When Pioneering Fidonet Bulletin Board System Operators Ruled
An educational trip back in time when Computer Bulletin Board System Operators (SysOps) and the Fidonet Network dominated early personal communications worldwide. Many of those BBS’s still exist into 2018 and hopefully beyond. 😉
We came across this article on ZDNet and were reminiscing the good old Computer Bulletin Board System days of the 80’s-90’s. After reading ZDNet’s article we decided to publish a more in-depth informative article about the BBS Scene of yesterday.
Fidonet Zone 1 Region Map
Folks today probably don’t have a clue what a BBS was. Other than a manufacturer of custom car wheels that mostly dominates internet search.
BBS Stands for Bulletin Board System. It was how we communicated before the internet became the new way of life for many bbs callers. The net did a number on the bbs ruling the worlds personal communication, though many still exist.
Back in 1991 we first went online with Doc’s Place BBS Online. Our system was running on an old IBM 286/12 and a 2400 baud internal modem. There was nothing better than the handshake (synchronization) sound our modem made when someone dialed up the bbs.
Not long after putting that board up we received an invitation to join Fidonet. That was the ticket there. My node number was 1:3603/140. 1 was the zone (US and Canada), 3603 was the network address, and 140 was my node number.“
Our local Fidonet network was growing fast and at it’s peak had around 140 nodes. Back then in the Tampa Bay area it cost a quarter to call Tampa from St Petersburg or Clearwater.
We were passing the local and national mail with the Tampa Sysops. So with the .25 per call toll we held the mail until zone mail hour (ZMH.) Then our network echo-mail coordinator (NEC) would make a single call and pass the mail between the networks.
Soon afterward a new node in HillsboroughNet found out he could call either Pinellas or Hillsborough counties toll-free. PinellasNet3603 routed all of both nets mail through him. Saved the .25 toll call and allowed instant crash mail (sent immediately.)
Doc’s Place BBS telnet main login display screen
When a human caller ended their BBS session and hung up (or dropped carrier a no-no.) The bbs mailer would then scan it’s message bases for new outbound mail. Any mail for PinellasNet along with HillsboroughNets would be sent to those individual systems. Awaiting mail would be picked up during the call.
Here is a snippet of what we call the Nodelist. The nodelist is an electronic phone book for the BBS’s Front-end Mailer. It was the mailers job to know what number to call. The front-end understood any system not local must be held until ZMH.
Fidonet nodelist partial snippet an large ascii text file
This is our Fidonet area list partial snippet. This ascii text file areas.bbs tells the mail tosser (Mailer) what messages goes into each conference.
Fidonet ftsc compliant message area ascii text file (backbone.na.)
Time went by and computers got faster. Modems speeds were up as well. US Robotics (USR) came out with their Dual Standard 16,800 BPS modems. They were really expensive at that time, around $800.00.
USR had what was called a SysOp promotion where they would sell modems to Sysops at half price. USR required verification of existing bbses. One modem per verified online node. In-order to qualify SysOp’s had to fill out USR’s form listing nodes they were requesting modems for. USR would call and verify the nodes actually existed.
Doc remembers buying two 16.8 dual standards back then. The USR external modems had a big brass plaque riveted to the top (SysOp use only Not for resale.
Doc’s Place BBS in 1994. D’Bridge ran our satellite feed. The bbs computer on the right. 4 dial up lines in use.
In 1994 a new company Planet Connect offered their 3 foot satellite dish to receive Fidonet mail and shareware files. Planet Connect was a really slow feed that lasted around 12 hours. If any packets were lost the 1st transmission, Planet Connect re-transmitted the days feed. This was a receive only Fidonet feed. Outbound mail still had to be sent via modem but was held until ZMH where a single call was made.
Net 3603 was divided into two groups. There were the geeky guys and gals and their followers. Then there were the rest of us. We were referred to as the DroolNet. A bunch of beer guzzling, women chasing, uneducated rednecks. The geeks bought a planet connect dish. So the DroolNet chipped in and bought one too. 😎
The Droolnet planet connect satellite dish. Bob Tarallo, Doc, Jortis Webb in the rear.
Living in St. Petersburg Florida at the time we mounted the planet connect satellite dish on my roof. It worked great and we all shared the monthly subscription fee.
Things went well for a few months but someone snitch us out to the city’s code compliance division. Doc was told by St. Petersburg codes inspector to pull the proper permit. Doc went down to city hall and was told they required instructional engineer approve of the installation in writing. Then the city would issue the permit. This would cost hundreds of dollars that the Droolnet didn’t have.
Doc was in the car business at the time and bought this 1981 Datsun F10 with cold air for $100. We removed the satellite dish from the roof. Then drilled holes in the cars roof and mounted the satellite dish to it. One of the nets members (Jacob Eagle Eyes) put the lettering on the satellite dish. It was funny to watch the cops drive-by stop and look. This was on Friday afternoon.
Come Monday morning here came the city of St. Petersburg’s code inspector who was seriously upset with what we had done. He said the car was an accessory structure and he was going to cite me for it. The code inspector was informed what a motor vehicle was. Doc had made the car street legal by issuing it a 20 day temporary tag. He said go ahead and write me up. I’ll unplug the cable and park it in front of city hall. The code inspector grumbled a few words and left. A few days later he called and said to put it back on the roof.. 😆
A short time afterword faster internet came along. ISDN and ADSL connections were becoming common. The internet was here and it was not going away. Dial up BBS’s were dropping out of the nodelist like dead flies. The old PinellasNet3603 was down to just a handful of nodes and vultures were flying overhead.
Doc had recently upgraded his Wildcat BBS Software to the latest version Wildcat 5 with the internet connect pack. We had recently got a dual channel ISDN line and used Microsoft Network to connect to the net. Doc wound using software that helped him line camp keeping the connection live 24 hours daily.
Thinking that the old BBS was surly as good as dead if he didn’t come up with an idea how to regain his lost callers. Doc then obtained a sub-domain from a dynamic domain name system (DNS) provider. This allowed Doc’s Place BBS Online to have an easy to get to Internet name instead of using his often changing IP address. Doc’s Place BBS was live on the internet available to anyone anywhere worldwide.
Next was to spread the word. He spammed the north American backbone conferences (about 600 of them) with a single BBS advertisement. Naturally Fidonet conference moderators went crazy about his off topic message. He also sent this note to the FidoNews editor Douglas Myers 1:270/720.
Fidonews bbs ad submitted by Doc in 2000
After that article came out in FidoNews
Doc’s Place BBS was alive with traffic from all over the world. While most dial up BBS’s had folded, there were still callers that loved to BBS!
Doc’s Place BBS has always been a free Fidonet messaging system, but Doc’s users often made donations to help with the costs keeping it online. Doc’s system newsletter has some interesting news about our bbs history.
Fidonews submission ‘salute to a ling time sysop’ by Richard Webb.
Docs Place BBS is still online. It’s sitting here running on this old Dell Optiplex 980, running under Windows 10 Pro 64bit, with a Road Runner cable internet connection.
Check out this video showing the Telnet side of the BBS in operation. It looks identical to an old dial up terminal. And we did it all without a mouse or graphical user interface.
Doc’s Place BBS software is Wildcat Version 5 from 2000. It has not been updated since then but still runs for months unattended. Doc has modernized the appearance and functionality of the web html templates that include language translation.
We’re still online taking bbs calls daily at bbs.fidosysop.org
Another view of Doc’s Place BBS Online Windows computer desktop.
This is how the SysOp views Doc’s Place BBS Online desktop
Whatever happened to the good old days? It’s nice to reminisce about all the fun times. The monthly PinellasNet3603 SysOp meetings were fun and a great learning experience. Doc now hangs out on the Internet keeping up with tech. He can be found easily on Facebook and Twitter by @FidoSysop.
Doc’s Place BBS Online who called today 02/13/2014 display screen
Were you a part of the BBS Scene of yesterday? A Caller or SysOp? Your thoughts or experiences adding to this story are sincerely appreciated.
Update 09/10/19: The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems. A former systems operator logs back in to his yesteryear computer-based social network.
Retired used car dealer (trust-me) and ASE cert mechanic turned hobbyist internet webmaster. I also operate Doc's place computer bulletin board system (bbs) since 1991. While you’re here check out FidoSysop Forum. There's no censorship when posting or commenting on hot topics such as politics!