Aug 092013

Mr. Microphone

Perhaps no gadget from the 1970s is as endearing as Mr. Microphone, a toy that let you broadcast your voice from any nearby radio. Of course, what we remember most is that goofy commercial featuring a tagline that just about every person in America can still quote decades later. Now, that’s some effective advertising.

The man behind the microphone, so to speak, was mail-order marketing guru Ron Popiel, who started a company called Ronco in 1964 to hawk his father’s nifty inventions, the Veg-O-Matic and Pocket Fisherman. By the 1970s, Ronco was selling a long list of gadgets, from a device that scrambled eggs within its shell, to a machine that allowed you to cover your clothing in decorative rhinestones, not to mention the infamous Ginsu knives. The company also released dozens of record albums in the decade, offering collections of top music hits, much like their competitor, K-tel.

One of the company’s most endearing products, however, was Mr. Microphone. Introduced in 1979, the gadget consisted of a battery-operated wireless microphone that turned any radio into a poor man’s public address system. For anyone who ever dreamed of hearing their voice on-air, Mr. Microphone put that power in their hands, allowing them to sing along with their favorite music or serve as an amateur disc jockey. And if the television commercial was to be believed, this thing was also a formidable chick magnet, all for the low price of just $14.88.

That commercial, one of the most fondly remembered of the decade, featured a convertible filled with teenagers driving down the road. When one of the passengers (presumably) spots an object of his desire walking alongside, he grabs his trusty Mr. Microphone and utters those unforgettable words, “Hey good lookin’, We’ll be back to pick you up later!” We never saw who he was talking to; it could have been a cheerleader, a construction worker or a Golden Retriever for all we knew, but it got those wheels turning in our own imagination. What ways could we use a Mr. Microphone to draw the attention of that special someone in our lives?

Thanks to that highly-effective bit of advertising, millions of these electronic devices were ordered at the end of the decade, and well into the next, making Mr. Microphone one of the most successful gadgets ever sold on television. Ronco followed up with Mr. Microphone II, which included an AM radio and a 12′ connecting cable. This allowed you to exceed the distance limitations of the original while serenading your friends and family. Most importantly though, Mr. Microphone gave millions the sensation of singing into a working microphone just like their favorite superstars, and honing their skills for a future fad that would take the country by storm called Karaoke.

Were you the proud owner of a Mr. Microphone? (It’s okay, you can admit it; we’re all friends here!) Did you immediately hook it up and proudly proclaim, “Hey good lookin’, we’ll be back to pick you up later” to anyone in the vicinity? We would love to hear all of your recollections of this memorable gadget in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to this endearing product of the 70s.

Jul 082013

Mood Rings

We’ve long used colors to describe our emotions. such as when we’re “feeling blue” or “seeing red.” Then, in the 1970s, mood rings came along and did the describing for us. One glance at a person’s finger offered an insight into their emotional state … or so they claimed. Truth be told, they were akin to a colorful thermometer, nothing more.

Mood rings were the brainchild of two entrepreneurs, Maris Ambats and Josh Reynolds. They paired quartz with liquid crystal which created an attractive looking “stone” that would morph into a multitude of colors based on their wearer’s body heat. Much like the old saying above, if the stone was red, you were likely angry, while if it was blue you were cool as ice. Things got a bit murkier with the other colors in the spectrum. Depending on which chart you looked at (and there were many, back in the day), all sorts of emotions were assigned to the different hues. Orange might mean you were lovable, while green suggested passion or romance. Suffice to say there was far more marketing, than science behind the mood ring.

That didn’t stop them from becoming an enormously popular fad in the 1970s. Millions were sold around the world, making them just about the most popular item of the decade, just behind the pet rock. An although their popularity has dwindled over the past few decades, you can still find one without having to look very hard. We even sell mood rings in our Long Island 70s Store, if you are so inclined.

Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your own mood ring memories. Did you own one or a few in the 70s, Did you find them even remotely accurate? Better yet, do you still have your old mood ring? Simply share your recollections below in our comments section, and be sure to tell your friends to take a look as well!

May 092013

Sea Monkeys

Anyone in the vicinity of a comic book as a kid, was aware of those lovable Sea Monkeys. One look at the ads suggested evidence of evolved creatures, almost human, who lounged around their aquatic surroundings without a care. And if these depictions compelled you to adopt a family of your own, then you were also going to learn a little about marketing.

Sea Monkeys were the brainchild of a scientist named Harold von Braunhut. In 1957, he learned that the eggs of a certain type of brine shrimp could survive indefinitely without water. This made them easy to ship in the mail. Having watched the success of the ant farm a year earlier, he thought he might be able to sell these eggs under the name “instant life.” That moniker didn’t have enough zing though. Taking notice of the animals long tail, he eventually arrived at the name “Sea Monkeys,” which sounded like a lot more fun.

Enter Joe Orlando, an up-and-coming comic book artist, who was hired to create illustrations for a series of Sea Monkey comic book ads. His drawings envisioned a happy, nuclear family of Sea Monkeys, lounging in their undersea kingdom and looking as if they couldn’t wait to meet you. These drawings would help to sell literally millions of the aquatic critters.

Kids across America sent in their allowance, then paced for weeks by their mailbox. When the glorious day finally arrived, they would learn that it would be another 24 hours before meeting their sea friends. Okay, a minor setback but nothing insurmountable. Soon the would be marveling at, maybe even conversing with, their benevolent underwater pals. This was going to be great!

And, for some kids it was, as long as you weren’t expecting a life form that even remotely resembled those cheery faces in the comic book ad. No, Sea Monkeys were more like an underwater insect, with a see-through body and visible exoskeleton, rows of spidery legs, two freaky bug eyes, and a long tail. They didn’t smile, they didn’t lounge around, they just swam and mated.

More than a few kids learned a valuable lesson from Sea Monkeys. Things aren’t always as they appear, and advertisements aren’t always honest. But that’s not to say that Sea Monkeys weren’t fun. Once you got over the initial disappointment, it turned out to be pretty entertaining to watch them do their underwater thing, at least for a little while.

If you were ever the proud owner of Sea Monkeys, or just desperately wanted them, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories with all of us in the comments section below.

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