Introduction: Computer Time Travel: Using a BBS Over the Phone

Picture of Computer Time Travel: Using a BBS Over the Phone

Over thirty years ago, before the internet and before the first PC, something small started that would greatly effect the history of modern communications and computers. This was the Bulletin Board System, which over time would link together the world and lay the foundation for the way we use computers today.

Even though it's been over ten years since the decline of the BBS, there's still a small community of people who love to get out their old phone modems and dial in to the few remaining BBS's. And if you feel like taking a trip back to 1989, why not get out a modem too?

          But before you begin, here's a few things to remember:
* Modems can be slow. Very slow. So if you're impatient, this probably isn't for you.
* There are much easier ways to do this, like using Telnet over the internet. But that's just not the same.
  * Old technology doesn't always work with new technology. And if you're using Windows, you probably won't
have much luck with this if you're using anything newer than XP.
* This probably won't be very fun for you unless you're interested in older technology and computers.

That being said, lets get in our time machines and begin.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

It doesn't take much to get this to work. But before you begin, you're going to need a few things.

          What you'll need:
* A computer, preferably old
* A phone modem, either external or a softmodem (a PCI-card modem)
* A phone line
* Software, such as HyperTerminal (Comes with Windows XP and earlier)
* Some computer knowledge.

Even though there are many other things you could have for this, this instructable focuses on the most basic and easiest way to get yourself connected to a BBS over a phone line. Usually, I'd prefer using Linux and other programs for this. But to keep this simple, we're going to be using Windows XP and the HyperTerminal program. But if you want to do this with other software, it should be pretty easy to translate this.

Step 2: Setting Up

Picture of Setting Up

If you have all you need, then it's time to get started.
First,  you need to get things set up. If you have a computer with a phone modem built in, or one with a PCI-card modem, then all you need to do is plug the modem into your phone line. And if you're using an older external modem, such as a serial modem, then follow the instructions that came with it and get it set up.

If you managed to get your modem connected and plug into a phone line, then you're already done with the hardware part of this.

Now all you have to do is start up HyperTerminal or the software you're using.
To start HyperTerminal in Windows XP, open the Start menu, and go to All Programs>Accessories>Communications and click on HyperTerminal. And that's it. Now all you have to do is set up a new connection.

When you start the program, a box should pop up that lets you set up a new connection. Enter a name for the connection ("Test Connection" or the name of the BBS) and click ok. Now enter the area code and phone number of the BBS, and click ok again.
After that, I usually click "Modify..."  and change the settings for the number. This might be necessary for some modems, but it also just helps you connect faster.

Once you're in the Modify menu, uncheck the box that says Use Country/region code and area code. When you do this, only the Phone Number box should be available. Enter the BBS's number into this box, including the area code, and click ok.

Now all you have to do is press Dial, and you're on your way back to 1992. Once you hear modem noises, just sit and be patient. Eventually the BBS will appear in HyperTerminal.

Step 3: Now What?

Picture of Now What?

If you've successfully connected to a BBS, you're probably wondering what to do. If you use to use BBS's, or you've used them with Telnet over the internet, then you probably don't need this section. Skip ahead for a list of phone numbers that lead you to BBS's.

Even though they're not as large, fancy, or as fast as modern websites, BBS's have hundreds of things that can keep you entertained for hours. Good ones usually have:

* Email
* Chat
* Doors (Games you can play on the BBS)
* Text File Collections (Mostly old files about hacking, phreaking, and computer related things)
* ASCII/ANSI art collections
* Downloadable file collections (Games, pictures, files, and anything else that can be used on a computer)

On most BBS's, you're asked to make an account when you first connect. Usually you'll need to make an account to use things listed above, but that's not a problem at all. Accounts are usually free and fast to make, and usually give you a special Email address you can use for whatever you feel like. (Email on the BBS's works the same as internet email, because they're the same thing. You can email your BBS email address from Yahoo or Gmail.)

Some BBS's also use a precursor to modern email and internet communications, FidoNet. FidoNet probably won't be much use to most people just looking for fun, but you'll probably see a lot of it, and it's good to know what everything's talking about. Look in the next section for links about FidoNet.

Step 4: Links and Phone Numbers

Picture of Links and Phone Numbers

Now that you've read through this instructable, you'll hopefully want to connect to a BBS. So here are a few phone numbers for my favorite BBS's, and also some links to lists of BBS's, plus things relating to them.

And also, thanks for reading through my instructable. Even though it's easy to connect to a BBS, and you could probably do it without reading how to, I thought it would be a good idea to write an insturctable on the subject. Not really to show you how to do it, but to bring it to your attention. BBS's and dial-up modems are a very important part of the history of computers and the internet, and in an age where we can touch a screen and be connected to the world, it's easy to forget where all of this came from. And if we forget about that section of history, it could easily be lost forever.

So, as the modern world looks away from this obsolete part of the past, why not take a minute to enjoy it before it's gone. Here are some numbers to help you keep the past alive for a little while longer.

Electronic Chicken - (416)273-7230
       Idea Link - (301)949-5764
      Mezzanine - (940)565-9165
     Ye Olde Inn - (281)272-8162

Diamond Mine Online - BBS Resources -

FidoNet Wikipedia Article -

BBS Wikipedia Article -

And if that's not enough for you, why not start your own BBS?


echicken (author)2011-04-15

Wow! I'm used to getting a few calls each day, a few new users each week. I couldn't fathom why traffic to my BBS seemed to have increased by like 1000% over the last 24 hours until I started noticing "" turning up as the answer to the "Where did you hear about this system?" question. Now I understand!

To the author: thank you for posting this. While these systems are of little practical use these days, they're a fun hobby for those of us who continue to operate and use them, and they're a huge part of computer history. It's nice to see some new people exploring the BBS, and to see others returning for a hit of nostalgia.

It's worth noting that while in the example HyperTerminal is used to call my BBS, there are other terminal emulators out there (some that even continue to work with modems and other serial devices) that will do a better job of handling the colours and "graphics" that you'll find on bulletin board systems. And while dialing in will give you the true vintage experience, most bulletin board systems these days are accessible over the internet, via the telnet protocol - so those of you without modems can try it out too.

(If you'd like to try a somewhat more 'BBS-friendly' terminal emulator, check out SyncTerm:

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!

Germanm19 (author)2016-08-11

I remember those great times conecting to a bbs and downloading stuff. Great article!

camokub (author)2011-04-14

I ran a Wildcat BBS back in my Junior High days (at about the age the '95ers that are posting)... ah, the days of FidoNet relays, TradeWars 2002... all fond memories. Downloading software from File Repositories long before FTP: DigDug for PC, SkyGlobe by ol' KlassM software... Spending allowance on a second phone line for the old AT to run that second line so you, as all-powerful SysOP, could chat with your two buds online. RipTerm! RIPScript! I eventually downloaded a hacked version of Galacticomm, but then by that time AOL started its meteoric rise, my upline FidoNet relay had a internet gateway (my first email address was

BrianJ67 (author)camokub2016-04-15

Dude RipTerm was awesome! I can remember connecting to some boards that utilized that display, and it was truly another world! I would like to see some 'rip enabled' boards to come back!

JoeC173 (author)BrianJ672016-05-03

My BBS stills supports Rip.

The WABAC Machine BBS

Telnet to telnet://

Ansi Web Interface



JoeC173 (author)BrianJ672016-05-03

My BBS stills supports Rip.

The WABAC Machine BBS

Telnet to telnet://

Ansi Web Interface



kcbirder (author)camokub2011-04-16

How funny this all is. My husband's employer bought TradeWars and hired the couple who developed it. The company ran a bunch of "metro" sites for a while...Metropolis BBS in a bunch of cities (Big 10 and Big12 towns, and more.) The company still owns MajorMudd if you know of someone who'd like to buy it and run with it.

(Waving to the sysops)

Treknology (author)camokub2011-04-15

RIPScript was like PostScript for BBSes. I'm surprised there hasn't been a similar protocol introduced into HTTP.

Now I just have to go dig out the old 300 baud ACCOUSTIC modem ...

shaunak (author)2011-04-14

I was born in 1990 so I missed all this cool stuff. Thanks for sharing this and letting us young 'uns know how things worked in 9 B.G. [Before Google :P]

Kasm279 (author)shaunak2011-04-14

Yeah, for me being born in 1995 Kinda sucks, because I missed all of this neat stuff!

BrianJ67 (author)Kasm2792016-04-15

Thanks for respecting the good 'ol BBS Days!

BrianJ67 (author)shaunak2016-04-15

You're welcome!

Thanks for respecting the good 'ol BBS Days!

MaXoR (author)2011-04-15

Oh boy,

I remember back when I first got a hold of a 33 mhz pentium, that monochromatic screen, and lets not forget pong!

Although I really got started with BBs's when I received my $2,499 Pentium I 75Mhz beauty. Figuring at that time, that I had already spent enough on my hardware, sought to find cheap software.... and oh boy did I ever...he he he!

I remember the first play of my pirated Duke Nukem 3D, when 3D was simply 2D pictures that oriented themselves to your current view, and resized (Amazing tech wasn't it!)

Thank you so much for this. I am only 24, so that sure does show you how far we've come!

BrianJ67 (author)MaXoR2016-04-15

I had a packard bell intel pentium 33mhz processor with something like 4 megs of ram (i think 4 megs of ram), and eventually upgraded to a 66mhz processor, I remember doing the install, it was flawless, but because I was only a teenager, I had forgot to put the glue to the heat sink to the cpu, but eventually got it before the 66mhz processor overheated. Them days 8-|

nanosec12 (author)2011-04-13

What a great trip back through time !!

I do miss the BBS communications, where posting to a 'national' board meant that other people would not see your post the the next upload (usually at midnight) so proper conversations took days going each way. the anticipation was worth the wait, but we are so spoiled now with IM, Twitter, and RSS feeds.

5 of 5

danneauxs (author)nanosec122011-04-14

Yes, I find it unnerving when I post a comment on facebook and someone replies within seconds! I can remember flame wars and sitting at work all day waiting to get home and see if I could connect to one of the local BBS's to read a reply.
I think back then I though more about what I was writing too; making sure I typed exactly what I MEANT to say. When it took a day or three for a reply to a board post you didn't want to waste time being misunderstood.

I actually ran a WWIV BBS for a few years; the cost of the second phone line was worth the fun.

Anyone remember Prodigy?ANSI graphics and being charged per message! Gotta love the old days.

BrianJ67 (author)danneauxs2016-04-15

Prodigy, I used to get those and AOL disks in the mail all the time! Yep, I was one to get those high phone bills using them too. At least they had my area code for this list of phone numbers to call-in to...Otherwise, I would have probably paid more for the phone bill.

kcbirder (author)danneauxs2011-04-16

Prodigy was awesome, mostly because it was a community for ANYONE, not just gamers or geeks or a niche. I got lots of recipes from Prodigy in the cooking section. If you google my old prodigy ID, dtcm33b, you'll still find it attached to recipes snagged by all kinds of sites. I had fun on the birding discussion board and the rubber stamping board. It was great.

mstar (author)2011-04-16

I had a 960 baud modem attached to my old Ataria 800 machine back around the beginning of time. Download a simple gif file of Mickey Mouse took the better part of a day and errors were common, causing you to start all over from scratch. It was fun back then, but also very frustrating at times.

BrianJ67 (author)mstar2016-04-15

ha, ha, I remember that, and oh, what happens if that was an animated gif? Oh the pain (when you get disconnected when you have reached your time limit)

lithium630 (author)2011-04-16

This definitely brings back memories. I had a popular BBS running Renegade for a couple years. It was a great time and very social. I miss those days. 99.9% of people still have no idea what a BBS is/was.

BrianJ67 (author)lithium6302016-04-15

Yep, those who never ran one, or dialed up to one back in the day, really don't have an idea how cool it was!

jaxxster1 (author)2011-04-20

we should all group together and start a phone modem thingy...anyone?

BrianJ67 (author)jaxxster12016-04-15

I agree! ;-)

J4ck (author)2011-04-21

If I plugged this into a line with a broadband connection, woud it conflict or would it be fine to run them both at the same time?

3of5 (author)J4ck2016-01-02

I just did that, no phone, lots of annoying noises. We have DSL and and both the BBS connection and the DSL worked happily together. Just remember the BBS connection and the telephone don't like each other.

jefferzbooboo (author)J4ck2011-05-08

If you have DSL make sure you don't have a filter on the phone line you're using for the dial up modem.

0Ihavenousername0 (author)J4ck2011-04-21

It'd be fine to have broadband and a telephone modem plugged in at the same time. They shouldn't conflict at all.

J4ck (author)0Ihavenousername02011-04-22

Okay, thanks. Can you recommend any UK BSS's?

0Ihavenousername0 (author)J4ck2011-04-22

I don't know any with dial-up access, since I don't usually call the UK. But one of the largest BBS's is located in the UK.

I'm not sure if it can be accessed through the phone, but I know you can reach them through telnet. Their website is

MountainMike (author)2015-07-20

I am looking for terminal software for Windoze 7 because I dialed a PAYPHONE and got a modem carrier. I want to see what happens when you dial into it. The number I dialed was 805-643-4938

3of5 (author)MountainMike2016-01-02

It looks like Mystic BBS: is a hyper terminal program for windows 7. I downloaded the OS X program and it doesn't run because of El capitan's file protection. But I do use an older windows 2k machine for connecting BBS servers. Another thing to note, if you can't get it to connect, try adding a 1 or 0 infront of the telephone number. I was getting connection errors and through my modem I could barely hear it telling me a 1 or 0 was needed.

DylanT2 (author)2015-03-26

soooooo cooolllll!!!!

rapier216 (author)2012-08-30

I know this is an old topic but I had to post :)

I ran a BBS back in the mi1990s that was based on the Dragonriders of Pern worlds... only had it online for a year or so but it was fun (not big as we only had maybe a dozen people in our town who even used BBSs).

I still have my WildCAT! files and my VBBS files on disc :)

One site wasn't stated: The TEXTFILES.COM BBS LIst

It is a collection of BBS lists... neat to browse :)

As for being online, I started on CIS (Compuserve) back when they charges $12.00/hour daytime and $6.00/hour nights :)

Had been a charter-member (PC version) of AOL
Used Prodigy

Started with a Timex-Sinclair 1000 (in Oct 1982... going on 30 years!), then Franklin Ace 500 (Apple IIc clone), Laser 128EX (Apple IIc clone), Atari 600XL, then finally a PC (was an XT clone... 5-1/4" floppy and a 20MB hard drive).

Talk about reliving history here :)

jcarsto (author)2011-04-14

I remember my first modem was a 300 (yes, 3-0-0) baud, acoustic coupled modem. Talk about slow... and on top of that, the only number I could call (at the time) was long distance for me.

Bosun Rick (author)jcarsto2011-04-17

MY first computer was a "Headstart II". It ran at the blazing speed of 9.54MHZ in 'TURBO' mode (4.75 in 'normal') with its own operating system that kinda was like Windows. I don't recall how fast the modem was, but it was well below 1400. I'm thinking the 300 range. It was soooooooo basic, but I had to sell my customized Goldwing Motorcycle just to buy it! Games? We didn't have time to play no stinking Games! (besides that, Computers were too important to play games on).
Late nights on BBS's were common due to the fact that it tied up your (one & only) phone line, and if you had it, 'Call Waiting' would kick you off in a heartbeat!
Yeah, I really miss the "Good Old Days"

jcarsto (author)Bosun Rick2011-04-17

My first computer was Tandy TRS-80. It ran at a blazing 1.0MHz and had the unbelievable amount of 48KB of user memory (that was the fully expanded, deluxe model). External storage consisted of a portable audio cassette tape recorder.

It's hard to believe the phone I'm using to write this reply with is 1,000 times faster, has 667,000 times the memory, and actually has color (something I didn't have in my computer until I had my third one). When I got my color computer, I splurged and got this new thing call a hard drive (I started moving away from the 5-1/2" floppy world).

The hard drive made it possible to store unheard of amounts of data. I was in the big leagues now because I could store 10MB of data in one place! Who could ever need that much space? Of course when I look back at it now, I could not have saved three MP3's on that drive.

I look back at those old days with a smile, but I really, really don't miss them.

Bosun Rick (author)jcarsto2011-05-22

Wanna buy another TRS-80? I think I still have the full system, books, carrying case, etc. Not sure if I still have the cassette player or not; but I think those were universal, any kind would work. gotta go look in the garage to see if its still out there or not.

ronwoch (author)Bosun Rick2011-12-06

If you are still interested in selling yours, I might be interested!

jcarsto (author)Bosun Rick2011-05-22

Thanks for the offer, but I'll pass. I still have a full system one a shelf at work. It includes the CPU/Keyboard (16k ROM + 16k RAM--which I modified to run at 1.5MHz, in addition to the normal 1MHz, I also added the ability to have upper and lower case letters and the ability to have reverse video--black on white vs. white on black), the expansion bay (32k RAM and all the ports you could ever need), a original TRS-80 12" monitor (actually just an RCA B/W television without a tuner), three 5-1/4 floppy drives (one for the OS, one for your programs, and one for your data), a cassette data recorder (you're right, it was a general purpose recorder), and somewhere I have an 80 column thermal printer.

It's nice to look back on and see how far we've come, but I think I'll just leave it on the shelf.

ChefJohn1955 (author)jcarsto2011-04-14

My Goodness the blinding speed of that... My first one defaulted to 110 with a switch that you moved dependent on receiving or making the call

wperry1 (author)jcarsto2011-04-14

We had one of those. My brother an I got in trouble a couple of times for running up the phone bill and I learned all about "Local Toll" calls. We were lucky to be in an area with a number of boards that were local though and just restricted our activities to those.

Wazzupdoc (author)2011-08-31

OMG, I'm getting my old 300 Baud out and dusting off my old Atari 800XL. I remember using the DARPA Internet before it had any visual content. It's still the DARPA Internet, but it just isn't the same.


Vspec (author)2011-06-25

"pulls out Atari 520stfm"

16mhz of fury.

Robotika (author)2011-04-14

I miss the old BBS days. It felt more personal than how we communicate today. Back then, we'd have BBS meets and a good chunk of my friends today came from meeting them via the BBS scene. Different walks of life all brought together with one common interest. Lots of long and well thought out discussions posted on the boards. Many parties were thrown as well. Other people thought I was weird for meeting people through my computer. Well look at us now! Oh how times have changed.

Alderin (author)Robotika2011-04-18

I totally agree, the "localness" of BBSs doesn't really have a modern equivalent. I really miss the BBS parties.

My first BBS was in 1990, a friend in highschool was running it, and I connected with my blazingly fast 1200 baud modem to play TradeWars 2002, and download Amiga .MOD music files. I built my own Digital-to-Analog converter connected to the printer port to convert the music down to an RCA plug to hook it up to my stereo.

Good times.

rbradakis (author)2011-04-18

I ran Michigan's Citadel hub for quite some time, and I have to tell you, the thing that we wanted computers and networking to turn into is essentially what we have today: Smartphones with enough bandwidth, processing power, and storage to make everyone that wants able to connect at any time and share anything they like.

What were we thinking?


kintekobo (author)2011-04-18

Sits back in chair, takes a sip of Château de Chasselas - "You were lucky! There were fourteen of us sharing a 110baud acoustic coupler connected to a Nascom home built with 1K of memory. But we were 'appy."

Seriously though, This brought back some happy memories of late nights and large phone bills. Also am I the only person sad enough to have been able to tell whereabouts in the negotiation the modem was by listening to the tones?

Corpbob (author)2011-04-17

My buddy added a page with a comment that said Control-Alt-Delete to continue. Used to be great fun to watch from the Sysop end as people hit that page and suddenly go off line! GRIN

steamcheng (author)2011-04-15

Very cool, and thanks for the memories. I ran a RemoteAccess BBS 20-some years ago. I still have everything backed up on tape and floppies. I used DeskView and QEMM to multitask with DOS so I could still use my computer while the BBS ran in the background. Man, I remember my first 100MB hard drive - acres of space! How things have changed. :)

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