Computability: Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows' Computer Video from 1984

Election coverage, natural disasters, and Wall Street meltdown got you down? Let’s go back to a simpler time — 1984! It’s morning in America again, and the dawn of a new information age.

Fortunately, one unlikely celebrity couple is here to guide us through the brave new world of spread sheets, data banks, and modems. In Computability, an instructional VHS tape from 1984, comedian Steve Allen and actress Jayne Meadows “take us on a light-hearted but detailed tour of the ways a home computer can change your life by simply using the correct software packages to suit your needs.”

The video was originally inspired by the couple’s Grammy-nominated “Everything You Wanted to Know About Home Computers,” a vinyl LP released by Casablanca/Polygram Records in 1983. The LP’s completely unavailable, but thanks to Sammy Reed’s wonderfully strange podcast, I was able to recreate the full album. (Stream it below or download the 11 MB MP3.)

With an Apple II, a Kaypro 2, cheeseball computer animation and a grab-bag of corny jokes, this is classic computing from the VHS era. Keep an eye out for references to Wargames, hackers, Boy George, Ronald Reagan, and more.

I’ve highlighted the different sections and my own highlights in the video’s comments, but feel free to add your own on Viddler.

Special thanks go to Dave Cassel from 10 Zen Monkeys for finding and loaning the VHS tape to me. Thanks to Colin Devroe at Viddler for the support for their brilliant service.


    I’m Sammy Reed, the host of the online program, “Music from the World of the Strange and the Bizarre”, where the audio from the album comes from (episodes 12 & 13, in case you give a darn).

    I started playing with computers with the Timex Sinclair 1000 that Hills Dept. Store had on display in 1982. It was soon replaced by the TI/99. I got a Commodore 64 for my birthday in 1985, and made a few “programs” on casette tape just to fiddle around. I was no “whiz” by any means.

    Those were the days, when we didn’t have a “caps lock” button – we didn’t know how to make SMALL letters with these things.

    If you’ll excuse me now, I’m gonna see if you could get any of those old tape-club program casettes on E-Bay.

    I recall reading a PC book back in the day (probably not Norton, but you never know) which when defining modem, somehow managed to work in the phrase “How many mo’ dem do you want?

    One more amusing note, I knew I’d heard Steve’s voice before.. The NinjaTune-label band Coldcut, known for their cut-and-paste style, used a sample starting from ~19:47 into the program in the beginning of Return to Margin (from “Let Us Play”, 1997.)

    Back in the early eighties we used what was called a BBS or Bulletin Board System to communicate through the modem before the internet hit it big.

    It amazing that Steve Allen and Jane Meadows are unknown to most people today. A very intelligent married couple, they were prolific authors and instrumental in early media experimentation going back to pre-television. Check out his interview with a young Frank Zappa for instance. And guess were the late night hosted television shows format came from?

    Steve and Jane tried to raise the ‘smarts’ of the baby boomers and increase the knowledge of future generations through several television series and specials. It is unfortunate that they failed.

    Thanks for putting this up.

    I know it’s been a while. Not much, how bout you? But seriously folks…

    I can’t thank you enough for putting this album here that I had – especially since I don’t have it anymore. I tell the whole sordid story of “the purge of 2012” on my new “Music from the World of the Strange and the Bizarre” blog!

    I currently don’t have my online show, or my website, but my new blog will have out-there stuff. In my latest post, I linked to this page – one of the web pages that have something I used to have. I’m glad that at least the album is able to be downloaded.

    Keep up the good work!

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