On a Saturday morning a little over 15 years ago, I discovered the radio show by which every technology radio show and podcast I’ve heard since has been measured.
The show was Computing Success! hosted by Thom Foulks.
I found it completely by accident: I was trying to tune in (what was then) WLUP-AM and instead came across WNVR, which ran syndicated programming by The Business Radio Network. I would have tuned away from the station, but I was intrigued when I heard the host talking about Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 3.1.
After a few minutes, he took a call from a listener who had a question about Usenet and UNIX systems. I may have been new to PCs, but I was already an established Usenet user and UNIX Systems Administrator so this was my chance to “tech out” the host. He passed quite impressively.
What made the show special was the fact that Thom actually listened to his callers’ questions and was genuinely interested in getting them the answers they needed. If he didn’t know an answer, he’d recommend a book or other resource. Thom never faked his way through an answer, and his easygoing style made the listener, whether experienced or not, enjoy his show.
Thom also reported on the latest technology news, carrying reports from the staff of InfoWorld, PC Computing, and other computer publications of the day. John C Dvorak was an occasional contributor to Computing Success!
I had just obtained my first MS-DOS-based PC (a monochrome Sharp notebook, courtesy of my employer), so I was interested in learning as much as possible about what it could do. Thom’s show was a huge help– he spoke in plain English and kept the jargon to a minimum. While his style was low-key, yet you could tell he was thrilled about the subject matter. Thom wasn’t interested in showing off what he knew about computers– he was interested in sharing what he knew and showed he was always willing to learn more.
Sadly, Computing Success! went off the air about a year after I discovered it. It was replaced with another computer show hosted by a guy who loved to repeat his own name and referred to himself as “your computer answer man” despite the fact that the show seemed bereft of “answers” that did not involve a sponsor’s product.
When I listen to today’s tech shows that try to accomplish the same thing, I realize how much today’s shows are lacking, when taken in the context of Thom’s show . Leo LaPorte’s The Tech Guy seems to come close, but it’s not quite the same because Leo likes to “ham it up” a bit more than Thom did.
Thom Foulks passed away in March of 2004. He was active in the computer arts right up to the end, and if you Google his name you’ll find all sorts of projects he worked on, including an extensive geneology project. And here’s a link to his Wikipedia page.
I wish I’d taped some episodes of Computing Success! — it would be nice to hear them right about now.