My secret life as an 11-year-old BBS sysop


Benj Edwards' BBS computer running The Cave in 1994.
Enlarge / Benj Edwards’ pc operating The Cave BBS in 1994.

Thirty years in the past final week—on November 25, 1992—my BBS got here on-line for the primary time. I used to be solely 11 years previous, working from my dad’s Tandy 1800HD laptop computer and a 2400 baud modem. The Cave BBS quickly grew right into a bustling 24-hour system with over 1,000 customers. After a seven-year pause between 1998 and 2005, I have been operating it once more ever since. Here is the story of the way it began and the challenges I confronted alongside the way in which.

Enter the modem

In January 1992, my dad introduced residence a gateway to a parallel world: a small black plexiglass field labeled “ZOOM” that hooked to a PC’s serial port. This modem granted the ability to hook up with different computer systems and share information over the dial-up phone community.

Whereas business on-line providers like CompuServe and Prodigy existed then, many hobbyists ran their very own miniature on-line providers referred to as bulletin board techniques, or BBSes for brief. The Web existed, but it surely was not but broadly identified exterior tutorial circles.

A photo of a Zoom 2400 BPS modem like I first used in 1992.
Enlarge / A photograph of a Zoom 2400 BPS modem like I first utilized in 1992.

John Scagon

Whereas the Web is a big linked internet of techniques with billions of customers, most BBSes have been small hobbyist fiefdoms with a single telephone line, and just one particular person might name in and use it at a time. Though BBS-to-BBS message networks have been frequent, every system nonetheless felt like its personal island tradition with a tin-pot dictator (the system operator—or “sysop” for brief) who lorded over anybody who visited.

Not lengthy after my dad introduced residence the modem, he handed off a photocopied listing that included lots of of BBS numbers from our 919 space code in North Carolina. Again then, the telephone firm charged considerably for long-distance calls (which might additionally sneakily embody components of your space code), so we might be sticking to BBSes in our area. This made BBSes a principally native phenomenon across the US.

My original Raleigh-area BBS list from 1992, dated December 9, 1991.
Enlarge / My authentic Raleigh-area BBS listing from 1992, dated December 9, 1991.

Benj Edwards

With modem in hand, my older brother—about 5 years older than me—embraced calling BBSes first (we referred to as it “BBSing”). He crammed up his Procomm Plus dialing listing with native favourite BBSes resembling The Octopus’s Backyard, The Physique Store, and Chalkboard. Every system gained its personal taste from its sysop, who adorned it with ANSI graphics or particular menus and in addition acted as an emcee and moderator for the board’s conversations.

I’ve a definite reminiscence of the primary time I noticed what a BBS was. At some point whereas I seemed over my brother’s shoulder, he confirmed me the file part of a kind of BBSes—a listing of obtainable information that you could possibly obtain to your native pc. Pages of free-to-download shareware video games scrolled by. My eyes widened, and one thing clicked.

“You may obtain video games at no cost?” I keep in mind considering. I observed one file labeled “RAMPAGE.ZIP” that was 100 kilobytes—or “100K,” as listed. Considering of Rampage on the NES, which was one in all my favourite video games on the time, I requested my brother to obtain it. He declined as a result of it will have taken over 5 minutes to switch on our 2400 BPS modem. Any file round one megabyte would take about an hour to obtain.

On-line time was valuable again then. Since most BBSes solely had one telephone line, you did not need to hog the road for too lengthy or the sysop would possibly boot you. And there was further jeopardy concerned. Since we have been utilizing our common home phone line to attach, the percentages that my mother would decide up and attempt to dial out—thus ruining the switch course of—remained very excessive. However regardless of the dangers, the fun of distant projection by pc sunk into me that day and by no means left.

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