Trivia

Hard

In The 1980s, It Was Possible To Download Software From Which Of These Unlikely Sources?

Weather Reports
TV Shows
Radar Transmissions
Telegraph Consoles

Answer: TV Shows

In a world far removed from the one we live in now—filled with high speed wireless internet and high capacity solid state storage—people once stored data and programs for their personal computers on cassette tapes. Yes, those cassette tapes, the very same tapes you’d use to listen to Culture Club or to create a mixtape for your crush.

Because early personal computers used what amounted to a good tape deck as a data drive, it should come as no surprise that the data on the tapes themselves had an audio signal (albeit one that wasn’t particularly pleasant to listen to). Because of this, it was possible for people at home to record audio they received by television or radio broadcast and use the recorded audio stream as a data source in their computer.

To that end, a British TV show, “Database”, which aired in the early 1980s, would transmit software during the credits of each show—viewers at home would record the audio, pop the tape into their PC, and enjoy the free applications, games, and other bits of code pushed over the airwaves. In a similar fashion, both legitimate and pirate radio stations around the world would also broadcast code in the middle of the night that listeners could record and run at home.

In theory, you could replicate the experience today, but the transmission rate was far more suitable for the tiny applications of the 1980s. Using those same 1980s TV/radio-based transmission techniques today to download, say, the video game Destiny (which weighs in at approximately 70 GB) would take roughly 48 years.

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