56. By the modem light’s red glare part 2 – Flashback, tracks from the past

Written by on 2021-10-10

This is the second out of three episodes, talking about the BBS era in Sweden. We’ve hit the 90s and lead you towards the sunset of the BBS scene and the Internet taking over. But this journey is an hour, so we will cover who the typical BBS-user might have been, why the some hated how easy it had become to start a BBS and quality of some of the discussions on a board like mine.

The term “Board” and “BBS” mean the same thing here, just so you know.

The show

00:00 ericade.radio – Time for another episode of Flashback – Tracks from the past
00:06 DJ Daemon: Start up your terminal programs and let’s dial into an episode about the sunset era of the bulletin board systems. In episode 50, we covered the BBS-scene from the late 70s to the early 90s. If you didn’t know anything about what was in store back in 1990, it was easy to believe the age of the boards would last forever. It would not!

00:33 Necros of PM – “Click”
03:41 DJ Daemon: In early 90s, everything got faster, cheaper and better. The system operators were almost gods in their owning of expensive hardware and hard to setup software. And now, any dude with a 386, Amiga or Atari could create a board for themselves. And rule over the debating forums and file areas. A frustrated, but unknown Sysop wrote this in 1995: “The Modem scene is FAR TOO BIG. Face it, how many boards have you ever heard of? Too many! And it’s still just a “fart in space” of all the boards that have ever and does still exist. Did you know that 60% of all the boards closes down within a month due to user inactivity? EVERYBODY with a modem has come up with the dream of starting an own board, letting people call to yourself, gettin’ free warez instead of big phone bills. Cute, but few’s succeeding. ” If we ignore the bad grammar and that fart of a Swedish colloquialism that no one really understands outside our country, that’s a brutal take down of the scene don’t you think?

05:07 ArchAngel – Archons of light
07:58 DJ Daemon: I don’t think that elitist nonsense is good for anything except the feeling of being superior and the creation of a camaraderie that just made the scene look like a king of the hill scenario. With the possibility of anyone getting to cut their teeth as a sysop, this was the advent of BBS:es as a true hobbyist network. I started my own BBS on the 18th of October 1993, running on an Amiga 500. But we’ve discussed that in an earlier episode of this podcast. It was a great way of learning computers, script-based programming, social media before they even existed and just how much of a diplomat you had to be. I will share a few memories never told on this podcast before, but we must then continue into the sunset of the modem era.

09:03 Cooth – The Misty Lake
13:27 DJ Daemon: Even if it was easy to setup a typical board compared to the 80s, there were still a number of hurdles to overcome. I wrote a lot of commands in Arexx, the Amiga flavor of IBM Rexx. It was an easy language to learn, and I had a good reference manual. So, I often got questions from people asking me how to fix problems or build functions. This was very fun and sharing the code and the knowledge was what we did. And others could show you ways to improve your own crappy code. Then there was Peter… The name is his own because way should we protect the guilty? He didn’t ask people to help him, he tried to make the write the whole script that he wanted for his board. And once he offered to pay another sysop to build a script, then refused to pay. Quite a character and he had to flee the scene after the other sysops running him out on a metaphorical rail with tar and feather. Let’s hope it was metaphorical.

14:45 Purple Motion – Sundance
17:37 DJ Daemon: I wrote a joke-full text with several characters, I mean the users, typically found on a BBS. It was called “Så du vill bli Sysop” and I probably over exaggerated quite a bit. But not as much as you are though. So, there we were. BBS:es fed the sysops feeling of self-worth. So, it’s not that weird that most of the other users on any board were themselves sysops. And we had people from various background. There were few women, my girlfriend was the only one on my board. Let’s look at who they were, but the music must flow.

18:25 Unreal of Pulse – Fountain of sighs
23:11 DJ Daemon: Who was the typical user on my BBS? It’s the only one I can talk about, as I don’t know about the users on the other boards, even the ones I visited. Most of them lived in Stockholm, Sweden. The user was, as I noted before, almost guaranteed to be a male and the age was between 15-25 where the most common age was between 16-19. I was 18 when I started the BBS. He was commonly either far left or mildly right-wing. There were quite a few near or real communists. The debates between them and the right wingers were fierce. I guess the silent majority was not too into politics or centrist. But when you’re young, you may have a bit of political fire in your belly.

24:16 Necros and Basehead – Search for the lost riff
28:31 DJ Daemon: Back to the typical BBS-user on my BBS. Religion was not a thing really a thing for them. There could sometimes be some mild homophobia, but the user base was large enough for intolerants to get some serious criticism for writing such things. By today’s standards, a lot of things could be said that might not fly today. But racism and more overt intolerances were shunned and got fierce response. I would say people were generally quite accepting, but in their youth a bit radical at time.

29:18 MiKeY MusiC – After Life
35:08 DJ Daemon: Computer nerdery was rampant. PC-dudes against Amigaites. We discussed all the technology whether we knew about it or not. One discussion was about CPU speed, and someone claimed that “PC MHz” and “Amiga MHz” were not the same thing. This kinda how silly those debates could be when they did not work. Windows 95 was a hotly debated topic and so was the future of the Amiga after Commodore went under. Music tastes were generally NOT mainstream at all. Punk, heavy techno, some hip-hop and many of the synthases were admired. My own taste in Beatles was a bit laughable back then and Eurotechno was out in the cold.

36:10 ArchAngel – Essence of Life
39:10 DJ Daemon: I must not forget that Fidonet was a thing. It was a hobbyist USENET with many thousands of BBS-es participating. Maybe some would like to call it a precursor to Internet, but I don’t think that’s correct. Fidonet mostly used phonelines and a hierarchic structure. My BBS was 2:201/370.0. It lived in the large mesh of the Fidonet and acted as something known as a node. It sent and received messages to and from the Fidonet to a Hub that relayed it even further. Fidonet’s email-like service was called echomail. And typically, you had to wait three days from sending a message before getting an answer. A typical node only dialed to its hub once per day. Fidonet still exists today, but it’s only a shadow of its past.

40:16 Acumen – Dozen Doves Divided
43:13 DJ Daemon: Back on the rail to the end station of this program. Why did the BBS-era end? The modems got faster, and we went from 2400 to 14400 and in 1995, 28800 was becoming a thing. But in the background, Internet was coming of age. In 1994, some newspapers here in Sweden opened sites that gave you the feeling of a souped-up tele-text-page, that you had on modern TVs. On the 5th of February 1994, our Swedish then prime-minister, Carl Bildt sent an email to the then president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Two days later, Mr. Bildt spoke about the Internet in an address to mainly Ericsson managers in Kista. Internet access was yet too expensive, but in 1995, it started taking off.

44:26 Mb. Badliz – Prelude to war
49:44 DJ Daemon: In 1996, the Internet was everywhere, and I saw the userbase of my BBS dwindle. There was a sharp dive between spring and autumn of 1996. This had many reasons: i was tying the lines up a lot when using the Internet on my new PC, my girlfriend left and … Yeah… The Internet. Sites on the Internet generally talks about 1995 as the true nadir of the boards. And maybe it’s so. Next episode of this three-part story about the history of BBS-es, we will talk about the desert wandering years between 1997-2015 and the reignition of the boards.

50:39 Lizardking – Age of Legends
53:56 DJ Daemon: Outro

54:43 Purple Motion – Astraying Voyages
58:54 ericade.radio – Best enjoyed in the glow of your modem’s lights
59:01 AaRD – Hour of Truth

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