For better or worse, one rectangular box launched a revolution

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 11:40 p.m. MDT

To the best of my recollection the phrase “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” — one of those clever sayings like “not so much” and “it’s not rocket science” and “no-brainer” that get overplayed more than a Beatles record — had not yet been invented when I got what I wished for.

It was a rectangular box about the size of a portable sewing machine that was the fulfillment of my dreams.

They called it a Teleram, and if you set the telephone receiver in the holes in its top it would transmit the words you’d just typed into the small green screen directly to the newspaper office, where by some miracle it would wind up printed in the newspaper. The Teleram was one of the world’s first portable personal computers.

We got our first shipment of Telerams at the Deseret News in 1982. It wasn’t long after that when I realized I could, in theory, never again have to come into the office. There were obstructions to the theory. For one thing, I had to convince my boss, sports managing editor George Ferguson, which was no slam dunk I can assure you. But the wave had started and soon enough newspapers everywhere were going to computers and reporters were catching on to the next great thing. For me, a sports writer who covered games at night and had to come into the office the next morning at 6 a.m. to file my reports — we were an evening paper then — it meant I could untether from the office and send my stories from home or the arena or wherever. It was like Thanksgiving, Christmas and my birthday all in one.

It also meant that within reason I could live where I wanted to. I chose the mountains. I moved to Jeremy Ranch, near Park City, where Arnold Palmer had just designed a golf course, bought a golf club membership, skied more days that winter than any winter in my life, before or since, and bought a new invention called a mountain bike. For an ink-stained wretch getting paid to watch ballgames, I’d found paradise.

I remember going to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles with my Teleram. They weren’t foolproof. Sometimes the phone lines conked out. Sometimes other, more mysterious things happened. So there was always an element of suspense in filing stories. One vivid and fond memory of L.A. '84 was riding in a media bus late at night after the closing ceremonies and finding myself sitting next to none other than the great Jim Murray, aka my idol, the best sports writer there ever was and ever will be. I read the Times sports guys like a disciple. I considered the transition from John Hall to Jim Murray to Scott Ostler the equivalent of Ruth to DiMaggio to Mantle.

Anyway, the great Jim Murray, even though he too had a Teleram, or its equivalent, told me he was going back to the Times office to file his column there, just to be on the safe side. “I don’t trust the machines and this time of night you always get a rewrite man who types with his thumbs,” Jim Murray said, as clever in person as he was in print.

Computers! Who needed them! He was running back to the office — the very thing I was running from. I on the other hand was ready for the future. I embraced it without question or complaint. The Teleram soon gave way to the TRS-80, appropriately and not affectionately known as the Trash80, which was lighter but actually less reliable, then we eventually got Steve Jobs and Macs and suddenly people barely a half-decade removed from dictating stories over the telephone by the hour were now complaining if the circuits overloaded and you had to try again in five minutes.

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