Today we download video games online all the time. Back in the 1980s, gamers without the Internet (such as it was) had to buy or borrow their games. But a few could download programs off the radio. Plus: there’s a comet headed Earth’s way, and it might make for some great viewing this month, or 6,000 years from now. Either one.
You Could Download Video Games From the Radio in the 1980s (Interesting Engineering)
If you’re listening to this on-demand podcast, you have at least some idea of how downloading works.
You connect to the Internet, and your computer or phone or device connects to the site that hosts our episodes and either saves or streams the audio information so you can hear us.
It’s pretty easy and straightforward, but back when I was growing up in the 1980s, we weren’t connected to the Internet all the time.
In fact, we weren’t connected at all in my house.
The Internet hadn’t become widespread yet.
But video games had, and while buying or borrowing games were the most common ways to play them, there was still a way to download games that didn’t involve the Internet at all.
It was on the radio.
In the early 1980s, home computer systems didn’t have internal hard drives to store data the way that computers do now.
Some used floppy disks, but others used cassettes, the same ones people used for music.
If you wanted to load a game on your computer, you’d connect the tape machine through a special port and hit play.
If you wanted to save, you’d hit record on the tape machine.
Several radio producers in the 80s figured out that if they broadcast programs and games on the radio in a way that could accommodate the digital code, anyone listening at home could record those broadcasts and just like that they’d have their own copies.
The only catch was that programs on tape are, well, not the most melodious sounds you’ll ever hear.
The producers had to give warning messages to listeners that they were about to broadcast code, so that people wouldn’t freak out when their radios were full of electronic squeaks, squawks and groans.
Then again, that might work on some stations today.
Now, if you want something worth recording video of, then make sure your telescope or binoculars are in good working order.
NASA’s NEOWISE space telescope has spotted a comet that should make for some nice viewing later this month.
You will get another chance if you miss it, but that won’t happen until the year 8,786.
Never put off for six millennia what you could do today.