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A quick look back at the Radio Shack TRS-80 PC on its 46th anniversary

radio shack trs-90

It may be hard to believe now, but back in 1977, the company that owned the Radio Shack retail store business helped begin the personal computer revolution. Along with the Apple II, which we talked about earlier this year, and the Commodore PET, the Radio Shack TRS-80 PC launched in the same time period. Indeed, today is the 46th anniversary of the TRS-80's official announcement on August 3, 1977.

At the time of its announcement, Radio Shack was owned by the Tandy Corporation. According to the History Computer.com, one of Tandy's retail buyers, Don French, became a fan of the very early kit-based PCs that were mainly for tech-oriented fans. He thought it might be a good idea for Tandy to sell its own PC at its Radio Shack stores.

French managed to convince Tandy's vice president of manufacturing John Roach to give a green light for the company to develop its own PC product. A 24-year-old former National Semiconductor employee named Steve Leininger was in charge of designing the PC.

The name of the computer, the TRS-80, came from two sources. TRS stood for Tandy Radio Shack. while the 80 was a reference to the PC's processor, the Zilog Z80. The 8-bit chip had 8,500 transistors and had a clock speed of 1.774 MHz. The TRS-80 had about 4 KB of RAM but the PC could support the expansion to as much as 48 KB. All of that hardware was put inside a QWERTY keyboard case. Finally, the TRS-80 used its own TRSDOS operating system.

When the RTS-80 went on sale, Radio Shack offered the PC by itself for $399. However, most people bought it with a 12-inch video monitor and a tape recorder to store data for $599. That's about $2,970 in 2023.

Even with that high a price, the PC was still cheaper than its main competition, the Apple II at $1,298 (which didn't come with a monitor) and the Commodore PET, which had a price of $795, and did include a monitor.

Radio Shack started delivering the first units to people who pre-ordered it in November 1977, and Radio Shack stores started selling it in December of that year. With that high price tag, Tandy projected sales of just 3,000 units in its first year.

However, the company greatly underestimated the demand for the TRS-80. With the help of thousands of Radio Shack stores, the PC sold 10,000 units in just its first month and went on to sell 55,000 units during the first year. Tandy also boosted sales with a solid TV and marketing campaign. In 1978, it launched a floppy disk drive expansion product, and that also sold extremely well

The TRS-80 was later renamed as the TRS-80 Model 1. That's because Tandy decided to go all in with its personal computer lineup and made newer versions. That included the Model II, which was made for business customers, and the true successor to the original TRS-80, the Model III in 1978. The original Model 1 was discontinued in early 1981, but not before it sold over 200,000 units in its lifetime.

Today, the PC industry owes a lot to the success of the Radio Shack TRS-80. It proved that people would want to get a personal computer for various tasks in the home. Even though the Tandy lineup of PCs would soon be superseded by the IBM PC and its clones, along with Apple's future products.. there's no denying that the TRS-80 helped to create a new business and a new type of product that continues to be a strong part of the overall tech industry today.

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