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Tefifons, OMNI Entertainment Systems, and Vincent Price’s Shrunken Heads
While working on a recent podcast about LaserDiscs, I took a detour into the world of CEDs or Capacitance Electronic Disc. CEDs often get confused with LaserDiscs because of their size and disc shape. But these formats are very different. For one thing, the LaserDisc is played with a laser, while a CED uses a stylus like a record album.
This led me to another format medium that could easily confuse people, if they ever heard of it, Tefi.
What is Tefi?
Tefi got its start back in 1936. It was developed in Germany by Dr. Karl Daniel. Tefi tape looks like plastic tape, but if you were to look closely at it you would see that it has grooves carved into it. Those grooves are read with a stylus, just like a record album or CED.
Making a Tefi recording was rather technical. They would emboss the audio onto a length of plastic tape while it was moving. The end result was a Tefi Cartridge that produced sound that was said to have been superior in quality to 78 rpm records when played on its player, the aptly named Tefifon.
The Tefifon never really caught on, and it rarely made it beyond Germany. Even in Germany, it had a difficult time competing against phonograph records. Those record makers had exclusive contracts with artists, and so Tefi cartridges were almost exclusively filled with lesser known artists.
In the video and its screenshot above, you can see the Tefifon playing its Tefi cartridges. Audio quality is good, and it had some other advantages.
The length of the recording was only limited by the length of the tape. Tefis could be as long as 4 hours, which was very long for a single recording at the time.
The Tefi cartridges were designed to act as an infinite loop. So they could continuously play without rewinding or having to reset a needle.
The stylus could be moved up and down on the tape with the touch of the button. This allowed you to easily jump between sections of a recording.
I was watching this video demonstration of a Tefifon and was hypnotized by the way the Tefi cartridges worked. I thought to myself, this looks a lot like an 8-track.
The eight track was an audio tape format that peaked in popularity in 1978, but was manufactured until about 1990.
Automobiles, especially in the 1970s, were littered with 8-track tapes. They would eventually be replaced by improved cassettes, which would ultimately be replaced by compact discs.
While automobiles seemed to be the path to success for the 8-track, many people with home stereo systems had them as well.
My family had very few 8-tracks, but Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits got quite a workout both at home and in the car. I still hear it some nights when I close my eyes.
I was young when the 8-track was already over the hill, but its use in two toys guaranteed that I would never forget the format.
2-XL was a robot toy sold by the Mego Corporation from 1978-1981, and then by Tiger Electronics from 1992-1995. 2-XL was an educational toy, designed to engage and entertain kids. It did this through lights, sound effects, music, and voice.
The Tiger version would use cassettes, but the more blocky Mego version (seen above) used 8-track tapes to power the voice capability of this plastic robot pal.
2-XL was popular and very well remembered, and I wanted him badly, I also wanted a lesser known 8-track powered gaming system, the OMNI Entertainment System.
OMNI Entertainment System
The OMNI Entertainment System or OES was a standalone gaming system, released by Milton Bradley in 1980, that played games and trivia (mostly trivia). Its games and trivia? Those were all contained on 8-track tapes.
You would insert one of the cartridges to get the game started, and then up to 4 players would use the keys to answer questions. They only made 13 games for the OES, but two of them had Vincent Price reading trivia.
As a fan of Price, I wanted it. Unfortunately, the price of this magical electronic whizzbang was comparable to the Atari 2600 at the time. So my family did the reasonable thing and launched my lifetime love for Atari.
While I never got my OES, I did own two other toys that Vincent Price lent his name and or face to.
Vincent Price Toys
The first was Hangman. Which is a pretty good interpretation of the normally paper and pencil game. Price appears on the box of the game and did a memorable commercial for it.
The second Price toy was the Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture Kit. Yes, you read that correctly, a shrunken head apple sculpture kit. The kit came with instruction and a few accessories, but apples were not included.
To use the kit, you would take an apple and sculpt it into a head. Then you let it dry out over a lightbulb, before adding hair and other accessories.
The end result was a long-haired, shriveled face that was guaranteed to haunt your dreams. We had a dozen of these things in my home growing up. My sisters would hang them near my bed when I was sleeping, so I would wake up and the first thing I would see were these angry little apple faces.