I’m reading the book “Atari Inc.: Business is Fun” by Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg. (By the way, it’s a fun read, highly recommended.) It states that when the Atari engineers had been developing the Atari 800, they said that having slots like the Apple II is the “wet dream”. However, they felt it a necessity to maintain good relations with FCC, because of the Atari Consumer Division video games like Atari 2600, they cannot use the Apple strategy of dodging FCC approval by not selling the RF modulator themselves.

Instead, making another company doing this adapter and selling it separately from the Apple II. That made the Atari 800 only have Atari SIO serial connections and a heavily shielded computer with only slots for cartridges and RAM expansions. They also briefly cite the difficulties with the FCC approval that Texas Instruments TI-99 had, leading to the famous “sidecar” Expansion Slot. Subsequently, in the early 80’s the FCC “relaxed” their standards to a more liberal policy.

My Question is: In the 70’s, had there been a way that a home computer using a TV as monitor could get FCC approval for Apple II style slots without cheating? Had this been doable with 70s technology and with 1970s FCC strict rules.

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    For reference: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sup%27R%27Mod
    – fadden
    Feb 1, 2020 at 6:08
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    The timeless lesson is that a scrappy startup (1980 Apple) is willing to take risks that a $1B enterprise owned by a conglomerate (1980 Atari) isn't.
    – Brian H
    Feb 1, 2020 at 18:57
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    Your dates are off by a couple of years, and the story of Atari's brush with the FCC is considerably more complicated. In 1980 "scrappy startup" Apple was worth $1.78B and putting the finishing touches on the Apple III, one of the costliest flops in computing history.
    – Jim Nelson
    Feb 4, 2020 at 6:43

1 Answer 1


The question seams to be based on the assumption that the Atari 800 slots are somehow not 'real' slots. Similar it implies that the mentioned "70's FCC regulations" were some kind of incredible strict. But the Atari slots do carry everything needed for expansion. And making a system to fit FCC Part 15 regulation wasn't some dark art, but could be rather easily accomplished.

It's important to keep in mind that Part 15 was not restricted to explicit radio transmitters but anything emitting RF. So including a modulator or not did not really change the application.

An example for a Apple II slot type with good RF shielding is the IBM PC. A simple sheet metal bracket did it. The VIC-20 in contrast did get approval, even with the expansion slot exposed without any cover at all. So, not even open slots have been a real hurdle.

The idea of FCC regulations as a major hurdle is maybe more of a modern myth, created by combining different stories amalgamed without looking at individual background and reasoning. The most important reason here may be the rather incoherent structure of Part 15. While it started out, in 1938, as a rather simple definition of physical terms about frequency and power, it grew form there more like (Anglo-Saxon) law does, 'improved' and 'enhanced' by an endless and not really coherent stream of case law. There was no basic update of Part 15 until 1985 and the first real 'redesign' only happened in 1989.

Much of the real and imagined problems originated in this clandestine structure, where a lawyer was more accustomed to than an engineer. Atari and more importantly TI tried hard on the engineering side to solve a legal issue, while Apple thought to just sidestep it designing it to be no on purpose transmitter - despite Part 15 regulating any HF device.

In either case it was about avoiding going through the costly hassles of certification.

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    The IBM PC was regulated under the simplified Class B regulations which came out after TI’s tribulations, so it can’t be used as an example of what Apple or Atari could have done. Jan 31, 2020 at 21:16
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    @StephenKitt true, then again, Class B is the more restrictive regulation - it requires 10dB less emissions than Class A (unless I miss something). This is due Class B defines devices for home use, were there is a bigger chance of being located close to receivers.
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 31, 2020 at 21:29
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    As I understand it, the important distinction here isn’t Class A v. Class B, it’s Part 15 Type I (as applicable in 1977) v. Class B (as applicable in 1981). There was no Class distinction when the Atari and Apple computers were certified, and they had to meet more stringent requirements than computers in the 80s. Jan 31, 2020 at 21:34
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    Hmm. Good point, My memory is that was about the same requirement. I need to check.
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 31, 2020 at 21:37

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