The Music Connection BBS

A long time ago, pre-Internet days, I ran a dial-up Bulletin Board System (BBS) called The Music Connection from 1991-1995. It was a four-line system, and had users dialing in from all over the world. It was the FidoNet 3100 hub, the MusicNet hub, the SoundNet hub, and was fairly popular back in the day. Several others tried to glom onto the name (such as a system in Houston, TX and another in North Highlands, CA), but for anyone in the know back then, we were the one and only.

Co-Sysop with me on the site for a while was Sean Peoples, and I was good friends with Mike Phillips in Garland who ran the Digital Oxygene BBS (and ran a friendly competition between our two BBSes).

You can read a little about the scene here and here.

The BBS started with QuickBBS on a Packard Bell 386sx-16 (where I applied vast technical skills to solder in a new timing crystal so it ran at 18MHz instead of 16MHz), and eventually ended up running Remote Access on a self-built 486DX4-100 inside a repurposed IBM AT case. I tweaked and hacked on this machine until it sang! Eventually all four lines ran on the same system with DESQview and a monochrome monitor (so I could reclaim that valuable CGA RAM reservation and have 704K in DOS instead of just 640K.

Eventually, I shuttered the site due to the fact that I could see everything would be moving to the Internet, as I had in fact been finding and adding material to the BBS that I had pulled off the Internet for at least two years.

One of the big things the site was known for was the graphics/windowing system for accessing everything, and people asked about it all the time. I started out with a basic idea of a text-based windowing system, drew it in TheDraw, then manually edited all of the resulting pages to trim their size down. It doesn't sound like much, but taking a 4KB page and reducing it to 7-800B made a huge difference on the dial-up modems of the day. One of the easiest ways to do that was by using an ANSI character to flood fill the background in a single color before drawing the overlaying image. This only took a half-dozen or so characters, whereas not doing it had the file changing color and filling in space every line where it needed to be the background color.

I had a lot of fun doing this, and in addition to a hobby it became part of class projects; one of the projects I worked on in college was combining both the front-end mailing system and the back-end BBS into one. I ended up with 10-15KLOC before I began to see the writing on the wall (re: the impending Internet migration) and abandoned the project.

It's a microcosm, but the PC market explosion in the 1990s could be easily seen just in the prices I paid for hardware to run the BBS. The first system came with 1MB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive. I upgraded it shortly after purchase and paid $200.00 for a second MB of RAM and $200.00 for a refurbished 40MB hard drive. By the time I took down the BBS, in 1995, RAM had dropped to about $40.00 per MB and $120.00 for a 200MB hard drive.

I may flush this page out over time, who knows. I still have some (probably unreadable now) 4MM DAT backup tapes that contain the entire BBS system sitting on the shelf as well as one old computer collecting dust that could be modified to hold the SCSI controller and tape drive, but it's a matter of finding time to do so.