In The Beginning of Home Computing

by Bob Seidel

I was cleaning up in a closet at home recently when an idea for a column hit me - actually, it almost fell on my head! I have a collection of old computer magazines on a high shelf that I probably had not looked at in years. The magazine in question was called "Kilobaud", published by a character named Wayne Green. Wayne was a fellow ham radio operator that I had actually spoken to on a few occasions. Wayne was an iconoclast, and was always on the fringe and ahead of the pack.

IWhen Wayne wanted to "say" something, he would publish a new magazine. Probably his most popular magazine was "73" (the ham radio term for "goodbye") that was published for many years. Kilobaud lasted for only a few years, but it helped launch my home computer phase - it was in Kilobaud that I saw the TRS-80 reviewed, leading to my first home computer purchase. Other home computer publications at that time were Dr. Dobbs, and Byte Magazine. Publication of most of these ceased in the mid 80's - the primary reason is that the IBM PC revolutionized the hobby; any magazine not specifically devoted to the IBM PC could not hold an audience. Byte did hold on until the 90's. Kilobaud was first published in January, 1977; the first issue I have is issue #11, dated November 1977 #11. Let's look inside.

IThe inside front cover shows a minicomputer system from Southwest Technical Products Corp. It features a computer with a 6800 processor, 4KB (yes, KILObytes) of RAM, two floppy disk drives in a separate case, display terminal, a disk operating system and the BASIC programming language. The cost was $1,990. This was actually pretty advanced stuff for its time. The floppy disks probably held about 90KB per.

IAnother similar ad was for the Heathkit H8 and H11 computers. The H8 had an 8 bit processor, while the H11 had a 16 bit processor. In comparison, today's PCs have 32 bit processors, and even 64 bit units are on the market. This unit used a paper tape reader/punch for storage. Some of us remember Heathkit as a very popular maker of ham radio and electronics kits. The magazine contained similar ads from other early vendors, such as MITS/Altair, Vector Graphic, the "Sol" from Processor Technology, and Ohio Scientific. The Apple II and Commodore Pet (the two other "all-in-one" computers of that period) were not on the market yet or at least not yet advertised in Kilobaud.

IArticles included using Assembler Language instead of writing in machine code (you actually did do that back then), preparing for a career as a computer consultant (even then!), a BASIC language program to predict your lifespan (that you had to type it in manually), and some printer modifications. A submarine game for the Texas Instruments SR-52 calculator was enhanced, and there was a small payroll program (also in BASIC).

IBut for me, it was the advertisements that caught my eye - all those early goodies! Besides the aforementioned computer kits, there was a fully assembled video terminal for $995, a direct video display with 2KB of character storage for $35 (kit), an 8080 processor Assembler on paper tape for $19.85, and books by Osborne and Associates (an early computer publishing company). An early ad from DC Hayes Associates featured an S-100 bus plug-in card which was a modem and telephone interface; Hayes later became a major player in the modem market, with the term "Hayes compatible" becoming an industry standard.

IThere were lots of ads for memory expansion boards (those early computers came with very little memory), an ad for a cassette recorder interface (the TRS-80 used this type of interface to a cassette recorder for program and data storage), ads for early printers and Teletype units to be used as printers, and lots of ads for parts for the do-it-yourself crowd.

IWell, enough of this trip down nostalgia lane - now to get back to worrying about hurricanes and what happened to my Cancun timeshare.

I(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)