Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Meanwhile, VHS formats were just starting to hit the market. These were ½” tapes, smaller, and could record up to two hours. The problem was there were two formats – VHS and Sony’s Betamax. Of course they weren’t compatible so over time one had to become the standard while the other fell by the wayside. VHS won. Betamax had better quality but was more expensive and their tapes had a shorter recording time (one hour vs. two).
I preferred to go with the professional model ¾” because (a) I didn’t want to get stuck with the wrong format that would become obsolete, and (b) my reason for having a VCR was to record episodes David Isaacs and I wrote. So I wanted the best quality possible. Who knew there were going to be DVD’s and streaming and you could get 250 episodes on a bunch of little discs or just by a few clicks on your computer?
Of course the irony is that ¾” tapes became obsolete almost immediately.
I bought the JVC U-Matic unit you see pictured. It weighed a ton. Literally, one person could not carry it. Certainly not one Jew. I had to have my partner come down and help me load it in and out of the car. And I think we both got hernias.
I didn’t even buy it from a retail store. I'm not sure there were retail stores at that time. I researched and found the unit at some warehouse in the Marina. Still, it was something like $1700, which is like $5,000 today. Imagine shelling out 5K for a VCR? The tapes themselves (also not sold in retail stores) were like $20 a pop.
Studios had not released Hollywood movies on the ¾” format, and if they did it would require two tapes and cost roughly $60 a film. Thus began piracy and bootleg tapes. But the selection was very selective. People might pay big bucks for STAR WARS; they weren’t going spend a fortune on ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS.
The owner explained how this new fangled contraption worked, how to hook it up, set the timer, etc. Then he showed me its nifty features. There was a pause button. You could freeze the picture. There was also a slow motion button. You would screen something frame by frame. It was perfect for watching porn.
I feigned great enthusiasm. Better to have him think I was a lowlife willing to pay $1,700 for pornography than a pathetic nerd who just wanted to freeze frame his writing credit.
The machine is long gone. You should’ve seen the National Council of Jewish Women trying to load it into the truck. I probably got my VHS unit around four years later. Now all of those tapes are obsolete or disintegrating in quality.
But I bought the big honking VCR the day our first MASH aired. And it taped like a champ. I froze our first MASH credit, took several snapshots (which meant going to the drugstore and getting them developed – more obsolete keepsakes), and found a cleaner copy on the internet. Here it is:
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM