Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Video Game System I Trashpicked From 1977, Or “Why Didn’t I Sell This On eBay?”

This post was written by our brand new contributor, Tom Keiser. Tom is from South Jersey and also writes for NetworkAwesome.com and TheAwl.com. You may recognize him as Joe Flacco's high school mascot.

I consider myself a pretty good trashpicker. Over the years I procured dozens of VHS boxing tapes and hundreds of old Reader’s Digests at a time. The recession of the last few years has not been kind to the art, although people are starting to throw out better things as the economy improves. But looking back, I did not fully appreciate my greatest coup until after it was gone.

It was the winter of 2006, and I was walking through an affluent Philadelphia suburb, where I see a box full of RCA memorabilia. This isn’t too rare, as RCA was one of southern New Jersey’s leading employers into the 1980’s and 90’s. What was more intriguing, among the Zippo lighters and travel bags and RCA employee uniforms, was a Studio II video game system, built in Deptford, NJ (where a Sam’s Club currently stands, if I’m not mistaken), complete with at least a dozen cartridges in an old plastic shopping bag.

The RCA Studio II was introduced in early 1977, and even then it was practically obsolete. The Fairchild Channel F, which made its debut the previous year, already had color graphics and relatively better sound quality. By the end of the year, Atari would destroy both systems and corner the market until the Video Game Crash of 1983. 

Little is known or remembered about the Studio II, beyond its Wikipedia entry and schematics and teardowns on computer legacy websites, but somebody must have had fond memories of it. At the very least, this RCA employee must’ve either had the system for his family to play with, or hoarded a model because he knew this would be worth a lot of money, only for him (or his family) to realize otherwise and throw it out thirty years later. 

The games included were not the most entertaining, even for the mid-to-late 1970’s. They had a baseball game, some educational games (literally 2nd grade level arithmetic) some built-in games (such as bowling) and so on. However, among the turds are some real gems, including:
  • TENNIS/SQUASH: Your basic Pong-ripoff. They had a one player version (Squash), which consisted of you bouncing a ball off a wall. It felt more like that game you played when no one else was around and just threw a tennis ball at a brick wall, Lonelyball.
  • BIORHYTHM: Yes, Biorhythm. It was a psuedoscientific way to predict what your future had in store. You typed in your date of birth and the current date (it didn’t matter that I was born seven years after it was manufactured). Then, the Studio II would make its only possible sound effect, an annoying BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP that went on until you saw that May 5, 1978 was a good day for you.
  • FUN WITH NUMBERS: I don’t remember all of it, but there was a section called Guess The Number. That was all you actually did. You pressed the touch-tone game pad and hoped the CPU also guessed 2. You didn’t win. You survived.
  • IN-STORE DEMO: I was lucky to get this, which was packaged in a white box as opposed to a red, orange or blue box. It was your first look at how the Studio II performed, and needless to say it was underwhelming. I do give credit as to how (relatively) well the contemporary RCA logo appeared on the screen.

Alas, I no longer have this odd but interesting footnote to video game history. I never removed its RF connector to the black and white TV I had it attached to, which was long ago condemned to the trashheap of history. The console and the games were probably destroyed when mold attacked my basement last year. I can’t even imagine replacing it, for the more common cartridges alone go for $20 to $40 each on eBay.

Still, I’ll always remember the hours of fun I had playing with my trashpicked Studio II. Both of them.


  1. Hang on - a video game that looks like a gizmo for removing waist flab. How ironic!

    (There could be a market for that...)

  2. When is Sony going to release a handheld with twin keypads?! Missed opportunity, Vita.

  3. Isn't Nintendo doing a Japanese trial of a slide-on keypad for the 3DS?