Dollars & Cents

Remembering Radio Shack’s ‘TRS-80’
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John Roach’s recent obituary in the Wall Street Journal brought back memories of the early days of personal computers. Roach was president of Tandy corporation, the owner of RadioShack’s chain of stores, and was responsible for producing one of the bestknown personal computers. The TRS-80 was sometimes called the “Trash-80.”

During the mid-1970s, he and his colleagues at Tandy — located in Fort Worth, Texas — struggled with developing an inexpensive personal computer that the average person could use. Roach hired a microprocessor designer from National Semiconductor, Steve Leininger, to help create the machine. But Charles Tandy, chairman of the company, was not convinced the devices would sell, but he approved building 1,000 units.

The TRS-80 (Tandy Radio Shack) was introduced in August 1977, one of three massmarket computers that came to market during the year. The Commodore PET and the Apple II were the other entries. The TRS- 80 sold for $599. The company hoped the new computer would help RadioShack sell higher-priced products. Small businesses were the primary target market, followed by educators, consumers, and hobbyists. One advantage of the TRS-80 was that it was sold fully assembled rather than as a kit.

Despite Tandy’s skepticism, RadioShack aggressively entered the market. The company advertised the TRS-80 as “the most important, useful, exciting…product of our time”. Tandy had its own factories capable of producing 18,000 computers a month as well as a distribution network of RadioShack stores.

The TRS-80 was an initial success. The company began shipping computers by September 1977 and opened its first computeronly store in October. By December, it had delivered 5,000 computers to customers. RadioShack sold over 10,000 TRS-80s in its first one and one-half months and 55,000 in its first year. The firm introduced floppy drives in July 1978, about six months after the Model I went on sale. Sales of all TRS-80 models — including later models II, III, and IV — totaled 2.4 million units.

But the success of the TRS-80 proved shortlived. The decline began when IBM joined the race to manufacture personal computers. Tandy lagged the other competitors in making its computers compatible with popular software. Roach, who served as CEO from 1981 to 1998, admitted that the company made mistakes after its initial entry into the market. In May 1993, Tandy sold its personal computer manufacturing factories to AST Research.

For those individuals who were early users of personal computers, the TRS-80 will remain an innovator in the industry, gone but not forgotten.

Wayne Curtis, former superintendent of Alabama banks, is a retired Troy University business school dean. Email him at wccurtis39 @gmail.com.

Wayne Curtis

Wayne Curtis

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