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Buzzing BASIC: Sending Code Over Radio in 1985

Check out this great article in Ars about a Finnish radio station that experimented with sending BASIC cassette programs over radio in the 80’s:

With his VIC-20, Tunkelo taught himself BASIC, then studied assembly language. He wrote programs that ran “straight to the metal,” as he put it, but also came from the heart. One included graphics that celebrated his sister’s high school graduation. But the young innovator felt isolated. “Computers were not as popular as they are now,” Tunkelo said, and few schools had one.

Then came a remarkable radio show that changed the landscape for him and a generation of Finnish technology lovers—a show that literally broadcast code over the airwaves.

This work-in-progress was produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (known by its Finnish abbreviation, YLE), Finland’s public media system. Educator Kai R. Lehtonen, who produced educational radio shows for Finnish schools, supervised the new show—although he disliked using the “e-word.”

“If you wrote a piece of code in a computer, saved it on a [Commodore] C-cassette, took that cassette out and listened to it with an ordinary cassette recorder you heard sounds,” Lehtonen explained. “But as sounds could be copied to another tape and as sounds could be transmitted over radio, then why should it not be possible to receive even these sounds of the code, record them with a C-cassette recorder and have the recorded sounds do their trick in another computer?” In other words—why couldn’t you distribute code by simply playing it over the radio while enthusiasts taped it for later use?

And finally, this charming quote:

Some listeners cared nothing for the code—they simply enjoyed the sound of the buzz. “I once had a letter from a 70 year old lady who wrote she did not understand anything of computing but she liked to listen to how different makes of computers buzzed in their personal (!) ways,” Lehtonen recalled.


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5 Comments

  1. ISTR that this was done in the US, as well. Memory says it was a radio station in Phoenix, AZ, but my memory could be tricking me.

  2. I had both the Vic 20 and this cassette recorder when I was a kid. That cassette player taught me that not all storage media are ‘equal’. i lost more programs with that thing until I bought some nicer tape.

  3. In Germany we had a TV-series called WDR Computerclub, it was broadcasted from 1981 to 2003. Till 1986 they used to send „Hard-Bit-Rocks“, audio with basic code inside which could be recorded with a cassette recorder and than read by the Datassette, at the end of the program. After that the code was sent as black and white lines in the upper part of the picture. But you needed a special videodat modem to decode this. With this system they could use the whole 30 to 45 minutes of the show to send data 50 bytes/sec, about 90 KB at the beginning and later the streamed with 10 kbit/sec. In this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJzitTzYrgo you can see the black and white lines 😉

    Regards,
    Henning.

  4. TDK or Technics was a good brand that worked for a while. Sony worked as well.

  5. I don’t remember any radio stations transmitting VIC-20 code, but I’m pretty sure there was one that experimented with sending out CP/M code using the “Kansas City Standard” cassette format.

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