In my latest installment of, “Kids don’t know how good they have it today”, I was thinking about days past when you had to program a VCR to record a TV show.

I was a kid in the 1980’s, so I wasn’t allowed to stay up late. Unfortunately, there were TV shows I really wanted to watch that were on well past my 9:00pm bedtime. It was quite a dilemma until we got the latest high tech piece of home ingenuity – a VCR.

For those under the age of 40, that’s a video cassette recorder. 

The VCR was a magical piece of technology.

The joy of going to the local video store to rent a movie was a feeling you just can’t experience at the Red Box. The video store was a social place, and a competition where you’d hope you got the newest release before your friends. While it was awesome to be able to watch movies at home, it was even more awesome to be able to record TV shows.

If you’ve ever tried to record a show on a VCR, you know it was comparable to assembling Ikea furniture. Most of the older VCRs had a collection of buttons, switches and knobs which were used to set the date and time. These pieces were so small only the fingers of an elf could accurately manipulate them, and you needed a magnifying glass to see them. You were often forced to call a friend or family member who happened to be a computer nerd to figure out how to do these settings, unless you were lucky enough to have an engineering degree (even with the directions in hand).

VCR programing 1980s Blog Post
Note the hodgepodge of programming dials and switches in the lower right.

After you’d spend a hour trying to set the timer, you’d anxiously go to sleep, hoping it was done correctly. When you’d wake up the next day to check the tape, it was like Christmas morning…

Did I get it? Did I get it?

Everything worked pretty well most of the time, unless you carelessly set the time for the wrong am / pm settings…NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO… Or, the other horror was if you set the timer for midnight, but a sports game or the late night news ran longer than scheduled (yes, the news used to be on that late). If the previous show ran late, that means you’d miss the start of what you were recording. It was heartbreaking.

Or God forbid you set it for the wrong channel…

Not cool.

Keep in mind that most of the early 80’s VCRs didn’t even have a remote, and the ones that did were connected to the unit with a cable. We’re talking a level of primitive here kids today will never be able to comprehend, yet it was so insanely complicated at the same time. But as time progressed, we moved into the world of on-screen programming.

VCR programming 19980's blog post
VCR on-screen programming was so much fun! (not)

While it was a little easier to see what you were doing, it was far more difficult than it appears because most of the programming was still done with the obnoxious little dials, knobs and switches. Or, it was post 1987, MAYBE it was done on a remote with no numbers, so it meant endless scrolling and frustration. 

But somehow we did it without the help of YouTube.

Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with this madness anymore because we now live in an on-demand society where everything is available any time, anywhere we want it. There is no such thing as recording a show anymore.

While entertainment is more convenient now, it’s not as pleasurable as when little things like being able to watch a show over and over meant the world. Before the days of cable and MTV in my house, all I had was Friday Night Videos on NBC, a weekly 90 minute music video show. The pleasure of not knowing what was going to be on, then seeing your favorite song was like winning the lottery.

And don’t even get me started on classic Saturday Night Live.

I still have the tapes.

I was a technological deviant, waiting a long time to upgrade to a DVD player (I don’t think I had one until probably or 2002 or 2003). The VCR worked fine, so why did I need a DVD player? When my kids were little, they referred to VHS tapes as “square DVDs.” I’ve always thought that was pretty funny.

Go ahead and laugh at the working VCR I still have in my house. I still have an 8mm camcorder too. And while we’re reminiscing, I also have a dual-deck cassette recorder and my original Atari 2600. In another 30 or 40 years everyone will be making fun of the “primitive” entertainment concepts being used today. 

It’s funny because it’s true.

But if you need some old episodes of “Yo! MTV Raps”, I had a friend a who had a satellite dish and recorded them for my hip hop fix. I still have those tapes too. 🙂

~ Marty ~

Be kind and rewind…