS-80 in the Nascom system, a completely different system that was popular in the UK in the late 1970s, but it took a lot of time and machine code translation efforts. ”Unlike Joe and Tim, Simon found that, as expected, the higher bandwidth of the FM band provided better transmission quality than in the AM band.
The idea of transferring his Christmas card came to Simon's mind after he read an article in Personal Computer World magazine about a Dutch radio station broadcasting the text of ASCII programs. It turns out that the Dutch began transmitting computer programs over the radio much earlier than 1983: their radio station, Hobbyscope, sent the code over the radio waves back in 1980.
Hobbyscoop did broadcast programs during the 1980s, and the creators of the radio show even came up with a way to avoid broadcasting the program several times for different versions of home computers. They began to use the BASICODE format, which could be downloaded to any home computer running BASIC OS if the user first launched the translation program.
The United Kingdom and the Netherlands were not the only countries in which experiments were conducted on the broadcast of programs, in fact, this is the whole of Europe. In Finland, Kai R. Lehton, learning about the programs of the Dutch,tried to do something similar on the public radio station YLE, and in 1985 his team managed to transmit a program that was successfully downloaded 600 km from the radio station.
Probably one of the most enthusiastic fans of the new way of distributing computer programs was the people of Serbia. Zoran Modli, one of the managers of the Fan 202 program on Radio Belgrade, addressed the editor of the computer magazine Galaksija with a proposal to organize the distribution of programs for the Spectrum over the air. Zoran recalls the first broadcast: “Both I and my radio team were very excited. I had to warn the technicians of Radio Belgrade, who were on duty at the remote radio repeaters, that for the next few minutes they would hear only hissing and growling. Skeptical people were confused and wondered: “What is this crazy doing?” But those who listened and understood were anxious to contact us by phone to say that they had successfully downloaded the program to their computers! ”
From 1983 to 1986, Zoran spent about 150 broadcasts of computer programs, most of which were recorded by his loyal and enthusiastic listeners.Among the broadcasts were programs for mathematical calculations, short educational programs, mini-encyclopedias, simple games, and even a flight simulator. Broadcasts have become so popular that the National Television of Belgrade even included them in their program “Sunday Day”, so for two months on weekends, viewers were able to torment their ears with the help of screaming ones and zeros.
In the end, floppy disks appeared, and this put an end to the craze for data transmission by radio. With the emergence of 16-bit home computers in the late 80s, data storage on audio cassettes became a thing of the past, and only after widespread Wi-Fi in the 21st century did wireless download come to life again. Now, even if it was possible to miraculously use audio tapes to download modern computers, the programs became so huge that recording them with the help of a radio would not take a couple of minutes.
As Simon N. Goodwin, an employee of Codemasters, said: “If we tried to broadcast Race Driver: GRID for PS3, Windows or Xbox-360 in the format of TRS-80 tapes, it would take about four years and approximately 1957341 audio cassettes (let's round up to 2 million, taking into account failures and surprises) ".So the next time when it seems to you that the game is loading too slowly, be glad that you are not downloading it using the radio.