In this week’s edition of Pioneers in Tech, we’re highlighting legendary business executive John Roach. On March 20, 83-year-old John Roach died in his beloved Fort Worth, Texas, where he was a titan of the community. His legacy goes far beyond the Lone Star State, however—even finding a home in the Smithsonian.
In 1977, under Roach’s guidance, the Tandy Corporation entered the personal computer market when it started selling the TRS-80 at its RadioShack stores. Designed by microprocessor expert Steve Leininger, the TRS-80 sold for $600, or approximately $2,800 in today’s dollars. “TRS” stood for “Tandy RadioShack,” and the “80” referenced the device’s Zilog 80 CPU. The TRS-80 featured a 12-inch monitor, keyboard, microprocessor, and a cassette recorder, and it came with cassettes featuring the games backgammon and blackjack. Consumers could also purchase cassettes with educational games and basic accounting programs for managing household budgets and small businesses.
Roach and his fellow Tandy executives were initially skeptical about sales potential for the TRS-80, scoffing when Leininger predicted RadioShack could sell 50,000 units in the first year. Instead, RadioShack sold 50,000 in the first month. In a year that also saw the debut of the Commodore PET 2001 and the Apple II, the TRS-80 commanded 60% of the market.
Roach often described himself and his Tandy colleagues as “simple country boys in this computer business.” Unfortunately, once IBM got in the PC game, Tandy lost market share, partly because its machines only used RadioShack software—and RadioShack was unprepared for the VCR craze of the mid-1980s.
Photo: Museums Victoria / Unsplash