What if I told you that in the 1980s, there was an education toy that not only read a story to you, but also allowed you to answer questions at the push of a button, thus adding interactivity to the story you were reading?
Silly Allison, only an app could do that!
Author’s Note: This topic was originally covered by me on Retroist, but the article has since been taken down.
Well, in the mid 1980s, there was no such thing as “an app.” If you wanted this level of play, you needed a physical toy to do this, since the only tablets that existed was medication and pads of paper. From 1985 until 1992, two companies made this type of interactive learning work, in the form of a large cassette player – no tablets needed!
A Toy Full of Friends!
The Electronic Talk ‘n Play, later the Talk ‘n Play Leaning System, or simply the Talk ‘n Play in its last incarnation, was an “interactive” audio cassette player, which acted as a desktop book reader where the action on the four-track audio cassette is controlled by the user, with four colorful buttons that guide the story along, providing the correct (or incorrect) action contained in one of those four buttons. It had one pack-in set – Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street?, which highlights the adventure of getting to the most famous street in all of children’s television!
The Talk ‘n Play came shortly before the advent of cassette-operated talking dolls that offered stories, but no interaction, and lasted well after that trend died down.
The original version of the Electronic Talk ‘n Play was manufactured by Child Guidance, a toy company owned by CBS (yes the television network) beginning in 1984, with the first version being available until 1985. CBS’s venture into toys was short-lived, and when it ended, Electronic Talk ‘N Play did not.
The second version of the Electronic Talk ‘n Play was manufactured by Hasbro (under its Playskool brand) beginning in 1986.
This version retained the looks of the Child Guidance version, just with their logo in place of the Child Guidance logo on the unit, the cassettes, and the books.
The Child Guidance cassettes worked on every version of the unit, including the third – and final – version of the Electronic Talk ‘n Play.
Playskool created a final version in 1992, which looks less like the version Child Guidance created, and more like the famous cassette players that Playskool made at the same time, but with the added functionality of being able to play those cool Talk ‘n Play cassettes, and lacking an external microphone. There is no indication this one has a recording feature, but it can still play non-proprietary (standard) cassettes.
This version is far more portable (it even has a handle), but was the final version of a toy that had a nice life on toy shelves, which ended after 1992.
Not the First, But Certainly The Most Impressive
Electronic Talk ‘n Play wasn’t the first interactive cassette player for Playskool. The company also manufactured Casey the Robot, which had a short life (beginning in 1985), and discontinued around the time that Playskool took on the Talk ‘n Play in 1986.
Casey really wanted to be your favorite Christmas present of 1985, apparently.
Created by Michael J. Freeman, Ph.D., Electronic Talk ‘n Play was licensed for use by the Children’s Television Workshop and the Walt Disney Company, but also had proprietary software that didn’t feature Mickey Mouse or Big Bird. Those “software” programs involved the teaching of music, colors, shapes, and even had programs for slightly older children (up to the age of ten!). Everything had an educational slant to them, as indicated on the book and cassette packaging. Cassettes were playable on the labeled side only, and placing them in the cassette player door upside down would result in backwards play. That had to be interesting to try as a kid!
The first two version of the system also allowed for recording your own voice via a built in microphone, but all versions allowed children to use the unit as a standard cassette player, which only added to the marketability of Talk ‘N Play. Even though the first two versions weren’t portable, they still had all the trappings of a good time!
Especially if you like The Monster at The End of this Book.
And if you thought Grover telling you not to turn the page was exciting, your mind would be absolutely blown when resisting the temptation of not pushing a shiny red plastic button.
Fight the temptation!
We were so easily amused in the 1980s.
It Wasn’t All Just “Don’t Push The Red Button!”
Throughout its life, the proprietary book-and-cassette sets covered a wide range of subjects and characters – Muppets, nursery rhymes, Disney, computers, Hello Kitty, Inspector Gadget, facts, sports, riddles and jokes, and even Beauty and the Beast!
Yes, that Beauty and the Beast!
Knowing this, there were still plenty of easier to find ones, and the available sets is quite a long list:
- An Adventure With Mother Goose
- Animals and Their Babies
- The Reading Robot: A First Reading Program
- Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street? (included with new Talk ‘n Play units)
- Lovable, Furry Old Grover in Please Don’t Push the Red Button
- A Silly Sesame Street Story: The Three Little Pigs
- Big Bird’s Alphabet Book
- Let’s Play School
- Bert and Ernie’s Band
- The Muppets: Opening Day at Peppermint Park
- The Muppets: The Great Treasure Hunt
- Fraggle Rock: The Great Fraggle Travel Race
- In Search of the Planet Cobalt
- Animal Rock Band
- Mickey Mouse Circle M for Math
- The Computer Apprentice
- Cookie Monster Cookies for Sale
- The Haunted House Mystery
- It’s a Hello Kitty World
- Alvin and The Chipmunks in Concert
- The Amazing Facts Game Show
- Goofy’s Sports Coaching Tips
- The Monster Lover’s Club
- Jokes, Riddles, Gags, and Giggles
- Terry the Triceratops
- Lady and the Tramp in the New Baby
- Puzzles and Games
- Blast Off!
- Inspector Gadget and the Weather Station Caper
- Mickey’s Treasure Hunt
- Beauty Finds The Beast
Is The Talk ‘N Play Easy To Find?
As of an eBay search on Sunday, September 27, 2020, the Electronic Talk ‘n Play (the first Playskool version, which was the longest-produced, so likely the most commonly found), is listed with five “software” sets, including the pack-in set. It doesn’t work, but for someone who likes to tinker, I’m sure it can be brought back to life!
There are listings for individual “software” sets, the 1992 version as part of toy lots. Heck, even the instruction manual (with the Child Guidance logo on it!) is on eBay!
By the way, Hasbro has a PDF of the 1986 Playskool version’s instructions on their website, along with manuals for some of their past offerings.
This in itself is a treasure trove of nostalgic goodness!
Did you think I was going to let you go without videos? My research is not complete without videos!
When I did my original research on this toy a few years ago for Retroist, I not only came across the commercials featured throughout the article, but also a cool eBay listing video from 2012. I love that this guy beautified and did a thorough presentation of his Talk ‘n Play! I hope the purchaser has thoroughly enjoyed it!
I looked at his channel, and alot of it seems to be restored items and other assorted eBay listings. But stuff like this is a real gem to see demonstrated.
There’s also a video on replacing the belt on the Child Guidance version:
This video shows a small sample of one of the stories:
Did Allison Play With the Talk ‘n Play?
I never owned one of these before, but I absolutely remember it and to the best of my memory, I do remember playing with it once. I’m not sure where, I think at a friend’s house. It is one of those items I remember seeing and having some type of interaction with, but until a few years ago, had forgotten the name of. I just always remember the colorful buttons having “all the answers.” I couldn’t even tell you how I found this in a Google search – it must have been a heck of a search!
I have no use for something like this these days – you know, in the same way I have no use for a copy of the revived “Mall Madness,” but I have one of those – but I would enjoy trying this out.
Especially this story.
Did you know the fun of pushing a red button against instructions, guiding someone to Sesame Street, or being able to intentionally play a tape backwards? I would love to hear your stories of the Electronic Talk ‘n Play/Talk ‘n Play/Talk ‘n Play Learning System!
And whatever you do, don’t press the red button…or maybe you did?
Although in 2020, pushing the red button is probably par for the course.
Have a great day!