Past Times

In 1978, VCRs let us control time

The modern marvel of the VCR allowed us to watch movies whenever we wanted.
The modern marvel of the VCR allowed us to watch movies whenever we wanted. N&O File Photo

When word came out this summer that the production of VCRs was coming to a close, it sparked memories of how exciting it was to be in control of what was on your TV. In 1978, N&O writer Rick Sluder wrote about these fanciful new gadgets and their introduction in the Raleigh market.

Despite their eye-opening price tags, video cassette recorders for the home are enjoying modest sales success in the Raleigh area.

The gadgets attach to television sets and record programming for later playback.

“The people who are into it are the ones who really like to watch television,” said William C. “Bill” Stewart of Audio Center here. “They’re the ones who don’t like to admit they watch as much as they do.

“The main benefit in the home is, it changes the time around. They can rearrange the clock,” Stewart said.

For that privilege, buyers pay around $1,000 for the machine and $15 to $25 for each tape.

The recorders are relatively new on the Raleigh market. Those manufactured by Sony, the first maker to offer units for the home, generally have been in Raleigh stores less than two years.….

George A. Kaleel at Oak Park Electronics here said sales have been “fairly steady” in the year he has carried them….

In the two to three months his business has had them, James F. Stough of Durham Music Co. of Raleigh said the recorders sold quickly “right off the bat. Now it has turned into a gradual market.” The lower price of the RCA machines … may have accounted for the initial spurt, he said.…

A black and white camera for home movies that can be shown later on TV is available for many models. The starting price is about $400. Color cameras for the same purpose sell for between $2,000 and $3,000. (At least one manufacturer, however, will convert old home movies to tape for the cost of the tape plus $10. Also, one movie production company is said to be gearing up to offer their movies on home recorders.)

Not surprisingly, buyers seem to be affluent, Kaleel said. Many seem to be movie-lovers, he added.

But the less well-to-do seem to be buying the machines, too, said Stough. Several of his customers are “normal people who just like TV and aren’t home a lot.” Stough said he has heard of families setting up savings funds especially for the recorders or even financing them.

“One guy I remember (who bought a unit) goes to work at 5 a.m., and he happens to like the Tonight Show (which is broadcast at 11:30 p.m.). Now he gets home and sits down at 3 in the afternoon and watches the Tonight Show,” Stough said.

Buyers appear to be building up TV libraries with the gadgets, said Stewart of Audio Center. He said he could tell when a big event is scheduled on TV by the amount of tapes he sells.

“About three or four days in advance of ‘Gone with the Wind’ we must’ve sold 30 or 40 cases,” he said.

James T. Wiggs of Raleigh is one who is creating a television library. An amateur magician, he said he hopes to learn from his collection of TV magic acts. The recorder lets him see acts broadcast while he is at work, too, he said.

Wiggs has had his unit only three weeks, but he doesn’t think his use of it will decline as the novelty wears off. “I love it. I think I’m going to keep using it,” he said.

M.L. Radford of Cary was going to get a recorder for Christmas, but received it early when he discovered his favorite movie, “The Godfather,” was coming on television.

He plans to tape more movies and “maybe some basketball games … (and) the ACC tournament,” he said.

Radford said his only complaint with the unit is the time it takes to prepare to record. Both the machines and the TV require fine tuning, which must be repeated with every channel. But he has no major problems, he said.

“I’d buy it again,” he said. The N&O Jan. 1, 1978

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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