The glory days of audio cassette loading are set to return in the coming weeks, with retro fans getting a show they can click on Play and Record.
Audio cassettes were the medium of choice for software back in the days when 8-bit Sinclair and Commodore hardware ruled the roost. The floppy disk looked incredibly glamorous to the average home computer user, and the code was delivered via audio instead.
While the sound of these files was unintelligible for most, for some enthusiasts it was possible to discern the type of data loaded. Right down to the all-too-common R-band loading error (which usually seemed to occur at the end of a long time staring at a loading screen).
In addition to the ubiquitous audio cassette, the programs were broadcast on other media. After all, if we could get a sound from something, we might also have a chance to add data to it.
In 1983, Simon Goodwin (formerly of the beloved ZX Spectrum magazine crash and now works in audio technology) was a member of the Radio Wyvern Computer Club team. As an experiment, the radio station had broadcast the analog data loading tones and some avid listeners managed to coax the audio into their personal computers.
Almost 40 years later, a new attempt to send software via audio will be attempted as part of the Radiolab Mixtape project.
We had a hard time getting the tape-to-tape copy (of our own BASIC code, of course) to work, so it will be interesting to see how the format survives the codecs and converters of today’s digital world.
âIt’s amazing how well the ZX tape format handles duff transcription,â Goodwin said. The register. “I’m sure the results will vary. It’s not psychoacoustic.”
We can imagine that certain types of compression do horrible things to the sound, however, it will be a lot of fun to find out what works and what doesn’t (spoiler: sticking a microphone next to a speaker probably won’t do the case) .
The podcast is set to begin today, with new episodes released each week detailing the history of the not-so-humble tape. The code itself will appear in a later episode (along with plenty of warnings about when those familiar audio tones will begin). Goodwin told us, âThe live explanation of how to decode ZX files by ear is certainly worth listening to.
Its promise of a deep dive into audio and data copy protection is worth downloading on its own.
As for what the software will actually do, if you manage to fit it into a ZX Spectrum (or compatible device), Goodwin was low-key on the tape-themed animation. He said he wanted “those who download it to have the pleasure of seeing it work. Of course, I expect some to post results – the more the merrier.” Â®