It’s a audio cassette tape player, educational tool, and interactive device all in one. What is this trickery of 1980s technology, you ask? Why, the Talk’n Play Learning System!
Personal Story Time!
Oh no, really? A personal story?!
I promise, this one is brief.
My latest discovery/Retroist article came out of a random Google search for “1980s Kid Cassette Players” (results of which did not disappoint at all!). It was a Google search laden with the Fisher Price Tape Recorder in several different colors and models (the brown/tan one of my youth and the red/white/colorful buttons with microphone version one of my cousins had), Pocket Rockers, Casey the Robot, and My First Sony.
Then I tried “1980s children’s tape players.” This search turned up this image, as featured on a website selling vintage print advertisements:
And I immediately got the name of a toy I had been looking for on and off for quite a few years.
Friends, I introduce you to the Electronic Talk n’ Play Learning System. And it is everything I remember from the one or two times I played with it. I say “one or two times” because a neighbor had this toy, and we played with it at their house. I never owned it, but wow, I wish I did.
So, what is the story behind this amazing device?
The Talk’n Play Learning System: The Story
The Talk’n Play Learning System was sold from 1983 until 1992, and marketed as an education and entertaining toy. Originally made by CBS Toys as the Electronic Talk’n Play (under their “Child Guidance” brand, which also produced a really cool record player/slideshow presenter I had) from 1984-1985, Hasbro (under its Playskool brand) took over production of the Electronic Talk’n Play (shortening its name to Talk’n Play, though the instruction manual refers to it as the Talk’n Play Learning System). Under Hasbro/Playskool, there were two different version of the this toy – the original Child Guidance model, and a smaller, more portable model. The toy was in production until 1992.
Talk’n Play was invented and patented by Michael J. Freeman Ph.D. and licensed for use by Children’s Television Workshop, Disney, and other companies to produce material for the Talk’n Play. Considered ahead of its time, the Talk’n Play won five awards for excellence in product design. And when you see the demonstration video, you’ll understand why this was a cut above the other tape players of its time.
By the way, this was that record player/slideshow presenter, which was called the Show ‘n Tell:
Upload via pattylynn2159
Pretty cool, don’t you think? I remember the only record we had that didn’t come with slides was a Fraggle Rock record. But it didn’t matter. The slides themselves were fun. I always liked thinking of this like a little television.
But before I get too far off track about how cool that toy was, the Talk’n Play is the star here!
The Talk’n Play came in three different models:
Electronic Talk’N Play (Child Guidance/CBS Toys, 1984-1985)
The OG of Talk’n Play. This version only lasted a year, as CBS Toys’ Child Guidance brand (created through an acquisition of Gabriel Toys) sold their brand to View-Master. However, Talk’n Play went on to be manufactured by Hasbro through its Playskool brand in 1986.
I couldn’t find a commercial for the Child Guidance version on its own, but I did find one in this commercial block (begins at 4:32):
Upload via Houston TV News
Talk’n Play Learning System (Hasbro/Playskool – Version 1, 1986)
Nothing, aside from branding, was changed with the first Playskool version. All the tapes from the Child Guidance version were the same, just with different labels reflecting the brand change. This version was first manufactured in 1986, but I’m not sure how long it was on the market before the second Playskool version was manufactured.
I also can’t find a commercial for it. At least, not one that worked well.
Speaking of that other Playskool version…
Talk’n Play Learning System (Hasbro/Playskool – Version 2)
The third and final version of Talk’n Play, but simplified and made more portable (love that handle!). I played with the first Playskool version, which as I recall, was not a small toy by any means. Gone was the separate “pause” button. A separate switch to go between using a Talk’n Play cassette or a standard cassette was added (more on how the original version worked shortly!), and the Play/Rewind/Fast Forward/Stop buttons were slightly more simplified.
However, the Green/Yellow/Red/Blue answer buttons were unchanged. They make me nostalgic for how the Cricket doll’s buttons looked (The Green Play Button, Yellow Fast Forward Buttons, Red Stop Button, and the Blue Rewind Button).
This version was manufactured until the end of the Talk’n Learn’s life in 1992.
It had a commercial too!
Upload via Thomas Barnett
So, how do these buttons (and this amazing toy) work?
The Talk’n Play: Explanation and Demonstration
The cassette tapes had four tracks on them, with program only recorded on one side. Children are given instructions on which buttons to press to determine the outcome of the story, or which character speaks. In the first two versions of the system, listening to a standard cassette meant pressing two of the colorful buttons. The Talk’n Play could only be played with the tape label side up…unless you like your tapes to sound possessed. Like talking doll cassettes, these tapes did not work well in standard cassette tape decks.
Not like that ever stopped me and my Walkman as a kid (Related: This Happened With Our Very Nostalgic Technology!)
And did I mention that kids could record their own voices? That’s right, there’s a built-in microphone! And of course, you could listen to your music tapes on the Talk’n Play, but I doubt it had the same appeal as listening to them in Teddy Ruxpin and Cricket.
We swore they had limited mouth movements.
I could go on and explain the function of this cassette player, but why not watch a demonstration instead? This is the best one (as filmed for an eBay listing in 2012) of the Talk’n Play Learning System in action!
Upload via deltakittenebay (a big thank you!)
Talk’n Play Learning System – Instruction Manual (From 1986)
That’s right, Hasbro (for some strange reason) has a PDF version of the instruction manual for the 1986 version of the Talk’n Play. The video demonstration is just that, a demonstration, but the instructions…they’re difficult to understand. Parents would have needed to be available to their kids to explain this toy, based on reading this manual. Knowing that, this is a GREAT piece of nostalgic reading!
Wow, what a great toy this was. I remember playing it briefly at a neighbor’s house, but I distinctly remember having to press the colorful buttons. I don’t believe I ever played this at any relatives’ houses – I don’t recall any of my cousins having this. Looking at it from this age, I would have loved this toy, it was certainly more interactive than a talking doll. Kids today wouldn’t understand the appeal of this, nor would they know what a cassette tape is. But, for those of us who button-mashed our way through childhood cassette players and toys, this is pure nostalgia.
Of course, that’s what we are all here for. Pure nostalgia. :-)