POW!  - The Original Online Game?

Howdy Buckaroos!

If my greeting strikes a familiar chord with you then it is likely that:

1. You’re a native Rochestarian;

2. You’re my age, give or take a few years.

If you’re still clueless, let me help you out.

Ranger Bob

Ranger Bob

“Howdy Buckaroos!” was the catch phrase of Ranger Bob, host of the appropriately titled, Ranger Bob’s Buckaroo Club. The show aired on WUHF 31 in the late 1970s and early `80s.  This was before cable television (Ranger Bob only had a clear picture when the loopy wire UHF antenna was set at just the right angle), and before most of us had a home PC or game console.  Despite these limitations, this show provided my first memorable exposure to video games and, theoretically, online video game play.

I hadn’t thought of Ranger Bob in years, until recently when we were testing our collection of Intellivision cartridges in the NCHEG lab.   A couple of the games we tested had an eerie familiarity, and with that some of my long-dormant neurons began to fire.  I never had an Intellivision as a kid, yet I remembered these games almost as if I had grown up playing them.  After discussing this memory with my fellow CHEGheads, I realized that I grew up watching other people play them on Ranger Bob’s Buckaroo Club.

The most memorable feature of the Ranger Bob Cartoon Show, a segment of the show, was TV Powww! Viewers would phone into the show to “play” a video game. The participants were able to watch their game unfold from their personal TV screen.  The play consisted of shouting “Pow!” into their phone, which was a verbal cue used to instruct someone in the studio to hit the fire button on the video game control.  The more successful players, as one might imagine, were those who shouted “Pow!” loudly and in quick succession.  Winners would receive a gift certificate or t-shirt, but more precious were the few minutes of fame on a local television show that all of their friends were undoubtedly watching.

My renewed interest in this piece of local history inspired me to do a little research. I was surprised to learn that I had made a few erroneous assumptions about TV Powww!

First, TV Powww! was not a local phenomenon.  The Wikipedia entry for TV Powww! lists approximately 25 television stations from Australia to the UK that ran this syndicated game show.  A small blurb on “Defunct TV Technologies” from the Discovery Channel claims 79 stations aired TV Powww! in 1978.

Second, the original games run on TV Powww! were not Intellivision games at all, but rather Fairchild Channel F console games. When Fairchild quit the video game market in 1980, however, the syndicates acquired and continued their TV Powww! game shows with Intellivision consoles, through a deal constructed between Marv Kemplar, the syndicator of TV Powww!, and Mattel.

fairchild_channel-f_1

Fairchild Channel

My last assumption is debatable—that there was no available technology to facilitate the voice commands of the player; there was only a human proxy in the studio simply hitting the fire button when the player commanded him/her to do. In this sense there was no true “online” play. On the other hand, according to intellivisionlives.com, “TV Powww! used Fairchild Channel F game consoles modified to be voice activated.”   If this is in fact the case, then TV Powww! may be the first commercial example of “online” console play.  I remain skeptical of this claim, though.  Scouring the Internet on this subject only reinforces that there is disagreement and unsettled debate over the existence of voice-activated hacks to the Fairchild consoles.

We have Fairchild Channel F consoles, but none with any evidence of this signature hack.  If anyone can bear witness to the truth or falsehood of this unique technology, we at NCHEG would love to hear from you. Let’s settle this debate once and for all.

Until then enjoy this video of TV Powww! from a non-Rochester affiliate as they air their last TV Powww! contest.