In news that will likely have us checking our music collections, one YouTuber has found a computer program that was hidden in the runout groove of a Christian rock record.
If there’s one thing that music fans love, it’s getting more bang for their buck. Maybe their favourite band brings out a special guest? Maybe a CD has a hidden track at at the end (or at the start)? Or maybe a vinyl record has a kooky message in the runout groove?
Well, while the latter has been known as a great way of hiding text in plain site on vinyl records, numerous artists have been trying to push the limits of hiding information in their albums.
In fact, back in 1992, the synthpop band Information Society released a record called Peace And Love, Inc. Its final track, ‘300bps N, 8, 1 (Terminal Mode Or Ascii Download)’, was actually a collection of modem tones which, when decoded, tells the bizarre story of the group reportedly being held hostage by the Brazilian government.
Interesting, right? Well, it turns out we can go one better than that, with a YouTuber shining a light on a Christian rock record that actually hides a Commodore 64 program in its runout groove.
Check out footage of the hidden program on Prodigal’s record:
Taking to his channel over the weekend, Robin Harbron – who runs 8-Bit Show And Tell – told the story of how he had once heard of the Christian rock band Prodigal supposedly inserting a hidden program into their 1984 record, Electric Eye.
“On Electric Eye, we put a ‘stop-groove’ at the end of Side Two that would “catch” the vinyl record and wouldn’t allow it to eject on an automatic turntable,” late keyboardist Loyd Boldman explained in 2009.
“If you picked up the needle and set it down again on the other side of the stop-groove, you’d hear a packet of computer code that could be deciphered by a Commodore 64, the most popular computer of that time.
“If you used a cassette drive, the Commodore would show you lyrics and graphics and some facts about the album. To my knowledge, this is the first and only time something like this was ever done.”
While this story seemed incredibly exciting, some online searching saw him come up short, so, after taking to Discogs, Harbron found himself with a copy of the album, complete with a runout groove etching that read “C-64”.
After making some slight modifications to his player, Harbron was able to convince his needle to play the record’s outer groove, uncovering a sound akin to that of a dial-up modem.
What that sound was though, was an audio representation of data, which once transferred onto an audio cassette, served as a program which could be loaded up into a Commodore 64 system.
The data was in fact a nine-line BASIC program, and after some careful editing and fiddling with now-obsolete technology, he managed to uncover a couple of hidden messages that had laid unseen for many years.
So what were the messages? Directions to a secret treasure? Instructions on how to get a second record player after ruining your needle discovering this message?
Nope, the end result was a pair of quotes from Albert Einstein and Jesus. Not exactly worth all the hassle, really, but still something of a sight to behold.
While Prodigal weren’t the only band to do such a thing (in fact, Radiohead gave fans a program for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum back in 2017), you might have actually witnessed a similar experiment within the last year without even knowing it.
When Black Mirror released their video game-themed ‘Bandersnatch’ choose-your-own-adventure film last year, one of the possible endings results in the audio being replaced by that of computer code.
Once loaded into a ZX Spectrum, fans are met with a QR code which leads to a fictional website of a company in that episode, complete with access to a video game made for the occasion.
Just goes to show, you never know what’s hiding in your record collection.