I started CACTUS-800 (Charles Antonelli's CompuTer Users System on an Atati-800) in 1979 on an Atari-800 with software I designed and wrote long before the internet came along. It was a one-line, 300 baud BBS and didn't even have a Hayes Smartmodem (self-answering) for its first three months, as those modems were expensive ($279 in 1979, keeping in mind that $279.00 in 1979 had the same buying power as about $950 today!) It utilised a Signalman MK IV modem, powered by a 9V battery! I operated the board from 4PM-midnight, manually throwing the 'answer' switch when a call came in.
When I came out of the closet as a gay man in the 80s, my BBS soon followed and become the first gay BBS in the Rochester, NY area (to the shock and dismay of many of my users at the time). In 1989, a user on Multicom-3 by the handle of Arthur offered an IBM-PC 286 clone if and only if we could raise the money needed for a monitor. Another user donated the multi-user BBS software package "The Major BBS by Galacticomm" with its very expensive source code and a C+ compiler. I stared the Multicom-4 fund and could be seen at The Bachelor Forum several times a week selling 50/50 raffle tickets to raise the required money for the monitor. (Note: If anyone knows where Arthur is, I'd love to get back in touch with him! He left Multicom-4 after he felt we were becoming "too commercial" and for some reason, I have no record of him in the old MC4 database...)
After several months of re-writing/re-compiling the BBS software, configuring it and getting Rochester Tel to drop four new sequential hunting phone lines, the old DATA number for Multicom-3 (716-244-1669) became the VOICE SUPPORT LINE for the NEW Multicom-4, with it's new sexy phone number of 716-756-4300. Dialling in was a nightmare at first as it was always busy, busy, busy!! After-all, we were the first multi-line BBS in Rochester and we has four 1200 baud modems! Chatting with other people (paging) real-time?!? Wow! Who remembers typing a late-night plea like this: "/P BARBIE Please give me some credits -- I'm running low!!"
Multicom-4 was the first non-elite BBS that I knew of that voice-validated each and every user. We promptly ditched the term "user" and started calling them "members", as they all helped defray the cost of running the service and without them, we wouldn't exist.
Just like my brick-and-mortar retail leather store which expanded exponentially since we opened in 1989, the BBS grew too! Eight 2400 baud lines, then sixteen 2400 baud lines then more and more and more!! When we added more lines, we expanded to a Gay & Lesbian BBS, then adding the bisexuals as we hit 48 lines.
Even with my horrid memory, of the over 5,000 real-life people that created accounts, I still remember a handful of my closest companions on MC-4 by their handles. Merman (Paul Pape) was my right-hand man after terrible experiences with co-sysops over the years. He was always there to help me recall who people were when I had brain farts.
We added a remote node over 60 miles away to allow residents of the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area to connect without long distance charges, naming it "The Buffalo Connection". We also provided Phillip Dampier's fidonet hub in Rochester a free gateway to Buffalo. A member living with his parents in Grand Island facilitated the space for us (little did any of us know that AT&T would be digging trenches in his parent's suburban yard to bury the fibre optic connections!) The huge original Motorola multiplexors were donated to us by "Sir" (Russ S) from Xerox's building 200 throw-away pile, but promptly replaced through a grant from Motorola themselves when they discovered that their antique equipment was still being used!
By 1996, we had our first webpage up on the internet! Straight (heterosexual) people flocked to us when we started to offer complimentary UNIX shell accounts on our new "fangz.com" system. This facilitated our members (and Heartbeat BBS' members) the ability to create their own webpages on the newly announced World Wide Web. We also started to offer an unlimited monthly account, rather than the 50¢/hour rate and internet access (via SLIP or PPP). Multicom-4 formed an official 501(c)(3), 509(a) as donations were in the 10s of thousands and I was fearful of the tax liability. These were the glory days for Bulletin Board Systems. We were a "CLASS C" ISP, meaning our IP range was 184.108.40.206 through 220.127.116.11. Multicom-4 sat at 18.104.22.168, Heartbeat BBS (Ashley's system) was at 22.214.171.124 and Fangz.com (our unix box) was at 126.96.36.199.
It was April 1999 when Multicom-4 shut its doors, we had amassed 128 incoming lines (channelised T1 circuits from an OC-3 in our basement) and were the first ISP in Upstate New York to offer high-speed dial-up V.90/k56Flex internet access. Multoicom-4 was such a momentous thing in my life that my internet handle has been "MC4BBS" since 1998.
If anyone has any photos from any of the Multicom-4 gatherings, parties, picnics, field trips, etc., I'd love to get copies! That goes for RCL photos too...
If you were involved with BBSing from the 1970s to 2000s, I highly recommend watching this series: