I am a tremendous admirer of your work! The "BBS" documentary hit very close to home, and I'm kicking myself for not having found out about it sooner.
I'm 34 years old, born in 1978. My father worked for a local university in the Chicago area for over thirty years, and in the early 1980's, he and the university were chosen to host one of the first Atari Computer Camps during the Summer of 1982. The camp was for grades 1-6, and as a result of that, we had an Atari 400 available for our home use. The machine had the membrane keyboard, 16K of system memory, and a cartridge slot. I was three years old, at the time, and while definitely too young for the computer camp, I have fond memories of becoming familiar with the machine and learning its basic functionality. I knew, even then, that I really wanted to know more about the computer, how it worked, how to control it, and, eventually, how to fix it. The floodgates were opened, and, I'm told that learning to read was greatly accelerated by my desire to look up and understand Atari BASIC functions like DRAWTO and GOSUB.
With the help of my dad, we eventually traded the membrane keyboard for a dark brown tactile one, and upgraded the system memory from 16k to 32k (verified with a PEEK/POKE statement in Atari Basic). We had a cassette tape drive for storage of programs (lots of loading and saving tones, and LOTS of errors!), and this would eventually expand to a floppy disk drive and dot matrix printer.
The computer camps were successful and Atari expanded its relationship with the university - this led to the venerable Atari 800 coming home year or so later. 48K of system memory and programs that occupied almost the entire side of a floppy disk - things were definitely changing! The most notable addition to the stable of computer accessories, though, was a modem. We started out with a blue, MPP 450 model that plugged into joystick port #3 at the front of the machine.
The first computer connection that was made was dialing in to the University mainframe - it was running something that wasn't very compatible with ATASCII, but it was readable enough to see basic menu functions and screens. It's hard to imagine this now, but I still remember the username and password was my dad's social security number! Times have changed, indeed. The university mainframe had a few local BBS numbers posted, and, as crazy at it sounds, I still remember a few of the phone numbers. One of the first things I did after watching "BBS" was consult the archive of BBS numbers that you have on your website - happy to report, they were all on there. The most memorable one was the first one we tried - "CLAUG BBS" which stood for Chicagoland Atari Users Group - the phone number, of course, was 312-889-1240, and we actually got through on the first try. I can still picture the text scrolling by at 300 baud and reading the introductory message. Something like this "Welcome to the CLAUG (Chicagoland Atari Users Group)…..using XMODEM written by Ward Christensen" - thanks to you, I was able to put a face with the name that I had seen so many years ago.
I was a frequent Atari BBS'er until about 1987. Some BBS names that come to mind are CLAUG II, SCATBBS, The Night Line, The Underground, and Valley Girl BBS - no idea why it had that particular name, but I do remember the phone number started with 747 and it was far outside the telephone "A" band. All of these boards, looking back, were running the standard Atari BBS software (AMIS?) and I do remember calling in to Apple boards and getting text that was barely readable - ATASCII was great, but it really didn't translate well to other machines.
The MPP was a great modem, though it would heat up after about half an hour of use. With the Atari 800, we had a standard 810 disk drive floppy disk drive and while I thought I had stumbled on a perfect way to download an enormous file, the 810 had other plans. I used the "XMODEM.BAS" program for initiating the connection, and there was an option to download something "Direct to Disk" - I remember watching each sector scroll through - with a textual representation of what it was - mostly gibberish but an occasional word would sneak in…and, normally, this would just be saved into the system memory. If that was exceeded, the download terminated and failed. Ah, but what if each sector was only held in memory and then written to disk? What a fantastic feature, why hadn't I seen or heard of it before?
The first time I tried "Direct to Disk" was for Pinball Construction Set…a game that occupied at least one side of an Atari floppy disk. Everything was working perfectly - sector downloaded, one nice loading/writing tone for the disk drive, and onto the next one.
Around Sector 50, I noticed the 810 disk drive making a strange noise and I got that all too familiar smell that indicated something was terribly wrong. One of the capacitors had heated up and leaked all over the 810's internal IC. I reached back, yanked the power cord out of the drive, flipped the lid, grabbed the disk out of there and ran the drive into the basement. Defeated, I went back upstairs, disconnected and pondered what to do next.
"Direct to Disk" downloads would have to wait until we received a newer 1050 disk drive, which was a few months later. After swapping the 1050 in, it worked quite well, and a great many programs were downloaded and uploaded at 300 baud…one sector at a time.
In 1987, we purchased an Apple IIgs, but, for some reason, Apple II boards were much more difficult to find at that time, and I really have no idea why. I know there were many out there but I never quite settled in like I had with the Atari BBS'es. We did buy a standard Apple 1200 baud modem (!) and did interact with Applelink for a few months, but for some reason, it just wasn't the same. Applelink was nifty, but expensive, and it was the basis for what would become America Online (AOL.) I was aware of Compuserve but never tried it, so BBS'ing took a back seat for three years or so. I dialed a few of the old Atari boards, but they were disappearing rather quickly or were moving to ST protocol, which didn't agree with ATASCII (or, at least, I could never get it working correctly.)
Our family purchased an IBM PC in 1990 and, with a 2400 baud mode, I was back to BBS'ing and did so all through high school, graduating in the Summer of 1996. I had the 2400 in the early 1990's and moved up to 9600 baud, followed by 14.4k for 1995 and 1996. The speed increase was phenomenal! At that time, most of my BBS'ing was to acquire software, but I also formed friendships with some of the sysops and co-sysops of the various boards that I called. Most of the "elite" boards had ratios that were either tied to uploads or message posts, so, I took a much more active role there as well. Door games and extensions were available, but I never really got into those. If a friend had played, I probably would have too, but it's interesting to hear people chat about "Legend of the Red Dragon" and "Pyroto" because it was such a _huge_ part of the BBS experience for so many.
I followed the ANSI art scene with interest, and had a friend of a friend who used to draw for RAD - he lived in California, but, for a brief time, it was great to see his handle scroll by on a Razor 1911 release. As far as the hacking and cracking groups go, I had already been introduced to that world through the Atari board years ago, and without getting too detailed, I will say the "Quiz" that was often given for access to the "elite" section of the boards that often contained acronyms - THG, NYC, Razor, FLT, INC - was easily answered.
As luck would have it, my assigned lab partner for Physics in the later years of high school was a co-sysop for a board that was local (in the "A" band) and was also a $yndicate courier site. $yndicate didn't get too much 0, 1, or 2 day stuff, but, they were just well known enough to guarantee that the board had just about everything you could ever want when it came to software. He always talked about dialing into a board called "The Bog" - which I actually saw featured in the Artscene segment of the documentary. They were huge - I can't remember who they hosted but it was someone big - Razor1911, perhaps? In any case, I could never, ever, EVER get through. It was always busy, and the one time I did actually get on, my login and password (which were set up by my friend the co-sysop from the other board) didn't work.
I had a stable of about five to ten boards that I would call, I remember the Sysop handles more easily than the board names…Hurricane, Lord Zamiel, Ryno, and others. Most of the board ran Telegard - though I remember Wildcat being fairly popular too.
High school graduation was the end of my BBS'ing era, though my first non-school e-mail account was hosted by none other than Ripco Communications, Inc. Yes, that Ripco. He kept Ripco II version of the board running concurrent with the ISP, and I had that account for years. I dialed in to the first Ripco BBS in the Atari days on a consistent but not overly frequent basis. Once I got down to college, e-mail and shell/UNIX based communication reigned supreme, with websites and Mozilla really taking off not long after beginning freshman year.
My story is by no means unique, and I can only imagine how many people have memories similar to mine that were stirred after seeing "BBS."
Thank you for the opportunity to share it, and for everything that you do with the Archive and in the film world.
Kind regards, CGO
"Captain Solo" or "Chicago Man" Chicago, Illinois