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  #1  
03-19-2022, 07:46 AM
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Hello all,

As part of my latest documentary I'm working on, I need a tiny bit of info that some Stateside or in 'America's Hat' can help me with.

If it's 1978-82ish, where would you go, as the general population and non-enthusiasts in the US and Canada to buy a video recorder?

I'm only interested in big-name stores, not local ones, it's just for some research. It would probably be Dixons, Curry's or Comet here. I'm just trying to research old sales material etc.

I'm not interested in the merits or constraints, just a few names to help me research. Can you let me know if you're from the US or Canadian perspective?

Ta,
RR
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  #2  
03-19-2022, 08:42 AM
BarryTheCrab BarryTheCrab is offline
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In the northeast we had 27 Lechmere stores and nationally was Service Merchandise.
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  #3  
03-19-2022, 08:49 AM
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Ah, Service Merchandise isn't one I've heard of, it looks strikingly similar to our much smaller (but still extant) Argos shops
Even down to the jewelry retail and catalogue ordering, even in-store.

Thanks for the pointer, I'm trying to track general retail prices on first generation domestic machines.
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  #4  
03-19-2022, 01:17 PM
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One of our earlier (but not first) family VCRs came from Highlands. I still have the receipt, and I know that I have one of the old commercials. The commercials were good, especially Halloween sales.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Superstores

Back then, most USA chain stores were regional, not yet nationwide. For national, you had mall/department stores -- Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, Service Merchandise -- but that's really it.

One of my favorite places back then was Best. The logo was styled with little B, bigger E, etc. It was an outer-mall location, separate building on the mall parking lot. While it had electronics, about 1/3rd of the place was toys. It was a collectors mecca, Thundercats, Transformers, He-Man, etc. (And bikes, spots gear, and the dreaded "pink aisles". Like a mini Toys R Us, another store with small electronic and video games, not just toys.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_Products

So I know those off-hand. In the 70s/80s, I was general population, not enthusiast. Serious started for me in 1992.

If you need me to dig out my commercials (1st gen recorded for local TV), or my receipt, let me know, and the date you need it by, and I will do my best to locate.

Nice topic.

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  #5  
03-19-2022, 03:58 PM
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Brief reply as I'm heading to the pub but cheers for this.

Any Canucks care to chip in?

This is for the three-part 'Format War' documentary. It's taken about two years of research (and travel, document translations, interviews etc..) but I'm currently doing the motion graphics for it so we're nearly there.

Hopefully it'll clarify how we ended up with VHS, trust me, it's a very convuluted and interesting topic and it's got many more twists, turns, double-dealing and strange events that happened. It wasn't as simple as a) Longer tapes, b) Grumble Vids c) Sony's intransigence - the story usually told.
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  #6  
03-19-2022, 05:16 PM
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Please don't buy into revisionist BS that VHS was made for porn. That was a 2000s myth, and is too often believed by those who were gradeschool aged at the time of the myth (mostly Millennials), having never really experienced this "war" first-hand. That always irks me. Such garbage.

I actually knew people, in the 80s-90s, that had worked with some of the first VHS and Betamax rental stores (yes, Blockbuster, but also others). I was told lots of interesting things at the time. For example, the high 3-digit cost of tapes rented, early rental copyright wars (always narrow-minded studios actually fought renting in the beginning), or how these rental stores would also rent out VCRs. (We had a VCR, so I never really paid attention to the VCR rental, but vaguely remember that. Not everybody could afford a VCR, so just rent with the tape for the weekend.) And those decks chronically broke, because the overall society at the time was tech inept. The manufacturer service centers were super busy in those days. I forget if he was at JVC or Panasonic, but a guy left to start one of the earliest VCR repair shops, to compete with the overpriced and always-backlogged manufacturers.

^ Stuff like that is interesting, not common knowledge. And if you've never heard such stories, you need to. Research it. I can't make guarantees, as it's literally been 10+ years since I talked to any of those folks (who sadly, may or may not even be alive anymore), but I can make an attempt find a couple of them.

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  #7  
03-19-2022, 05:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lordsmurf View Post
Please don't buy into revisionist BS that VHS was made for porn. That was a 2000s myth, and is too often believed by those who were gradeschool aged at the time of the myth (mostly Millennials), having never really experienced this "war" first-hand. That always irks me. Such garbage.

I actually knew people, in the 80s-90s, that had worked with some of the first VHS and Betamax rental stores (yes, Blockbuster, but also others). I was told lots of interesting things at the time. For example, the high 3-digit cost of tapes rented, early rental copyright wars (always narrow-minded studios actually fought renting in the beginning), or how these rental stores would also rent out VCRs. (We had a VCR, so I never really paid attention to the VCR rental, but vaguely remember that. Not everybody could afford a VCR, so just rent with the tape for the weekend.) And those decks chronically broke, because the overall society at the time was tech inept. The manufacturer service centers were super busy in those days. I forget if he was at JVC or Panasonic, but a guy left to start one of the earliest VCR repair shops, to compete with the overpriced and always-backlogged manufacturers.

^ Stuff like that is interesting, not common knowledge. And if you've never heard such stories, you need to. Research it. I can't make guarantees, as it's literally been 10+ years since I talked to any of those folks (who sadly, may or may not even be alive anymore), but I can make an attempt find a couple of them.
I appreciate the input, so please don't misunderstand, you've raised good points.

I've got around 500 documents here (including translations from the Japanese trade commission, EU commission documents, interviews with a few extant people from the industry; even translated French tax codes) - I've travelled to see machinery, I've even employed an archivist to find bits.

It's not a retelling of the Wikipedia article, it's cost well into four figures to get this far in document retrieval, translation services and travelling.

It's a long and complicated story, what I can tell you is that pron does fit into the story, it's not a major factor, but I'm looking at a full-page trade-ad now bundling pornography with VHS players in 1977, it's almost certainly sanctioned by JVC. It's only a minor part of the story, but there is conjecture JVC may have been prepared to quietly promote that market. A full grumble-flick ("Pussytalk") costing 215 (about $250US) in today's money.

The pornography story is actually a parallel story, the first documented commercial pornography videotape duplication occurred in an off-off-off Broadway grotty theatre on U-Matic, that's another rather interesting story. It's gone now, it was torn down in the late 1970s, they provided films on UMatic, VHS and Betamax. Unfortunately, Getty holds the only image which is the most expensive piece of 'art' I've ever purchased: a fully licenced image of a rhythm-vid retailer!

We're telling from a European perspective too, our story is a bit different as we had a three-horse race, but that had global implications, well we had the Philips domestic system released in 1972 which also forms a portend to what eventually happened.

French tax official's bizarre sense of humour greatly affected the European market, as did a battle from antiquity, a rather startling translation error, one Kingmaker in the industry who had a long-running personal fight with another is an absolutely hilarious story, the sort of thing that wouldn't be tolerated in a modern boardroom.... Honestly, it's bloody hilarious what happened.

If you want the absolute one-line answer to the whole affair: JVC stayed out of the most amount of trouble.
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  #8  
03-19-2022, 07:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobustReviews View Post
I've got around 500 documents here (including translations from the Japanese trade commission, EU commission documents, interviews with a few extant people from the industry; even translated French tax codes) - I've travelled to see machinery, I've even employed an archivist to find bits.
Interesting. Look forward to it.

Quote:
It's a long and complicated story, what I can tell you is that pron does fit into the story, it's not a major factor
The pornography story is actually a parallel story, the first documented commercial pornography videotape duplication occurred in an off-off-off Broadway grotty theatre
Sure, it's part of the story, but merely a footnote to the broader macro picture. (The "internet was made for porn" meme, which was from a time when the word "meme" didn't yet apply either, leaked into other areas such as video.) And I've heard about those early NYC dupes before, too!

Quote:
We're telling from a European perspective too, our story is a bit different
Even more interesting. That reminds me of the parallel documentaries "The Cars That Made The World" and "The Car That Built America". Both were great, told from different perspectives. Both even used the same footage and recreations, and yet different.

Quote:
If you want the absolute one-line answer to the whole affair: JVC stayed out of the most amount of trouble.
Victor wasn't an innocent player, but I'm not surprised that a Japanese company would stay lower profile to ugly battles. It's their culture. It's my understanding (but don't quote me) that Sony Japan wasn't as rabid as Sony America, when it came to the Betamax case that settled timeshifting. With the exception of Nintendo Japan, the USA wings of companies are always the litigious parties. Europe next. In the world of anime, Macross was shared among rights holders, but USA Harmony Gold was always trying to be a stick in a hornet's nest. I just don't know what the hell is wrong with us sometimes. No cooperation, always seeking "damages" (money).

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  #9  
03-19-2022, 08:56 PM
lingyi lingyi is offline
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Sears, JC Penny, Montgomery Ward. Here's a site with the catalogs from those years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobustReviews View Post
Brief reply as I'm heading to the pub but cheers for this.

Any Canucks care to chip in?

This is for the three-part 'Format War' documentary. It's taken about two years of research (and travel, document translations, interviews etc..) but I'm currently doing the motion graphics for it so we're nearly there.

Hopefully it'll clarify how we ended up with VHS, trust me, it's a very convuluted and interesting topic and it's got many more twists, turns, double-dealing and strange events that happened. It wasn't as simple as a) Longer tapes, b) Grumble Vids c) Sony's intransigence - the story usually told.
If you haven't already read them, Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese & the VCR Wars: James Lardner and Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony: Akio Morita are must reads.
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  #10  
03-19-2022, 10:50 PM
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We're also forgetting a popular retailer at the time: Radio Shack!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RadioShack

They did have a very limited selection of VCR brands and models in the early 80s. I remember seeing VCRs around '83, at the same time they have the "fake Transformer" (Shockwave aka Shackwave), actually also a licensed mold. Our local Radio Shack was in the mall, and always had small TVs, few VCRs, Atari video games, some computers (both Tandy and Apple), radio remote toys, odds and ends. Always small shops.

I don't recall if Woolworth's sold VCRs. I know they were an everyman kind of store by the 80s. Vague recollections on it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._W._Woolworth_Company

Another popular regional (multi-state) was Conn's, and they still exist. Not many stores in '82, but many by 1990.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conn%27s

For Canada, you had Zellers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zellers

BTW, I located one of my Highlands commercials.
And then I found the receipt. It wasn't our first VCR, but 2nd or 3rd. We paid $369 (after tax) in May 1985 for the Panasonic PV-1225A. That deck didn't last long, replaced a few years later, top loaders sucked. I still have the user manual, with the receipts inside. Sentimental reasons, the family on receipt has been gone for decades now. She had it on layaway. Everything is made/printed in Japan. Wired remote. (A main reason we upgrade was for non-wired remote. The wired remote was worse than no remote.)

I still have a family deck from about 1981, what I call "big Bertha". It still works, too! But it smells. Imagine if a VCR could fart.

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  #11  
03-20-2022, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lingyi View Post
Sears, JC Penny, Montgomery Ward. Here's a site with the catalogs from those years.

If you haven't already read them, Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese & the VCR Wars: James Lardner and Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony: Akio Morita are must reads.
Ah I have them both as reference.

That's great everybody, thank you. I only needed a couple of names so more than enough to work with here.

I forgot Zellers, for some reason that's a name that's in my head but heaven knows why I would be aware of them but it did jog a memory.

Ah Woolies, we had a divorced, vestigial arm of FW Woolworth (Woolworth's here) which was very much a British institution (I worked there in my teenage years) which folded in 2009 and is still considered a bit of a national tragedy. The UK Woolies was cleaved from the FW Woolworth parent in the early 1980s by which time FW Woolworth where only a minority shareholder anyway.

https://youtu.be/Ewa8WzbpreY - Last gasp advertising which I think exhausted all budgets, I do not imagine Jackie Chan at the faintest of ideas who Woolies were. This bloody puppets were a national instituion for about five years...

Last edited by RobustReviews; 03-20-2022 at 12:43 PM.
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  #12  
03-21-2022, 12:10 AM
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https://youtu.be/Ewa8WzbpreY - Last gasp advertising which I think exhausted all budgets, I do not imagine Jackie Chan at the faintest of ideas who Woolies were. This bloody puppets were a national instituion for about five years...
Those low quality Youtube video are always so disappointing. Always a shame. That was a good commercial! I like both Jackie Chan and WWE!

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  #13  
03-21-2022, 01:16 PM
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During that period of time I lived on the east coast of Canada (Nova Scotia) where Zellers, Radio Shack and Woolco were predominant for this stuff. For higher end gear the local shops were best. I know you said you weren't interested in the local shops but I couldn't resist:

https://youtu.be/czeXFVr7ZqU
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  #14  
03-21-2022, 01:59 PM
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During that period of time I lived on the east coast of Canada (Nova Scotia) where Zellers, Radio Shack and Woolco were predominant for this stuff. For higher end gear the local shops were best. I know you said you weren't interested in the local shops but I couldn't resist:

https://youtu.be/czeXFVr7ZqU
Those sorts of ads seem to be a uniquely North American phenomenon - Crazy/Mad Eddie's Mega Deals with a personality owner. We didn't have anything similar here that I recall, I can't imagine that style of marketing being apposite here at the time. Except our friends living on Jersey, but that's almost antithetical to this mould of advertising. I don't think that could have even worked on the mainland and would have even been rejected by middle-class Englanders for being 'too stuffy'.

One here that springs to mind (only because somebody mentioned it recently in the pub) was this magnificent effort by Toshiba. The late Ian Dury lending his idiosyncratic, half-rapped gruff genius.

I appreciate this is for a brand, not a retailer. - Hello Tosh, Gotta Toshiba? - This will in all certainty be something you'll hum for a day or two.

That's good, innit?

It's a wholly commercially licenced pastchie of the bizarre fever-dream/song(?) 'Ullo John Gotta New Motor?' by avowed Marxist Alexi Sayle - I'm not providing a translation for this, I can't imagine it's intelligable to anybody outwith the North Circular, and I mean intelligable in the very broadest sense: words can recognised if not comprehended fully. Your starter for ten; 'motor' is a now quite arcane bit of Queen's English for a car.

That said, Mr Sayle is a full-blooded scouser, so the implication of the quazi-cockernee knockabout thing going on here... Best left to history. If only Karoac would relished in different drugs and moved to London, he may have done it instead.

Anyway, another UK classic was this one for Scotch videotapes, part of the 3M behemoth from the States but a very UK take on the adverting. There's an earlier one featuring the lesser-spotted V2000 tape but it's just not quite as good as this one. This is probably one of the best-remembered ads in the UK of the 80s and 90s and was updated and refreshed for about 15 years. Suggs provided the voice after Deryck Guyler couldn't.

Scotch - Skeleton, Re-record, not fade away.

Last edited by RobustReviews; 03-21-2022 at 02:22 PM.
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03-26-2022, 08:45 PM
NJRoadfan NJRoadfan is offline
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The NYC metro area had its "share" of regional electronics retailers with personality. Here are a few that are now mostly defunct.

TOPS Appliance City: Dead by 2000 or so. Plenty of ads on YouTube. Notable to me because whoever designed their point-of-sale system used a mock LCARS interface from Star Trek!

Newmark & Lewis: NY based chain. Dead by 1991.

Brick Church: Local NJ based chain. Acquired by Newmark & Lewis.

Trader Horn: Another NJ based chain with iconic advertising.

Nobody Beats The WIZ: Known for its iconic red neon signs. Later acquired by Cablevision. Dead by 2002.

6th Ave Electronics: Originally a B&M NYC retailer that later moved to NJ. They eventually went online only and still in business. I almost bought a JVC SVHS deck here!

PC Richard & Son: Still in business!

One time honored tradition of electronics shopping at the above stores was haggling. The price on the shelf was not final and you could aim for a better price, particularly if you were going for a "package deal". Getting the Sunday paper was always a treat. They were jammed packed with sales circulars for all these stores.

Chains like Best Buy and Circuit City were fairly late to the NYC market. They just weren't the same experience.
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03-26-2022, 11:55 PM
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Another major regional retailer was Federated.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_Group

They ran a ton of TV commercials with Shadoe Stevens as their spokesman "Fred R. Rated". I spent a lot of time back in the 80's walking around one of their Houston stores looking at all the latest gear that I couldn't afford as a high school/college student.
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03-27-2022, 12:12 AM
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Quote:
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The NYC metro area had its "share" of regional electronics retailers with personality. Here are a few that are now mostly defunct.
...
One time honored tradition of electronics shopping at the above stores was haggling. The price on the shelf was not final and you could aim for a better price, particularly if you were going for a "package deal". Getting the Sunday paper was always a treat. They were jammed packed with sales circulars for all these stores.
The NYT ads were also instructive for "Grey Market" goods that were moving sideways, especially through the photo / electronic shops.

J&R was another NY retailer. Detroit had Fretter. Chicago had Polk Bros. Wisconsin had American TV & Appliance.
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