John Roach: Remembering the personal computer era pioneer

Personal computer (PC) era pioneer John Roach passed away in Fort Worth, Texas, at 83. Though widely acknowledged as a marketing visionary, he is known to have played a pioneering role in commercializing the complete, pre-assembled computers during the 1970s.

At that time, when small computers were mostly sold as kits to be assembled by hobbyists, Roach envisaged the consumer demand for full-fledged computers. Roach, who joined Tandy Corp. in 1967, had fiddled with refrigerator-sized mainframes during his college days.

Roach was instrumental in taking Tandy to the computer market
Roach was instrumental in taking Tandy to the computer market. Source: TCU Magazine.

In January 1977, his team presented a prototype computer to Tandy CEO Charles Tandy and RadioShack president Lewis Kornfeld. The prototype computer, named TRS-80, comprised a microprocessor, a keyboard, 64 characters per line B/W RCA monitor, a cassette recorder, 4 KB DRAM, and floating-point Level I BASIC language interpreter in ROM. TRS stood for Tandy Radio Shack, while 80 marked the use of the Zilog Z80 microprocessor, which was software-compatible with the Intel 8080.

Charles Tandy’s response after the TRS-80 demonstration was classic. “Build a thousand, and if we can’t sell them, we will use them in the store for something.” Here, it’s worth mentioning that Tandy was founded as a leather goods company, and the Texas conglomerate later added RadioShack products to its offerings.

TRS-80 was sold exclusively at RadioShack stores
TRS-80 was sold exclusively at RadioShack stores. Source: CNN.

It’s also important to note that Apple I was introduced a year before TRS-80 demonstration while Commodore and other companies were starting to market their home computers. However, TRS-80 quickly became the most popular computer on the market. Tandy began shipping TRS-80 in September 1977 at the price tag of $599.95 and sold around 5,000 machines by the end of the year.

TRS-80 was available at all 800 RadioShack stores. Tandy also engaged Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen to write exclusive software for personal, home, and small-business applications. When Roach was promoted to the chief operating officer position in 1980, Tandy had nearly 40 percent of the PC market.

In 1998, he retired as chief executive of Tandy, the parent company of RadioShack at that time.


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