Rebecca West: Words & Music

Bob's PET

by Bob West

After seven years with the ad agency I left in 1976 to start my own business and did freelance graphic design and production for Walt Disney World, Green Thumb Company, Tupperware, and other corporations. At this time I was also publishing a magazine called Gospel Graphics, which expanded and became Gospel Teacher in January 1977. We also sold Bible school materials, reference books, and Bibles by mail.

We addressed labels to mail Gospel Teacher to our subscribers using mimeograph stencils and an Addressograph machine. It wasn't one of my favorite tasks.

One day a fellow church member, who programmed calculators for a local office supply store and planned to go into business for himself, suggested that I do the job with a new invention called a personal computer. He said that the computer comes with a built-in language called BASIC (Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instructional Code) and if I would design his stationery, he would write a program for me that would maintain subscriber information, sort the records by zip code, by expiration date, etc., and print my mailing labels and reports. I decided to take him up on his offer.

This personal computer, a Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) had 8 kilobytes of random-access memory, but it also had 32 kilobytes of read-only memory which included the operating system code and the BASIC programming language. It had a built-in magnetic audio cassette tape player from which to load a program or read data. The built-in display was 40 characters wide. No hard drive was available at this point. The price was $595.

There were two other options at this point in time: the TRS-80 model 1 from Radio Shack and the Apple 1. I chose the Commodore PET and soon learned enough about the BASIC language to program a very simple Bible quiz.

Gospel Teacher 9 cover
GOSPEL TEACHER 9, May-June 1978, copyright © 1978 by Bob West

On my magazine cover I introduced the personal computer to my audience as a Bible teaching tool. Inside were two articles that went into more detail, "The Itty-Bitty Computer" article and illustration by Bob West and "Computer Power in Bible School: An effective new tool for individualized learning" by Steve Singleton. Remember this was 1978 (ancient history where personal computers are concerned)!

GT9 inside spread

In my article I wrote, "What comes to mind when you see or hear the word "computer"? UNIVAC? With miles of cable, thousands of electron tubes, and huge electric bills? Well, there's still established, well-known computer manufacturers building huge multi-million dollar machines that only large corporations and other institutions can purchase. But, there is also a new breed of computers which churches can afford...

"...we bought one of these small computers ourselves. That's it posing for the photo on the cover. Our first project has been to program it to handle the GOSPEL TEACHER mailing list. As soon as the printer that goes with it arrives, we will be able to start printing our own labels...

"It seems that computers are here to stay. They can be a threat to those of us who wish life would stand still, or at least go a bit slower, or they can be a source of excitement, fun, and the beginnings of a new educational medium. Another aid we can effectively use in gospel teaching!"

Let's look in on a 1998 episode of Sketch and Honey Drawings' life now. Hey, look! They're going through the same thing Bob and Sylvia went through in 1978.

Theophilus comic strip
THEOPHILUS comic strip 1998 episode: "More Than Church Attendance"
Visit the Theophilus website by clicking here.

To be continued

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