Coleco Telstar

If Coleco became GI's first customer in 1975 because of the story between Ralph Baer, Ed Saks (GI's president) and Arnold Greenberg (Coleco's president), the release of the first Telstar model in 1976 was also another amazing story that Ralph Baer wrote for us.

[...] However, this is not the end of the Coleco Telstar story: One late Tuesday afternoon in 1976, I get a call in my lab at Sanders from Arnold Greenberg. At the same time, his brother and CEO Leonard is on the phone with Dan Chisholm, one of Sandersí VPís. What did they call about? Well, Coleco personnel had been at the FCC Radio Frequency Interference Compliance Testing labs in Maryland and flunked the Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) tests... Too much radiation at harmonics (multiples) of the Channel 3 or 4 signals which video games use to get into a TV set via its antenna terminals. Coleco failed to qualify under Rules 15 of the FCC... And they were told to come back on Friday of that week or else: "Or else" meant that they would have to "get to the back of the line" behind all the other manufacturers trying to get their product past the FCC ! Since Coleco had some 30 million dollarís worth of component inventory sitting in the warehouse ready for final assembly, there was a minor panic in Connecticut !

Fortunately for Coleco, Arnold Greenberg remembered me; and even more fortuitously, I had an RFI test lab under my control at Sanders at that time as part of my Equipment Design Division. When I first arrived at Sanders, there was no in-house RFI testing facility in any of the companies Division. I recognized the need, hired two experienced guys from Sylvania on Rte.128 and within a few years we had the biggest RFI test facility in the Northeast.

Coleco was informed that if they would sign Magnavoxí Licensing Agreement (which they hadnít done at that point in time), we would be glad to help them. They showed up on Wednesday morning with an executed copy of the Agreement and my crew went to work on a Telstar console to get its RFI within FCC spec limits. Tests took place on the 5th-floor (partial) roof of Sanders Canal Street building; we experimented with various true-and-tried methods normally used to suppress the excess radiation, such as bypass-capacitors, miscellaneous shielding, all to no avail... We didnít do too well that day. -

Early Thursday morning I was in the lab on the partial floor adjacent to the roof test area. No one else had showed up yet to begin the RFI-reduction job. As I wandered through the large lab, I saw two pieces of electronic equipment sitting on a test bench that were connected together with some common coaxial cable. What attracted my attention was the presence of a couple of small ferrite toroids (powdered iron rings) through which the cable had been looped, one or two turns, I forgot how many. On a hunch, I proceeded to ask around among the few engineers present at the early hour just what those rings were for: Lo and behold somebody actually knew the answer: It turned out that during operation of those two electronic boxes, the coax had picked up stray signals from some nearby radio transmitter which had screwed up the performance of the boxes. So someone had the bright idea of suppressing the surface wave created by that interfering radiation with some "chokes"... And thatís what the ferrite rings were !

At that moment, a lightbulb went on in my head: I ran around the labs opening storage cabinet doors and generally poking around in desk drawers until I found some ferrite toroids. When the RFI crew arrived on the roof for further Telstar tests, I slipped one of these toroids over the shielded coax cable coming out of the Telstar unit and took two tight loops through the ring just inside the cabinet... BINGO! The unit passed the spurious radiation tests. We sent the Coleco crew back to Maryland, Telstar passed the FCC tests, too and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.

As a result of this episode, Coleco further relied on Sanders to help with the development of next yearís video games. I assembled a small group of engineers and technicians and had Dunc Withun, one of my department mangers head it up - an anomaly in a high-tech, defense electronics firm if ever there was one. We designed and developed the printed circuit boards for Colecoís triangular Telstar ARCADE game, their COMBAT game and another one I canít recall. We did the work, Coleco paid their bills and sold a lot of games. If anybody doubts that story, I have reams of documents in my collection to prove it. Every time I look at them, I break out in a big smile. I did always want get into the video game business...there was no way Sanders would enter into I did it subliminally by doing Colecoís development work at Sanders.

Text written by Ralph Baer. Courtesy of David WINTER.

Interesting note: the Telstar system pictured below exists in two versions. One has the linear speaker holes on the upper left and displays a solid central line in Tennis. The other has small round holes and displays a dashed line in Tennis. It is believed that GI made a first run of the AY-3-8500 chip (which Telstar used) and that the chip was later revised.


Coleco Telstar: first model (1976)

Box of Coleco Telstar

Original Coleco Telstar commercial

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