Interviews and research by Kay Savetz
Imagine this. It's 1983 or 1984. You're drudging through yet
another day of middle school or high school. But today, there's a
surprise, a break from the monotony. The teacher tells your class
to put away their stuff and go to the gym, or the cafeteria, or the
auditorium. Today, there will be an assembly.
As you and your class -- and all the other classes -- get settled
in the uncomfortable folding chairs, or the bleachers, or even the
floor, you take in the scene: two large projection screens. Some
speakers and audio equipment you haven't seen before. One of your
peers is getting ready to run a spotlight. Then, this enthusiastic
person -- older than you but really not by much -- explains why
you're here. Today, at this assembly, you're going to learn about
The lights go down, the spotlight comes up on that energetic host,
and you realize this is a different sort of school assembly than
you've seen before. Two projectors come on, lighting those two big
screens -- it's a synchronized wide-screen movie. The presenter --
that not-much-older-than-you person -- talks to the screens,
interacting with the movie and talking to the audience too. It's
kind of corny, but your peers seem interested so you keep
The show discusses the basics of computer operation, and how
computers work differently than the human brain. There's a scene
where the computers talk in voices like people. There's a section
about robots, and a part where Suzanne Ciani shows how she makes
music using computers. It touches on computer art, and the social
implications of computers in the world.
40 minutes later, the show is over, and it's back to class. You
learned a few things about computers, and talk about the assembly
with your friends at lunch. Maybe you'll ask your parents for a
computer for your birthday.
This scenario played out more or less exactly that way for more
than a million middle school and high school students in 1983 and
1984. The assembly was called "Computers: Expressway to Tomorrow"
and it was financed by Atari.
According to a 1983
article in InfoWorld
: "Atari has a fleet of ... people
traveling around the country giving the Atari multimedia
presentation 'Expressway to Tomorrow' to a minimum of 500 people
per performance at high-school assemblies."
(Full disclosure, the article claimed "Atari has a fleet of 700
people" putting on the show, but I can't believe that number is
accurate. More likely the number was closer to 7.)
The traveling show would visit 2,000 schools in 1983, and was
booked a year in advance. With the required minimum attendance of
500 students per show, that's a million kids. More than a million
kids saw this assembly. that year.
September 1983 issue of Personal Computing magazine said
"Since January 1983, nine separate touring units have crisscrossed
the United States, presenting the show to nearly 1,400 public and
private schools — a total of 1.2 million students to date. Touring
begins again this September after the summer break, and will run
through December 1984." In reality, I believe the show ended by
According to that article: "The show is a lively one, with the host
on stage for the entire presentation. Several film projectors are
going at once, filling two huge screens with fast-moving shots.
Music is constant throughout. The host is busy either talking to
the audience or interacting with characters on screen. ...The
program aims to give people [a] feeling of comfort about computing.
The show focuses on the many applications of computers today, from
storing recipes to teaching a language, to tutoring."
What survives of this show today? Not much that I know about so
far. We don't have the film or the script. Audio tapes were
available to help the presenters learn their lines. Informational
packets were produced for teachers to hand out after the assembly.
So far, I haven't been able to find anyone who has any of those
things. (If you do, contact me
What I do have is two interviews: memories of that project by one
of the performers who went from school to school running the
assembly, and the filmmaker.
Before we get to the interviews, I want to give some background
about the business of producing school assemblies. It turns out
that school assemblies are a big business. Computers: Expressway to
Tomorrow was one of many shows put on by Rick Trow Productions of
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. These shows were often sponsored by
corporations, designed to educate kids, but also to get them
excited about whatever it was they wanted to promote: taking
pictures with Kodak cameras. Going skiing. Buying new music.
According to an article in the Boston
from 1972 -- this is 11 years before the Atari show, but
some of the few hard stats I could find -- Rick Trow Productions
staged 7,000 assemblies in 1971, maintained 23 touring companies
offering 16 different shows to schools. They put on educational
assemblies that promoted products and services from companies that
wanted to reach the "youth market" -- CBS Radio, Air France,
Eastman Kodak, and others. Its multimedia productions also included
titles such as "The Black Experience", "Environment: Challenge to
Action", and "The History of Rock and Roll". At the time, according
to the article, the company charged a school just $80 per assembly.
But by the time of the Atari show in 1983, the company seemed to
have changed its business model to offer the shows to schools for
free; earning their money entirely from the companies whose
products its shows promoted. The companies got access to an
audience of young people who might become eager to buy their
product (or to ask their parents to get it.) The schools got free
access to (hopefully) an educationally worthwhile presentation that
would broaden their students' horizons.
A classified advertisement by Rick Trow Productions seeking
presenters stated that in the early 1980s, presenters could expect
to receive a salary of $100 per week during rehearsal period, and
$500 per week for salary and expenses while on tour.
My first interview is with Veronica Wiseman, who was one of the
presenters who traveled from school to school putting on the Atari
show. Her name at the time was Ronnie Anastasio. Veronica did three
"tours" of Expressway to Tomorrow, from January 1983 through April
Next, my interview with Dr. Chuck Sterin, the filmmaker.
The interview with Veronica Wiseman took place on October 23, 2020.
The interview with Chuck Sterin took place on June 5, 2020.
Thanks to Chuck Sterin and Veronica Wiseman, and to Tom Bregatta,
Bob Barto, and Frank Darby, who were also presenters who provided
background information for this episode.
If you remember seeing Computers: Expressway to Tomorrow at a
school assembly, I'd love to hear your recollections. If you happen
to have any of the materials, such as the script, practice tapes,
or the film, please contact
Check the show notes for links to magazine articles about the show,
as well as scans of material that Veronica Wiseman saved, including
Rick Trow Productions employee newsletters, a large collection of
thank-you and feedback letters from many schools where she
presented, and her photographs from that time.
Veronica Wiseman's collection of letters from schools
Rick Trow Productions Employee Newsletters 1983
Veronica's photo album
New Educational Film Show Charts Future Computer Careers for
Students in Atari Connection v3n1
Brings Multimedia Computer Show To Schools in AtariAge v2n1
Spring CUE Conference article in Infoworld v5n4
"Taking the Show on the Road" in Personal Computing September