Geek Of The Week: Jerry Lawson

Geek Of The Week: Jerry Lawson

Filling in for Ron this week…

When people think of the first cartridge-based video games, they probably think of Atari’s early consoles. However, the Channel F from Fairchild Semiconductor beat Atari to market by a year. Few geeks have seen one of these classic consoles and even less have played one. Regardless, the Channel F was a milestone in history of gaming. The designer of this groundbreaking system was Jerry Lawson.

channelf Geek Of The Week: Jerry Lawson
The Channel F console

Lawson was born in New York and, as a child, has an interest in chemistry and electronics. After graduating from college, he moved to California to accept a job with Fairchild Semiconductor. During his off work hours, Lawson worked on a video game in his garage. The game, Demolition Derby, was released in 1975. Fairchild noticed Lawson’s talent and promoted him to the Director of Engineering and Marketing of the Video Game Division. He led the team that developed the Channel F console. It was released in 1976, but never saw widespread adoption. Shortly after Atari released the 2600 console in 1977, the Channel F disappeared into obscurity. However, it had many features that were superior to Atari’s console and wouldn’t be seen on competing consoles for several years. Lawson was truly a pioneer of gaming.

1980 Geek Of The Week: Jerry Lawson
Lawson in 1980

Oh, and if the name Fairchild Semiconductor sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it was founded by several former GOTWs: Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Eugene Kleiner and 3 others. This company eventually became Intel and the rest is geek history. Lawson left Fairchild in 1980 and founded his own company, Videosoft. The company made software for Atari consoles. After Videosoft, Lawson continued to innovate and consult throughout Silicon Valley. Though many feel he never got the credit he deserved, Lawson was honored by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) in 2011 and declared an Xbox Gaming Hero in 2019. Alas, he passed away in 2011, so he never got to see the latter award. Lawson’s story is yet another interesting factoid from 1970s Silicon Valley. He paved the way for Atari, Nintendo, and others.

About the Author

avatar KALE: A geek who works in the IT field and lives in Dallas, TX. He is also a music geek who has played in several local bands. Previous to his IT career, Kale worked as a photojournalist. He brings technical advice and artistic counterpoint to the podcast.