Saturday, December 10, 2016

Merry Christmas From Your Atari Computer

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Merry Christmas From Your Atari Computer
The Atari Connection
Winter 1981-1982

This Merry Christmas From Your Atari Computer ad is actually the cover of the Winter 1981-1982 issue of The Atari Connection magazine, volume 1 number 4, published in September 1981. The ad shows a family enjoying their Atari 400 (also known early on as The Basic Computer), Atari's The Entertainer starter kit and the TeleLink I cartridge, with some trimmings of the Christmas season in the background. This ad also states that there is a free Atari Pilot Calendar gift inside the magazine.

TeleLink I is a program cartridge for that Atari family of 8-bit computers that enables the user to communicate with another computer over standard telephone lines at a blazing speed of up to 300 baud when used with the Atari 830 Acoustic Modem.

The Entertainer

Atari's The Entertainer starter kit came in various configurations over the life of the product. It came with a pair of iconic Atari CX40 joysticks, the first widely used cross-platform game controller, as well as two game cartridges.

My The Entertainer box has a big round yellow sticker firmly placed over the original content text that states "... New Contents: THE ENTERTAINER KIT now includes PAC-MAN, STAR RAIDERS and a pair of joysticks...". I can't make out the original content text on my box without destroying the sticker and probably the underlying box, but other sources show it to be Star Raiders and Missile Command. It also included a manual, advertising and other ephemera.

Atari Starter Kits
Circa 1982

I can image how the children in this Merry Christmas From Your Atari Computer ad might have felt on Christmas morning. I envisage that the girl could be a young Marissa Mayer, touching a computer for the first time, dreaming about the possibilities and the boy could be a young Marc Benioff, already thinking about designing the first of his games released for the Atari family of 8-bit home computers. While I never received an Atari home computer as a Christmas gift, I did receive some amazing peripherals as presents over the years, such as my first Hayes 300 Smart-modem and an SWP ATR8000 expansion interface.

Ah, Christmas ...

As a punk kid growing up in New Jersey, I can remember that the Christmas season didn't wait until December to start. Retailer Crazy Eddie had their Christmas in July and their Christmas in August radio and television commercials that would start blitzing the airwaves around mid summer. The Atari 400 even showed up in one of their Computer Crazy commercials. For those of you outside of the greater NYC area, Crazy Eddie was a New York based electronics retail chain with more than three dozen stores on the east coast at its height. It was best known for its prices and crazy television commercials. Crazy Eddie's prices were insane, and as it turns out, Crazy Eddie (Eddie Antar the businessman, not actor Jerry Carroll from the commercials) was a con man, and later, a convicted felon and now, dead.

Educational System Master Cartridge Running on an Atari 800
JC Penney 1980 Christmas Catalog
Front Cover and Page 354 

Around the middle of September, soon after the new school year started, the hot and humid summer weather at the Jersey Shore would quickly turn to the cooler days of autumn. It was around this time that the latest incarnations of the Sears Wish Book and the JC Penney Christmas Catalog would find their way into our home. Once I got my hands on one of these behemoths (this could take a while being the youngest in a family of seven), I'd start my personal Christmas Wish List, in pencil of course, as the list changed almost by the minute, and those first generation Papermate Erasermate pens just made a big mess!

Sears 1982 Wish Book
Front Cover, Pages 478, 479

From the Fisher-Price Little People Castle, to the Marx Navarone Playset, to Mattel Electronics series (Auto Race, Baseball and Football) of handheld games, to the Atari VCS, to the Milton Bradley Big Trak, to the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1981 revision), to the Atari home computers, I most likely first laid eyes on each of these cherished childhood treasures in one of these amazing catalogs.

Marx Navarone Playset

Sadly, neither Sears, nor JC Penney, publishes their ginormously-spectacular Christmas catalogs any longer. Like the Colossus of Rhodes, these Monuments of Capitalism are no more. Another fondly-remembered childhood tradition lost to the annals of history. Cracking open and browsing through these catalogs for the first time each year was almost as exciting as seeing what was under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning ... almost. 

Brunswick Aspen Home Pinball Machine Ad
Circa 1979

Our typical 1970's wood-paneling clad, ranch-style basement was a fun place to be during the deep-freeze of the cold north-east winter months, particularly around Christmas. While I never received everything on my Christmas Wish List, with five children in our house, there were plenty of new toys and games and stuff to tinker with. Our basement had an amazing Lionel train set-up ... a little nostalgia carried over from my father's own childhood growning up in Staten Island ... but fun all the same, a pool table and an Atari VCS with a short-stack of cartridges (Combat, Indy 500 and Breakout were early ones). Later, a Brunswick Aspen pinball machine was added to the mix when my oldest brother gifted it to the family for Christmas in 1979. 

Brunswick Aspen Pinball
Heathkit Christmas Catalog 1979

The Aspen pinball machine was ordered in kit form from Heathkit's 1979 Christmas Catalog. My dad and my oldest brother assembled it secretly in the garage over the few weeks before Christmas and moved it to the basement for Christmas morning.

Heathkit had some amazing products and kits, including computers and robots, and for my dad and oldest brother: ham radios. From time to time, some of the old Heathkit products turn up at the Vintage Computer Festival East, such as the HERO robot. Heathkit, the current incarnation of the company, has a website, but there doesn't seem to be anything there and they currently do not publish their once-famous catalogs.

It wouldn't be until late winter, in March of 1982, when I would purchase my Atari 400. For the next three or four years, I would usually ask for and receive some sort of Atari home computer related item for Christmas. Then, unfortunately, I moved on to an Apple IIc, then to the PC. It would be many, many years before I received another Atari related item under the tree. 

This year, I found some cool new Christmas ornaments for our Christmas tree, though the CX40 ornament is a little oddly oriented.

New Christmas Ornaments
Christmas 2016  

In keeping with the tradition of The Atari Connection magazine's idea of a free gift, here is an Atari 8-bit 2017 Calendar I created in Microsoft Publisher:

Atari 8-bit 2017 Calendar (.PDF file)

Thanks to Kevin Savetz for supplying photos of the original Atari 400 and Atari 800 posters and Giann Velasquez M for brainstorming the Atari 8-bit calendar with me. 

Best wishes during this holiday season to you and your family.

-- @BillLange1968


  1. Thanks so much for the files I will put them on a thumb drive later and head down to the print shop and see if they can do them up nice for me signed ,Johnie5

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I've had the 8-bit poster printed and it looks really nice. I just need to frame it.

  2. Thanks for the beautifull Atari 2017 calender. Greetings from Richard Vermeulen, a fellow Atarian from the Netherlands.

    1. I'm glad that you enjoy it. I mostly write the blog and create the other things for my own enjoyment. I'm glad other like it as well.

  3. gracias por el buen aporte y gratos recuerdos