Dec 19, 2020
The Famous Computer Cafe
This is a podcast episode featuring three interviews with people who created a radio show that did hundreds of interviews.
The Famous Computer Cafe was -- not a restaurant -- but a radio program that aired from 1983 through the first quarter of 1986. The program included computer news, product reviews, and interviews.
The program was created by three people — who were not only the on-air voices, but did all the work around the program: getting advertisers, buying air time, researching each day's computer news, booking interviews -- everything. Those three people were Andrew Velcoff, Michael Walker (now Michael FireWalker), and Ellen Fead Hansen (later Ellen Walker, now Ellen Fields.) For this episode of Antic, I got to talk with all three of The Famous Computer Cafe's proprietors.
There were several versions of the show, which aired on several radio stations, primarily in California. A live, daily half-hour version allowed phone calls from listeners. Taped versions (running a half-hour and up to two hours) also aired daily. The show started in 1983 on two stations in the Los Angeles area: KFOX 93.5 FM and KIEV 870 AM. In 1985 it began airing in the California Bay Area: on KXLR 1260 AM in San Francisco and KCSM 91.1 FM in San Matro, and KSDO 1130 AM in San Diego.
Also in 1985 a nationally syndicated, half-hour non-commercial version of The Famous Computer Cafe was available via satellite to National Public Radio stations around the United States, though it's not clear today which stations ran it.
To me, the most exciting thing about the show was the interviews. The list of people that the show interviewed is a who's-who of tech luminaries of the early 1980s. But not just computer people: they interviewed anyone whose work was touched by personal computer technology. musicians, professors, publishers, philosophers, journalists, astrologers.
The cafe aired interviews with Philip Estridge, the IBM vice president who was responsible for developing the PC; Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates; Atari Chairman Jack Tramiel; Bill Atkinson, developer of MacPaint; Infocom's Joel Berez; Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek; musician Herbie Hancock; Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts; author Douglas Adams; Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog; psychologist Timothy Leary; science fiction writer Ray Bradbury; synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog; and pop star Donny Osmond. The list goes on and on and on. By mid-1985, the show had run more than 300 half-hour interviews.
Here's the bad news. Those episodes, those interviews, are lost. Today, a recording of only one Cafe episode is known to exist. That show, which aired January 2, 1986, includes an interview with Rich Gold, creator of the Activision simulation Little Computer People; a call-in from tech journalist John Dvorak; and commercials for Elephant Floppy Disks and Microsoft Word. The entire 29-minute episode is available at Internet Archive, with the gracious permission of the show's creators. It's an amazing time capsule -- which survived because Rich Gold, interviewed on the program, saved a cassette of that show. Perhaps, somewhere, there are hundreds more episodes waiting to be re-discovered — if someone has the recordings. If you do, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good news is that transcripts of six interviews do exist (and are now online): Timothy Leary, Donny Osmond, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky; Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series; Tom Mahon, author of Charged Bodies; and Jack Nilles, head of the University of Southern California Center for Futures Research.
Check this episode's show notes, at AtariPodcast.com, for links to the one episode, the six transcripts, and the cool Famous Computer Cafe logo.
You'll hear the interviews in the order in which I recorded them. First up is Michael FireWalker, then Ellen Fields, then Andrew Velcoff.
The interview with Michael FireWalker took place on May 27, 2020. The interview with Ellen Fields took place on June 1, 2020. The interview with Andrew Velcoff took place on July 3, 2020.
Special thanks to fellow researcher Devin Monnens, and the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University.
This podcast used excerpts from the one The Famous Computer Cafe episode that is known to exist. That episode, now available at Internet Archive, was digitized by Stanford University (the physical tape is in their special collections located in the Stanford Series 9 of the Rich Gold Collection (M1510), Box 2.)
If you have any other recordings of any Famous Computer Cafe episodes, please contact me at email@example.com.
The Famous Computer Cafe 1986-01-02 episode
The Famous Computer Cafe interview transcripts
The Famous Computer Cafe ads, photos, articles