Me and my Commodore 128, 1985.

A Commodore 64 of my own…again

Forty years ago this November, I entered the world of personal computers. I got an internship with EnTech, a small Commodore 64 software company. My job was to write press releases, especially to promote their music composition program, Studio 64. I got good at writing press releases, so they made me their public relations representative. I then wrote anything that needed to be written, including user manuals. I began the technical writing career I’m still in today.

Shortly after I started at EnTech, I realized I wanted a computer too. I discovered how useful they are. Also, I wanted the option to take work home when needed. (See, working from home isn’t a new idea.) My mom bought me a late Hanukkah present. At an after-Christmas sale, she bought me a Commodore 64, joystick, and cassette player. I plugged it into a spare black-and-white TV. As I can afford them, I added peripherals. First, I got a 1541 floppy drive. (We had to go through a few of them before we found one that was reliable.) Then, we got an Epson RX-80 dot-matrix printer. Along with the word processor PaperClip, I wrote my term papers and writing assignments for my final years of college.

From the Commodore 64, I went to the Commodore 128 shown in the photo. Then came the Amiga 500. But in 1991, after working for AST for five years, I saw the writing on the wall. I sold all my Commodore computers and went to the PC.

Still, I missed Commodore computers and the games I used to play. I also missed Studio 64. I’m not a hard-core musician, but I enjoyed entering songs and playing the ones on the demo. It also brought me back to the days when I was starting my career in the computer industry. It was a feeling I described in Amiga as, “We were pioneers in pristine, unexplored wilderness before we paved it over with an information superhighway.” I wondered if I’d ever play with that computer again.

When Retro Games came out with The C64 a few years ago, I thought about getting one. It came with several games I loved when I was younger. I also figured it would be an easier way to get back into Commodore than buying an original computer, recapping it, and coming up with a connection to a modern TV. With as busy as I am, I couldn’t find the time to play with one.

Then, I got an invitation to speak at the Commodore Los Angeles Super Show on April 15–16. To prepare, I had to relearn the Commodore 64 and its software (just as I had to do when I wrote Amiga). So, I got The C64 Mini.

The C64 Mini setup

The C64 Mini is half the size of the original and doesn’t have a working keyboard. (You can connect a USB keyboard or use the on-screen keyboard.) In addition to the 64 games that come with the device, you can run any Commodore 64 program you can load onto a USB drive. The challenge was to find Studio 64.

I thought I saved Studio 64 disks from the time I worked at EnTech, including one with music I transcribed on it. If I had the disk, I could ask someone to convert it into a .D64 file (which places a floppy disk in a single file). When I couldn’t find the disks, my next step was to find a .D64 file for Studio 64 online. After a few dead ends, I finally got one from musician Sajtron. For the first time in 38 years, I fired up Studio 64.

Studio 64 help screen

I’m getting the hang of using the program again. I’ll look for a cheap USB keyboard on Amazon to use with it. It will be fun to transcribe some new songs into it and hear what they would sound like on an 8-bit SID chip.

Playing with The C64 Mini helps me reconnect with my past. I also look forward to sharing this with my family so they can see where I came from and experience the joy I had when I used a computer for the first time.