Old-school handheld audio

Taking a look at some handheld audio (of sorts) from the '80s: the Fisher-Price Talk-To-Me Player.

Jeff Sparkman Senior Copy Editor / Reviews
Jeff Sparkman is a copy editor at CNET who also writes about goofy and retro gadgets and contributes lame jokes where needed.
Jeff Sparkman
2 min read
Jeff Sparkman/CNET Networks

Somewhere in between the old-school book-and-record sets (where you turned the page at the sound of the tone) and audiobooks, there was the mighty Fisher-Price Talk-To-Me Player.

I dusted mine off recently after finding it in one of the many boxes of toys I have yet to divest myself of and gave it a closer look.

Yeah, it looks kind of like a mouse, but it's essentially an upside-down, battery-powered handheld record player. You used the player with Talk-To-Me books, which had a 2-inch plastic record laminated on the bottom corner of each page. You line up the player with the record and pressed play. After a mechanical KA-CHUNK, the record would start playing.

Unless you totally sucked at lining the player up with the record or had a little brother who put a wicked scratch in your favorite part of one of the books.

But I digress.

If you ever come across these at garage sales or on eBay, chances are that it will come with Ghost Chasers, an adaptation of the 1937 Disney cartoon, Lonesome Ghosts. That book came with the player, so it's the most common.

However, it wasn't only Disney getting in on the fun; the Looney Tunes characters had a few books, as did the Sesame Street Muppets, Dr. Seuss, and Richard Scarry.

I wanted to play them for my 5-year-old son, but my player has seen better days. The best I could do was pop it open and MacGyver the motor with a rubber band. Then, I put my computer mic next to the player's speaker, recorded it, and ran it through Audacity, where I sped it up by about 15 percent. After that, it sounded just like I remembered. Simple.

However, you might just want to find somewhere that offers repair services if your player is kaput.

Lest you think this was a cheesy toy, I should point out that not only did it earn a Toy of the Year award, but also it was invented by the "father of the disc drive," Reynold B. Johnson, after he retired from IBM.

And on top of that, it was safer than lawn darts. What more could you ask for?