Tales from ancient internet history

March 24, 2009

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I began college in 1993. Holy cow, that’s more than 15 years ago … how time flies.

Anyway, back in 1993, the world wide web was in its very infancy. The number of web sites were a tiny fraction of what is available today. The sites that did exist were mostly text based, with occasional pictures.

During this time, I became familiar with Mosaic (the precursor to Netscape, which was in turn the precursor to Mozilla and Firefox). However. Most of the time, however, the actual computers on campus were occupied. I would often hang out in little rooms that had some dumb terminals that would allow me to connect to the university’s UNIX network. However, the functionality of these terminals was purely text-based activities. I could check email, chat online on IRC (on a channel with the friendly name of “love2chat”), and even surf the web. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional.

In the fall of 1994, I became disappointed with the lack of information about the country music group Alabama on the web. I took it upon myself to launch a website. In 1994, this was a lot more work than it is today. After entering some cryptic UNIX commands, I eventually had a web site. I went to work. The first thing I did was to create a discography that listed every Alabama album. I gave a short review of the album and rated each song on a star scale (5 being the highest, I believe).

Over the next couple of years, this became a labor of love. With the assistance from Sly in the computing center, the site grew and attracted thousands of visitors per month. Eventually, the web site was migrated to its own domain (alabamafans.com) and Sly and I became full partners on the site. We had a email list of people who shared memories and opinions of the group. We even had some song snippets in a new format called “MPEG-1 audio layer 3”. The format was not universally known at that time, so we had links to sites where people could download software to play these files. MP3, as it is now known, has become a bit more popular over the years.

From a financial perspective, the timing was horrible. Hosting fees were much higher than they are now, and we weren’t able to get donations through Paypal – because Paypal did not exist. We poured hundreds of dollars a year into what was essentially free advertising for a very successful band. Was it worth it? Certainly. The interaction with other fans over the years was a great reward. My memorabilia collection grew, as a few folks sold things to “the guy who runs the site.”

The crowning moment, though, was the Illinois State fair in 1997. I had just moved to Illinois after graduating from college (and have since moved back to Iowa). I learned that Alabama would be at the fair. A couple years earlier, a guy who worked with Alabama saw the site, liked it, and told me to come backstage if I was ever at a concert. I gave a note to a security guard (and crossed my fingers) and he relayed it to the guy. Within minutes, I was back stage.

Although I didn’t get to formally meet Randy, Teddy, Jeff, and Mark, I did get to meet several of the musicians who played with them. I was in the middle of the stage chatting with people shortly before the concert was scheduled to begin.

As the time of the concert became imminent, my friend said something to the effect of “hey, I bet your seat is in the nosebleeds. I can find you something better.” He pulled up a stool on the side of the stage and I sat there – mere feet from the stage – during the entire show. Kenny Chesney was the opener and Alabama had a great show.  Jeff Cook changes instruments a LOT, by the way – he passed by me every time he needed a different one.  Afterward, my friend gave me the drumsticks that were used during the show.

What ever happened to the alabamafans.com website? It no longer exists. Eventually, Alabama, like every other organization, had its own official site, and my site was redundant – but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

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