4 ways the CD-ROM was wowing us in the mid 1980s

By the mid-1980s, the compact disc wasn't just for music anymore.

The disc wasn't just for music anymore

The compact disc eventually became more than a music-storage device. (Midday/The Journal/CBC Archives)

Unlike today, it didn't always seem retro to put a compact disc in a computer in order to find information — three decades ago, in fact, it seemed very cutting edge.

As the CBC's Fred Langan reported for The Journal in the mid-1980s, the disc that had changed the way we listened to music was wowing us with what it could do with non-musical data.

"Compact discs are now more than music," Langan said. "The latest use — storing information."

'The electronic encyclopedia'

As Langan explained to viewers, the CD-ROM was able to hold large amounts of text data — so much so, that more than an entire encyclopedia could fit on a single disc.

"There's a lot of information in the 21 volumes of Grolier's Academic Encyclopedia that weighs in at about 65 pounds," he said. "But all nine million words of it have been squeezed into this one, single compact disc for your computer."

But how does an electronic encyclopedia work?

36 years ago
Duration 0:40
Fred Langan explains how an electronic encyclopedia works.

But Langan noted there was still room beyond that for "the biggest dictionary in the world and then some."

Faster access to data

The utility of the CD-ROM, however, lay in not only the storing of data, but making that data available for convenient access.

  And as Langan showed viewers, there were many applications for this — like looking up car parts, a time-consuming process that previously involved consulting "a big magnifying glass and a screen," as well as a parts book and a search on a computer.

How CD-ROMs could help you get auto parts

36 years ago
Duration 0:24
Fred Langan explains how CD-ROMs could impact the process of getting a part for your car.

"With a compact disc, this would be one-stop shopping," he said. "The part would be found in seconds and you'd get your car back faster."

Pre-internet research help

A Toronto company was working to put the Canadian News Index on CD-ROM in the 1980s. (Midday/The Journal/CBC Archives)
  These new data-filled CD-ROMs were also going to help us look up news faster.

A Toronto company was then "working on putting the entire Canadian News Index on disc," Langan said. "That's the sort of thing that now costs big money to access over a phone line."

'The marriage' between CDs and computers

The more that CD-ROMs could do for computers, the more we became interested in those computers.

"The compact disc is the hit of the decade in the computer industry," explained Andrew Toller, the director of a company that conducted research on the computer industry.

"It helped stimulate sales of new personal computers and it helped stimulate new applications in computers."

CD-ROMs and computers

36 years ago
Duration 0:44
CD-ROMs helped drive sales of computers in the 1980s.

But Toller predicted the CD-ROM wouldn't stay at the forefront of technology for long.

"As a technology, it will only last maybe, at the most 10, maybe 15 years, because it's a mechanical device and mechanical devices are prone to break down," he said.

Still, Langan told viewers that with the ever-dropping cost to make these discs, "that means that the marriage between the compact disc and the computer is likely to last."