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.

May 142013

Record Vacuum

Surely you recall all those gadget commercials of the 70s. One such entity was a handy device called the Record Vacuum. Place your prized albums into the slot and watch as all the dust is magically removed, making it just like new! At least that’s what the commercials proclaimed. The reality, as is the case with most gadgets, didn’t quite live up to the expectations.

The Record Vacuum was created by gadget guru, Ron Popiel, the same man who gave us such technological marvels as the Pocket Fisherman and Mr. Microphone (hey good looking, we’ll be back to pick you up later!). The concept was that the device would “vacuum” that damaging dust right off of your records. The problem was, there was no vacuum, only felt pads that would gather the dust in great amounts. Run another record through without cleaning those pads and you were likely to do more damage than good.

A number of imitators released similar products, but it was the Ronco version that received the most exposure, thanks to a series of memorable commercials that ran in regular rotation on television. At least until word started spreading about their destructive qualities. Once people realized the potential of ruining their prized collection, the Ronco Record Vacuum disappeared just about as quickly as it arrived. It mattered little to Ron Popiel who had plenty of new gadgets waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting populace.

Were you the proud owner of a Ronco Record Vacuum in the 70s. Did you ever damage one of your LPs by using one of these machines? We’d love to hear all your Record Vacuum stories in our comments section below.

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