Share Your Memories is a monthly column that invites readers to contribute their recollections of what they watched on television and how they watched it. Topics range from obsolete equipment to network programming practices to specific TV shows and everything in between.
A True Game Changer
Before the introduction of mass market consumer videocassette recorders (VCRs) in the mid-1970s, if you wanted to watch something on TV, you had to be in front of the set when it aired or cross your fingers and hope for a repeat airing at some point. Open-reel videotape recorders (VTRs) were available in the mid-1960s but they cost a ton and were not widely used by consumers. There were videocassette recorders around in the early 1970s, like Sony’s U-matic, but they didn’t catch on with consumers, either.
Then came Betamax and VHS in the mid-1970s and everything changed. These early VCRs were expensive and so were blank videocassettes. Not many households had VCRs in 1980 but by the end of the decade, the vast majority did.
My Memories of Using a VCR
My parents bought their first VCR around the time I was born so I can’t remember not being able to tape one TV show while watching another or recording something overnight. I don’t think anyone in my family ever used the term “time shifting” to refer to using a VCR. We just said we were “taping” something. When I was growing up, I’m sure I sometimes asked my parents to tape something for me but I can’t recall any specific examples.
I recently found a VHS tape with the last few minutes of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland on it (aired as an installment of NBC’s The Magical World of Disney), taped in February 1990. My parents must have taped it so my brother and I could watch it, although I don’t remember watching it.
My parents also taped TV shows and movies from The Disney Channel whenever there was a free preview weekend. (Back then, it was a premium channel that required a subscription, rather than a basic cable channel.) I distinctly remember my parents taping Jurassic Park when NBC aired it in 1995. In fact, I’m almost positive the tape was still floating around the house for more than a decade.
The first things I taped myself were probably monster movies like Godzilla and King Kong from TNT. Later, when I started watching way too much network television, I sometimes had all three VCRs in the house running at the same time while I watched a fourth show. There was a brief period of time in the early 2000s when I was taping entire seasons of network TV shows but I never built up a huge library. It was too much work.
As recently as 2013 or 2014, I was still using a VCR to tape TV shows because I was too cheap to pay for a DVR. I have five or six VCRs but I only use them when I need to transfer a VHS tape to DVD. I still have a bunch of new, blank VHS tapes I’ll never use.
When did you first have access to a VCR? Did you have a U-matic machine? Which side of the videotape format war were you on?? Hit the comments with your recollections and memories.