Blast From the Past: Prodigy

I’ve been going through a sort of 80’s rebirth lately. It all started with the re-unification of a group of friends my sister and I met in the early 90s on Prodigy. Remember that?

For those who don’t remember, Prodigy was an online service/community before the Internet/WWW became mainstream, and even before America Online became big. It was offered as a joint effort by, of all companies, IBM and Sears. When my mom bought us our first computer, a friend told us about Prodigy and told us we should buy a modem, because most modems came bundled with the software. So we bought a 2400 baud modem (can you imagine?) and I installed it myself (I always had a strange innate ability to figure out computers). I loaded the software, and our lives changed forever.

In a few short months, my sister and I came upon a bulletin board (there were no chat rooms then) called “Name That 80+ Tune” I forget where exactly we found it, but it was listed among hundreds of other topics and contained sub-topics where members a line or two of a song from the 80’s and beyond and everyone else had to guess the name and artist of the song. It started out innocently enough, but after a while, this little group started to actually get to know each other. There were times when messages would get posted to the boards almost instantly, so we created a separate “UCC” board, or “Utter Chit Chat.” And next thing we knew, we had friends all over the country.

Because there was no way to send photos via Email at the time, we sent them through regular mail. Next we all shot videos of ourselves and our hometowns and sent them to everyone — those were hysterical. At that point we really felt like we knew each other pretty well, so we started to get ideas about meeting in person. One girl, Lynn, lived in Chicago, not far from my sister and I; one guy, Tony, lived in New York and another, Scott, lived in California. Others included Beckie, who lived in Connecticut; Emily and Sarah, who lived in Seattle; Paul, who lived in Minnesota; Lauren, from St. Louis and Amy, from Phoenix.

We decided to meet in Chicago/Kenosha, since it was central and three of us already lived in the area. The first “union” brought five of six of us together, and the second brought four. Other, smaller “unions” happened across the country, with one of the guys, Scott, being the “constant” in almost all of them. Eventually, everyone had come in contact with one another in some way. Our little online community had grown into true friendships.

As time went on, and technology changed, Prodigy changed as well, and the group began to disband. We tried moving everything to America Online but by then the Internet and the World Wide Web were starting to gain popularity and nobody had time for silly bulletin boards. The main “group” still kept in touch via Email and phone, and a few of us met once or twice more, but after a while, life caught up with us and we lost touch with nearly everyone.

Until Facebook.

15 years after we first started all of this, our little group has reunited. I found Scott there, and he found another former member, Heather. Then my sister joined, and we found Amy and Beckie. So I decided to create a “Name That 80+ Tune” Facebook Group, and basically resurrected our old game.

I never dreamed it would be so successful. As of today, 15 people have joined the group, and of that 15, 13 were members of the original Prodigy group. We’ve been having such a great time, remembering all the crazy things we did, posting pictures of our ‘unions,’ and even planning some reunions. We’ve all grown up, some have gotten married, some have kids, but all of us still have a love for music and those goofy 80’s tunes. And we’re even back to playing the game, just like we used to.

What happened back then was so new and exciting. We created a community before MySpace, Friendster and Facebook. Heck, even before AOL. I don’t think it could ever happen today. It’s just too easy to exchange all of that information. Back then we were just names and words. There were no judgments based on looks, lifestyles or backgrounds. Today everyone has pictures, profile pages, websites and blogs… it’s almost too easy to find people, but not so easy to really get to know them.

And to think it all started on Prodigy, which doesn’t even exist anymore. In a way, I like to think we were pioneers.

The old Prodigy gang, in my parents’ backyard, 1993:  
Clockwise from top left: Scott, me, Tony, Beth and Lynn.

0 thoughts on “Blast From the Past: Prodigy

  1. Remember CompuServe – brought to you by H&R Block!!!!

    When I lived in Columbus, OH, I had friends that worked for CS and they had a “computer” in their house so they could work remotely…well it wasn't so much a computer as a dumb terminal that connected directly to the server.

    Oh the good times of a 2400baud modem, just WAITING for the page to display pixel by pixel!

  2. Wow! What a great story. (And picture!) 😉

    I remember Prodigy very well. I made my first online purchase there (something from Sears of course) in, like, 1990.

    My father made me research my college on Prodigy and I was the only kid with a modem in my dorm.

    Ah, the good ole' days. Before everyone and there brother came ot insult you on your blog. 😉

  3. That is an awesome story! It sounds like you made some amazing friends despite the limited technology of the time.

    Prodigy, oye, I totally forgot about that service!

    My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer from Radio Shack. I then moved on to a Coleco Adam computer where you had to load the operating system via cassette tapes. Did anyone else have an Adam computer?

    My first real PC only had two large floppy disk drives (no hard drive) where each program, including the MS-DOS operating system, needed to be loaded manually by inserting countless disks in order to get anything to run.

    Wow, how times have changed 🙂

    Great post!

  4. Unbelievable. You know you're getting old when something like Prodigy is a “blast from the past”, except to you a blast from the past is more like the card catalogues because there wasn't any internet, and those card catalogues were in caves.

  5. Wow… our first was a Leading Edge 286 SX with a 40 MB hard drive (FORTY MEGABYTES!?) and ONE meg of RAM. Scary that I remember all that. It came with some weird operating system called GeoWorks, which was like a really bad Windows knockoff. I somehow managed to get a copy of Windows and installed that instead, but kept the GeoWorks too because it came bundled with… America Online. Boy oh boy…. those were much simpler days.

  6. Oh I remember card catalogues too. In fact, one of the last times I went to a library, I looked for the card catalogues, not realizing they were all on computer now. That had to be some hellish data entry.

  7. Yup I remember CompuServe– back when Prodigy changed their pricing, we tried 'em all – CompuServe, GEnie (brought to you by, of course, GE) and AOL. Most of us stuck with AOL for a long time. Funny how the evolution went like that.

    Oh gawd.. I remember how slow those 2400 baud modems loaded stuff – but then things weren't as graphically intensive as they are now either. Remember when 9600 came out? And then 14.4? 28.8? And BLAZING FAST 56K! Hee hee..

  8. I never shopped on Prodigy because the only way you could look at anything was to view those ridiculous vector images that looked like a 3rd grader drew them. How could I choose a cool outfit when it looked like that? But again, they were the pioneers of the online shopping world. We wouldn't be where we are today without them.

    I bet you were really popular in college. 😉 With that modem, that is… hehe.

  9. Oh yeah, I remember that……do you remember how much your first “online” bill was – back when they used to charge by the minute?

    I do….it was almost $100 way back in 1992 when it was like $6/hr

  10. I've been having an 80's blast too on Facebook. I've run across several friends from high school and have been joining (or starting) Facebook groups based on the organizations (choir, church, etc) I was involved in back then. What a great way to reconnect!

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