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ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast

hosts: Randy Kindig, Kay Savetz, Brad Arnold
twitter: @AtariPodcast
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Aug 29, 2020

Michael Darland, Microperipheral Corporation and Sofcast

Michael Darland was co-founder of Microperipheral Corporation, and president of Sofcast, a system that sent computer data over AM and FM radio.
Founded in 1979, Microperipheral Corporation produced 300 BPS modems for several brands of microcomputers, including models compatible with the Atari 8-bit computers. Using telecommunications software called TariTerm, the Atari compatible-modems worked with the Atari 850 interface, or by connecting directly to the SIO bus.

Michael was also co-founder of Sofcast. Launched in August 1984, Sofcast was a system that sent computer programs and other data over traditional AM and FM radio stations. Listeners would use a $70 receive-only modem, called a Shuttle Communicator, to receive the programs that were transmitted over radio waves at up to 4800 bits per second.

According to an article in the June 1986 issue of Modern Electronics magazine, "The software itself actually originates at the radio studio as a tape recording of what is essentially a modem’s output. It’s the same as if you fed an ASCII file through a modem, but recorded the modem’s output instead of sending into a telephone line."

An article in PC Magazine, May 28, 1985, provides more detail:

"The show’s format falls under the bailiwick of Robert E. Lee Hardwick, a veteran radio announcer of 25 years. Harwick’s articulate voice serves as the common thread tying together the distinct parts of the weekly 30-minute show. At the microphone, Hardwick interviews guests like Bob Landware, developer of software for synthesizing music on PCs, or he demonstrates computing curios such as the Ghostbusters theme played over a Commodore computer speaker. ...What separates Hardwick's show from its counterparts, though, is the transmission of software, or sofcasts.

Midway through the show, Hardwick advises the listening audience to ready their equipment for sofcasts. He briefly describes the program or data file to be sent and counts down the sofcast like a rocket launch. A 1-second beep follows, after which the actual software is broadcast. This typically lasts 10 to 12 seconds, terminated by another 1-second beep. Then Hardwick’s voice returns.

To transmit or download software across the air, Hardwick cables a device called a Shuttle Encoder to the serial interface port of his PC. With a program written by Microperipheral, he transfers the file to be sofcast to the Encoder, which converts it to analog signals. These signals can be taped or broadcast directly. ... The show is subsequently played on two AM stations in the Seattle/Tacoma area on Sunday nights, KAMT...and KXA.

...On the receiving end, the audience has an AM radio tuned to the show. Prior to the sofcast, listeners attach a Shuttle Communicator to the radio. A cable coming from the Communicator connects to the radio earphone jack. Another cable connects the battery-powered Communicator with the computer through the serial port.

...A special program, also developed by Microperipheral, is executed on the computer... It accepts a stream of data sent by the Shuttle Communicator to the serial interface and writes the data to a disk file.

Since the show first went on the air in August 1984, Hardwick has sofcast a plethora of programs. The list includes spreadsheets, flight simulators, picture files, and games aimed at Commodore, Atari, Macintosh, Radio Shack, and IBM PC computers, among others. The public-domain programs distributed through the sofcast were initially received by only a few computers because of the limited availability of Shuttle Communicators."

Later in the article, it says: "One of the biggest tasks facing Hardwick and his colleagues is to convince radio stations to air the show. ...Sofcast airs Sunday nights, sandwiched, on one station, between two religious broadcasts, a time when there 'is no revenue possibility at all, and hasn’t been for 20 years.' Yet a computing audience is tuning in, and businesses can reach them through advertising without paying exorbitant rates."

Sofcast would grow to broadcast on 30 radio stations in the United States.

Michael Darland's co-founder for both ventures, Donald L. Stoner, was a world-renowned ham radio operator who died in 1999.

This interview took place on May 24 and May 31, 2020.

"Software Takes To The Air" in PC Magazine 1985-05-28

"Free BASIC programs by Radio" in Modern Electronics 1986-06

"Software On The Air" in Computer Shopper 1985-08

Cable Systems Talk to Computers by Donald L. Stoner

Wave of Future in Computer Software May Come Over The Radio
Sofcast receive-only modem

Donald L. Stoner obituary

Microconnection modem review in InfoWorld, Sep 20, 1982

Microperipheral Launches Low-Cost Videotex System

Microconnection User Manual 2.0

Microconnection User Manual 4.0

Microperipheral Corporation Sofcast FSK data communication system patent

Microperipheral Corporation Sofcast data communication system patent