Computer architecture is usually described in terms of bits. For instance, we often speak of early personal computers from the late 1970s and early 1980s as 8-bit machines. In simple terms, this means that the CPUs in these computers could only address 8 bits of data at a time, with each bit representing a single binary digit (0 or 1). But even when the first episodes of The Computer Chronicles started to air in late 1983, there were already 16-bit processors on the market, such as the Intel 8086, and 32-bit machines had started to become a reality.
David Murray, who goes by The 8-Bit Guy on YouTube, had a great video a couple of years back on “How Speech Synthesizers Work." He explained that early devices like the Texas Instruments “Speak & Spell” were not true speech synthesizers, as they relied on a limited vocabulary of pre-recorded words. But even in the mid-1980s there were speech synthesizers that could build words out of basic sounds. Today’s episode of The Computer Chronicles from early 1984 also examined the status of speech synthesis during this time period.
Some early episodes of The Computer Chronicles were apparently repackaged as The Computer Chronicles Telecourse. Today’s episode was part of that telecourse and includes a series of interstitial segments hosted by SRI International’s Herbert Lechner, whom we met in the first broadcast episode. Lechner’s segments mostly review the key concepts discussed in the regular episode and refer to an accompanying textbook for students to follow. I’ve been unable to learn much about this telecourse or what it included.
The Computer Chronicles debuted as a national television program in the United States on February 5, 1984. The series was the brainchild of Stewart Cheifet, then the general manager at KCSM-TV, a public television station based in San Mateo, California, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Cheifet originally launched Chronicles as a live, local program in 1981, which was hosted by Jim Warren, the co-founder of the West Coast Computer Faire, an annual computer convention based in San Francisco.