The first time I saw a VCR was in 1979. My buddy got it from a friend who bought things he couldn’t afford.
Many of my most expensive acquisitions have come through similar channels – people who repurchase and then resell to me at a deep discount – but that’s for another article.
There was something magical about being able to record something directly from a TV antenna and watch it again. And again, if you like. But at first, a VCR was not considered something that every home had.
VCRs were new at the time. The only people who could afford it were rich people and people who had buddies who bought things they couldn’t afford and then sold them at a big discount.
At the price of two used Buicks and the weight of three, VCRs were interesting. They were somewhat like 8mm home movie cameras and projectors, but VCRs had sound. And you didn’t have to send the film in for processing and wait for it to come back.
VCR technology has been used in the television industry for some time. As far as what could be used at home, videotape was a huge step towards what we love today: whatever we want to watch, whenever we want to watch it.
But in the late 70s and early 80s it was a real breakthrough. Anyone with a VCR could be sure that their living room would be full of friends and family on the weekends, just like people 10 years ago who had a color TV when Bonanza and Disney’s Wonderful World were on.
I learned about the latter when my father bought an RCA color console TV from a relative who had higher expectations than his salary. I digress again.
The earliest shows I saw on VCR were taped episodes of MASH and other CBS programs. CBS was a reliable network that my friend lived on. ABC and NBC showed up most of the time, but CBS was pretty solid for some reason.
And so it was in the beginning. People recorded TV programs, which allowed them to live without missing their favorite programs. This became even more important for people who lived in the city and later got cable television. Then they could record films from HBO. This allowed people to start building private film collections.
Today we don’t think about watching things on demand, but not so long ago you watched what three networks fed you and you either liked it or were doing something other than watching TV.
VCRs have changed that. And for a while there were two VCR formats: VHS and Beta. A number of companies invested in the VHS format, which had a slightly larger cartridge and a different technology for recording images and sound on tape. To be honest, the beta was the best format. The quality of video and sound was much higher, but it was marketing that ensured VHS won.
Just a few years after my friend bragged about his VCR, I decided to surprise my parents with a VCR and a store-bought movie. This was before I got married and had kids, so I had the budget to go broke that Christmas. My dad loved Indiana Jones, so I bought him Raiders of the Lost Ark. He watched it over and over again. This is one of my favorite memories.
A couple of years later, VCRs were quite common. Stores like Sears and JC Penney offered credit card payment plans, so it was easier to buy not only a VCR but also a camcorder. And that’s exactly what I did when my eldest started playing football.
I really don’t know what we were going to do with hours and hours of footage of five year olds trying to play football, but we definitely captured every thrilling moment.
We also recorded children’s church performances, school plays, family reunions and, in my case, interviews with my family members.
In the mid-80s, I sat down with my surviving grandparents and interviewed them. They told their life stories, which I later pulled out and compiled into a documentary format for my grandmother when she died. She shared her own story on her own service. She was even able to testify to those in the audience.
But eventually VHS were replaced by DVDs, just as CDs replaced 8-tracks and cassettes. Our desire to constantly experience things has not changed, but the way we experience them has.
Today you’ll see VHS tapes that once sold for over $100 (think Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1982) sitting in the resale store for the price of a set if you buy more than one. ribbon.
If you still have family reunion records and other treasures lying in the attic, you should consider having a professional service digitize them. Because unlike vinyl records, which last almost forever (and come back), VHS cassettes will eventually disintegrate and won’t last long.
So if you want to go back in time, dig up those old videotapes and see what life was like before. When we had very few TV channels, but a lot of children’s football matches.