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Guide to the Radio Shack collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Processing Information
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of the Collection
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Radio Shack collection
    Identifier/Call Number: X4114.2007
    Contributing Institution: Computer History Museum
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 34.59 Linear feet 24 record cartons, 4 software boxes, and 1 manuscript box
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1979-1985
    Date (inclusive): 1973-1993
    Abstract: The Radio Shack collection contains materials related to Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack’s microcomputer, the TRS-80. The Manuals series consists of manuals published by Tandy and others concerned with the TRS-80 and also programs authored by Radio Shack and other companies. The Software series consists largely of hand labeled disks containing utilities, operating system tools, games, and write up language programs. The Periodicals series consists of print periodicals about the TRS-80 and its programs published by Tandy and other companies.

    Processing Information

    Collection surveyed by Rita Wang, 2016. Collection processed by Jack Doran, October 2019.

    Access Restrictions

    The collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    The Computer History Museum (CHM) can only claim physical ownership of the collection. Copyright restrictions may apply and users are responsible for satisfying any claims of the copyright holder. Requests for copying and permission to publish, quote, or reproduce any portion of the Computer History Museum’s collection must be obtained jointly from both the copyright holder (if applicable) and the Computer History Museum as owner of the material.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of Item], [Date], Radio Shack collection, X4114.2007, Box [#], Folder [#], Catalog [#], Computer History Museum.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Received by the Computer History Museum in 2004.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Radio Shack’s TRS-80 microcomputer was released in 1977 and was among the first mass produced microcomputers available on the retail market. The system derived its name from both its manufacturer (Tandy Radio Shack or TRS) and the microprocessor on which it ran (the Zilog Z80). The TRS-80 was among the highest selling all-in-one microcomputers from 1978 to 1982. The history of the TRS-80 begins with Don French, a computer hobbyist and executive for what was then called Tandy Radio Shack (TRS), a Fort Worth, Texas based company with around 3,500 retail stores across the U.S. that dealt primarily in radio and electronics equipment. In 1976, he began urging the company’s president, Lew Kornfield, to consider developing a computer kit to be sold at TRS stores. Kornfield and other executives were skeptical of the idea, largely due to French’s initial projections that the cost to the consumer would greatly outweigh any other TRS product: $199 for the computer kit vs. the $30 median cost for all other TRS products. However, early 1976 saw the flagging popularity of the CB radio, a product that was key to the success of TRS. With an exigent need for a new product to keep profit margins high and growth steady, French’s plan to go ahead with the development of a computer kit was approved.
    In the spring of 1976, French and other TRS representatives visited National Semiconductor (NSC), where they met Steve Leininger, a chipmaker for NSC and a member of the Homebrew Computer Club. Leininger was initially asked to be a consultant for Tandy’s computer kit, but soon accepted a job with TRS. Though computer kits were more common than the more expensive, fully assembled “plug-in-and-play systems,” Leininger successfully argued for the latter. His projected cost to the consumer for a fully assembled computer was low enough ($399.95) to convince TRS executives to go ahead with the plan. If customers wanted to purchase the companion monitor, the package would run them $599.95.
    The purportedly low initial run of the TRS-80 computer suggests that much of the company’s executive staff was still reluctant to start selling their own computer. It has long been rumored and confirmed by Don French that 3,500 units were produced which was about the same number of Radio Shack stores at the time, the presumed logic being that was that if the TRS-80 flopped, it could be used internally at TRS retail locations. TRS revealed the TRS-80 at a press conference held at New York City’s Warwick hotel on August 3, 1977 to little press fanfare, but was able to secure a front page Associated Press article two days later with the TRS-80’s presence at the Personal Computer Faire in Boston.
    Don French returned to his office to find that his plan for a TRS computer had exceeded all expectations. There are varying accounts of how overwhelmed the company was to meet the demand for TRS-80’s at the outset, and reports corroborate somewhere around 250,000 units of the first model having been sold. In addition to the relatively low price point compared to microcomputers offered by competitors like Apple and Commodore, TRS (now just Radio Shack) was a brand known to non-enthusiasts, as it had grown to around 5,000 company owned stores and franchises in 1977. The TRS-80 could be seen and demoed by anyone visiting a Radio Shack in their local shopping mall or local retail district, making it the among the first computers sold not just to hobbyists, but average consumers.
    TRS-80’s popularity and features generated interest in the business market, but it was clear from the outset that the first generation TRS-80 lacked the speed and storage space of other models geared toward business use such as IBM’s 5110. Tandy entered this market when it introduced the TRS-80 Model II in June, 1979 at the National Computer Conference in New York City.
    The initial TRS-80 became Model I with the release of the Model II, but as Radio Shack’s marketing and advertising made clear, the Model II was not Model I’s successor. Compared to the Model I, the Model II was much more expensive, with a base version with one disk drive for $3,490. Key differences in the Model II include a faster Z80 processor (4 MHz vs. 1.77 MHz on the Model I), more memory 32K for a total of 48K vs. 4K, expandable to 16K on the model I), and more high-resolution graphics. Unlike the Model I, the Model II had no cassette drive, and it came with its own TRSDOS that was much different than that of the Model I, and the BASIC included with the Model II was much more powerful. The Model II was clearly designed for business, rather than personal, use.
    In July 1980, Radio Shack introduced the TRS-80 Model III. Unlike the Model II, this was meant to be the successor of the Model I. Electromagnetic interference from early personal use computers such as the TRS-80 Model I led the FCC to create strict guidelines in an effort to mitigate the issue, and this eventually led to the retirement of the Model I in 1981. Like the Model II, the Model III was an all-in-one unit, with the monitor, keyboard, and disk drive all housed in the same cabinet. This cut down on radio interference and was also attractive to schools given how much more difficult it would be to steal than a computer made up of separate components. The Model III used a Z80 processor that was slightly faster (2.0 MhZ), and featured a more powerful BASIC 2 ROM. The architecture of the Model III made it largely compatible with the Model I, but a different version of TRSDOS was written for the Model III (1.3), and the Model I operating systems supported the new TRSDOS software calls. Even so, many software programs had to have separate versions for each machine. Finally, the Model III had sockets that could support up to 48K RAM and several different graphic resolution options. A fully optioned Model III could run $2,495 when it was introduced in 1980, with a base model retailing for $699.
    In April, 1983, Radio Shack sent out a press release announcing the TRS-80 Model 4. Developers of the Model 4 ensured that it could be 100% compatible with its predecessor to avoid issues of compatibility between the Model I and Model III. This backwards compatibility was widely lauded by the computer world but the lack of native software was considered a drawback. The Model 4 came with a number of new features, including a 4 MhZ clock speed, 64K of RAM with support for an additional 64K of RAM of extended memory, an 80x24 screen of reverse video, TRSDOS 6 with Microsoft BASIC, and CP/M compatibility. The base configuration of the Model 4 came with a 16K cassette only drive ($999), and the full option model included 64K of memory with two floppy drives ($1,999). There followed two, limited term iterations of the Model 4 but the original configurations remained on the market until 1991.

    Scope and Content of the Collection

    The Radio Shack collection consists of materials related to Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack’s microcomputer, the TRS-80. The bulk of the collection is made up of manuals, including both originals and photocopies. Most of the manuals were published by the Tandy Corporation or Radio Shack for use with the TRS-80 Model I, II, III, and 4. There are also manuals published for general use of programming languages pertinent to the TRS-80 such as BASIC, FORTRAN, and COBOL. The Periodicals series consists of News 80, TRS-80 Microcomputer News, and other magazines and newsletters related to the TRS-80 computer, as well as clippings and program listings. The Software series is made up of over 1,000 5.25 floppy disks and approximately 50 software cassette tapes for various TRS-80 models, either hand labeled or manufactured by Tandy/Radio Shack. Also included in the Software series is a near complete run of the newsletter 80 Micro on disk.


    The collection is arranged into 3 series:
    Series 1, Manuals, 1973-1990, bulk 1979-1984
    Series 2, Software, 1978-circa 1993, bulk 1980-1985
    Series 3, Periodicals, 1980-1991

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Personal computing
    Radio Shack.
    Tandy Corporation.
    TRS-80 computers
    TRS-80 Model 4 (Computer)
    TRS-80 Model I (Computer)
    TRS-80 Model II (Computer)
    TRS-80 Model III (Computer)