HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 30, 2007, Herald Journal

Remembering “The Computer Chronicles”

By MARK OLLIG

In 1982, before we starting using the Windows operating system on our personal computers, we used what was called a Disk Operating System or DOS. MS-DOS was of course, the Microsoft version.

At that time, I had just bought my Timex-Sinclair ZX81 computer and was ready to embrace this new personal computer future.

For me, it was the beginning of the personal computer revolution.

I purchased many DOS books and even a few VHS tapes that taught me how to use DOS to create useful batch commands and utilities for backing up my data to those good old 5.25” floppy disks.

About a year later, I heard about a new computer television program that was to focus on personal computer hardware and software.

By then I was using an IBM PC model, which had 256K kilobytes of RAM, a 20MB hard drive along with a single-sided 160K 5.25” floppy drive. This IBM PC was powered by a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processor. I used a “monochrome” monitor.

The public television program that I started watching which focused on the excitement of the new PC (and Apple-Mac) computer age was called “The Computer Chronicles,” which was created and hosted by Stewart Cheifet.

The Computer Chronicles featured the latest in computer technology and software.

Stewart Cheifet was a correspondent for the PBS “Nightly Business Report” covering the high-tech industry that was in the “Silicon Valley” of California.

The way Cheifet covered this constantly evolving technology in a relaxed and casual manner, was one of the main reasons I tuned in each week. He presented this new “personal technology” in a hassle-free manner. He explained the show’s topics in an easy to understand approach.

The Computer Chronicles included more than just IBM and Microsoft; they had segments of the show which covered information in the Macintosh computer world as well.

This program was on the air from 1983 to 2002 and over a span close to twenty years, it documented the amazing rise of the personal computing revolution.

I believe the show was broadcast on Friday.

One of the show’s segments was a five-minute section called “Random Access,” in which the weeks’ late breaking computing news was covered.

“Welcome to the Computer Chronicles.”

These were the familiar words that we were greeted with each week at the start of the show.

The show was right for the times. It was like going to school each week, as we learned about the new software, computers, monitors, modems, operating systems and online service providers. The leading people in the computer business at the time would appear on the show demonstrating their products.

As this evolving personal computer technology exploded upon us at the start of the 1980’s we would tune in each week and see how Stewart Cheifet on “The Computer Chronicles” would explain it to us.

It was a very exciting time for many of us, and it seemed every week some new technological breakthrough in the personal computing world occurred.

The Internet in the 1980’s was mostly navigated using text commands, as the world wide web was not yet established. . .so tuning into a weekly TV computer show for the latest information was a more popular way to keep informed.

A very loyal fan base was created for this computer show; I say this because when the show was cancelled in 2002, many of us sent letters and e-mails of support, hoping to keep the show on the air.

Today, many of those past shows are archived on the Internet and available for viewing. I call it “historical viewing.” Let’s go “back in the day,” as we can relive a July 14, 1988 Computer Chronicles TV show with Stewart Cheifet excitedly talk about the new Commodore Amiga computer. The opening words of the program began with a computer sitting on a desk as it spoke; “Welcome to the Computer Chronicles.” It was amusing to watch and listen to Stewart Cheifet exclaim “. . .a computer that talks!” Sure he was excited; back in 1988 it was a new experience for us to listen to a personal computer “talking” by using a software speech program.

If you would like to see and hear an interesting demonstration of a text-to-speech (TTS) program called Natural Reader, check out: http://www.naturalreaders.com/demo_tts.htm. This is an interesting program that demonstrates how a person can highlight the text on the screen and have it “spoken” in a natural sounding voice. The selected text can be saved as a .WAV or .MP3 audio file. I watched the demo and it is an easy- to use program.

If you would like to go back in time and relive some of those moments when the personal computer revolution started, the Internet archives web site stores many of the original “Computer Chronicles” programs. You can watch them at http://www.archive.org/details/computerchronicles.