The Kansas City standard

During episode #66 of This Week in Tech, host Leo Laporte reminded his fellow pundits that August 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of the IBM PC. It cost $1565—a fairly inexpensive computer in those days—but Leo noted that’s because it didn’t come with a hard drive, only a cassette port. John C. Dvorak immediately asked, “Does anyone remember if that used the Kansas City standard?”

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My reaction was the same as Leo’s: Kansas City standard? Is that a joke? I grew up in K.C. and have lived there most of my life, and yet I’d never heard of such a thing.

This thirty year-old standard was actually fairly revolutionary. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the first standards to allow consumer-quality audio cassettes to store computer data. It was thus a catalyst in the rise of the personal computer, offering home users inexpensive data storage at a time when floppy disk drives cost around $1000.

An example comes from personal experience. I recall my dad’s old TI-99/4A having a cassette port to which he had hooked up an even older portable tape recorder. I’d use it to save my little BASIC programs and whatnot. I could turn off the computer then come back the next day, playback the tape, and pick up where I left off…hopefully. (As Leo says, those cheap tapes weren’t particularly reliable.)

Despite reliability issues, the Kansas City standard remained influential. It even spawned a completely new type of computer data storage: vinyl records! That’s right; old-fashioned 33⅓ RPM records were once used for recording high-tech digital data—formatted according to the Kansas City standard, of course.

Kansas City floppy

And all this time I thought my home town was known only for its barbecue and jazz

One Response to “The Kansas City standard”

  1. scott medlock says:

    Not only was the Kansas City Standard widely utilized… The progenator of the KCS is still active in the Computer Industry in Kansas City. An article in KiloBaud magazine (now Byte) defines and describes it quite well.

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