I was having a blast by the time I saved up the money needed for a Commodore Datasette drive. By this time I had one or two games to plug into the machine, but I had no way to save my precious programs. I would type away at Basic and develop advanced programs that would tell me things like, “Hello” or it would figure an advanced math problem for me like “2+2 =” and there would be the answer “4”! But I was seeing big programs in magazines and I wanted to be able to save them. The Commodore books themselves offered a few programs as this was just before the publication of some independent programming books – many filled with pages and pages of code for me to type in and check.
The major issue I faced was what I called, “Program loss”. The minute I would finish testing the program, complete school homework, take care of chores and get ready for bed, it was time to turn the Vic-20 off. As I would click that magic button on the side of the 20 that opened the entire world of computers to me, the program would die. It would be lost to the world, to me, and most importantly the hard work I had put into typing it would be gone until I typed it again. I had to have a way to save the programs and cassettes – those wonderful music holding little tapes of dark strips was going to save the day for me!
My mother took me to a small outside mall in Little Rock. This was in the days when big malls were still few and far and a lot of the shopping malls were outside- No not like yesterday, that’s just these places coming back as the big malls seem to be dying off in smaller towns in the USA – these malls often had bowling alleys, skating rinks, pharmacy stores, and maybe a Sears store attached. You could usually find a barbershop, a clothing store or two, and even some specialty stores like Radio Shack and occasionally a small parts or hobby store. This particular mall, known as University Mall, would later transform into one of those large indoor malls and eventually become apartments and a Target years later once a bulldozer would again destroy someone else’s childhood memories of the mall. I actually think there may be a Cheddars located close to where the store was located that we went to that day. But I digress…the point is it was the early 1980s and the open mall was there. Inside that open mall was a store that sold almost exclusively Commodore items.
I honestly do not remember if the store was a “Commodore” store in the sense of selling only those items or not, but I do remember they had a lot of Commodore stuff. As we walked in, I know my mouth must have fallen open. There were game cartridges, blank tapes, Vic-20’s, monitors, tape drives and it seemed like rows and rows of programs already on tape. There were also books – books that told you how to do things with your Vic-20! Needless to say, I was in heaven.
I do not remember the cost, but I remember getting the Datasette drive – which apparently was a nice way to call a cassette something other than a cassette. I put the money down, paid the cost and walked out the proud owner of my first computer storage device.
I had the benefit of already having cassette’s at home since I used them to record my records. Once I was home, I pulled the Datasette out of the styrofoam holder, set the box aside and plugged it into the Vic-20. I followed the directions and within a short amount of time, the fantastic program “Hello World” was finally written and saved. After a few tests, I determined that all was well and I could now save may 20, 30 or even 40 lines of code when typed. Needless to say, I had no idea that the lines of code I could and would type was about to expand.
At the end of the day I had two new things on my mind. First, I now knew that I could save anything I typed or put together on the Vic. I also knew that there were others out there that had put together programs and they would sell them to me at that wonderful little store. In the years that would follow I would learn about biorhythm programs, calculator programs, writing programs (something that really caught my attention) and so much more.
That first little Datasette traveled with me through junior high, high school and college. I used it with the Vic-20 and the Commodore 64 that would go through college with me. I had stacks of programs that I had written and ones I had bought. It really wasn’t until sometime later that I learned there were other types of Datasettes for the Commodore machines, but ultimately I did not need them. To this day, if you’re working on a Commodore machine, you know you can still go to your trusty outside mall – because that is a thing again in small-town USA and buy cassettes for your Datasette. Whereas the floppy, both 10 inch, 5 1/4, and 3.5 have gone the way of the dinosaur, you can still round up a trusty cassette to pop into your Datasette. It’s hard to believe that has been over 35 years ago now and the Datasette still lives on in memory and in many cases at work for those of us who love the Commodore Computers.
Clinton S. Thomas, Th.D. is a writer and the editor for the Four States News (https://fourstatesnews.us) and the owner of a consulting company. His first computers came from Commodore and inspired a lifelong love of computer interactions from games, to development and even to writing on them.