Labor-saving laptop computers revolutionized reporters’ lives – Norman Transcript


The OU journalism students that traveled with me to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta were required to file daily news stories back to their sponsoring Oklahoma newspapers. 

Driving home from Atlanta in a university van, we stopped at a truckstop somewhere in Arkansas and headed for the bank of pay phones. A student put down her Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 computer, typed a few commands, dialed a number on the pay phone, punched in her Southwestern Bell credit card, put the headset into a pair of acoustic couplers and began transmitting at a rapid 300 BAUD.

The trucker on another pay phone asked my student what in the world was going on there. “I’m transmitting a news story over the telephone lines,” she said. Sensing his confusion, she said. “It’s like the baby computer is calling its mom.”

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Cleaning out an old cabinet where I found my old computer caused me to recall that generational interchange. My Model 100, purchased for nearly $1,000 in 1987, was my first laptop computer.

At the time, it was a splurge for me to buy such futuristic instrument. It hit the market in 1983 and newspaper reporters were among the first to bite. Nevermind that Bill Gates co-wrote the computer’s operating system with Jey Suzuki of Kyocera.

It had a liquid crystal screen and a regular keyboard. It kept reporters from having to dictate stories from the field, usually over a pay phone, to a co-worker who typed it up. It didn’t make us more accurate or better reporters. It was just labor saving. If someone had thought of direct deposit of paychecks back then, sportswriters would have never gone into the office.

When the reporters’ story was finished on a Model 100, we could review what we had written and then looked for a pay phone or a phone jack. Many a hotel room had its wiring rerouted for the sake of deadline.

My briefcase always had a selection of cables and cords and dual phone jacks, wire strippers and electrical tape. An extra telephone was also part of my travel necessities.

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The Model 100 took four AA batteries and could last for nearly 20 hours. The basic model carried 8 kilobytes of storage space. A deluxe model could store up to 24 kilobytes. (But who would ever need 24K of memory?)

It weighed five pounds, had a text editing program and an address book feature that let you send your edited files to anyone that was set up to receive them. (Oftentimes, we had to call the editor to plug in their modem before we could send).

Files could be stored on a cassette tape or a floppy disk. Or, you could hook up a cable and transfer them to another Radio Shack computer.

It’s nostalgic to think how far we’ve come in terms of computing and our digital world. Talk of dial-up modems, phone jacks, Prodigy accounts and 300 BAUD is pre-historic. Nowadays, there’s more computing power in the remote on my BBQ smoker than that old Model 100. 


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