Share Your Memories of VCRs and Videotapes

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.

Related Posts

Become a Patron Today

Are you a fan of obscure television? Please support Television Obscurities on Patreon by becoming a patron today.

8 Replies to “Share Your Memories of VCRs and Videotapes”

  1. My wife & I were married in 1980 and bought our first VHS VCR in probably 1984. That monster was a JC Penny brand and cost hundreds of dollars. I sure taped a lot of favorite shows and movies on it and the several machines that followed….

  2. We got our VCR sometime in the early 80s. We used it mostly to watch rented movies from Blockbuster. But I was/am a Detroit Tigers fan and I taped their victory parade through downtown Detroit off of Channel 4. Somewhere I still have that VHS tape. No VCR now but I have the tape. I taped specials every now and then. We have the last episode of M*A*S*H , the big reveal of who shot JR and Lonsome Dove all up in the attic.

  3. Using a VCR is not just a memory — I still use one today. I was late getting one to go with my 12 inch Admiral TV. (Admiral was a Montgomery Ward brand — wonderful quality electronics.) I got an Admiral VCR on sale for around $89 sometime in the 1990s. I loved that VCR, and was I upset when it stopped working after about 15 years of faithful service.

    I replaced it with a reconditioned Toshiba combination VCR and DVD player which I bought at Big Lots. The DVD side stopped working in about 2015, and I replaced that with a Sylvania portable DVD player that I set on my lap when I’m using it. The VCR part isn’t too healthy. I can only record at SP speed (2 hours on tape) and not the L.P. speed (4 hours on tape.) And it now only records on whatever station my 20-year -old TV is set to, so I can’t record one show while I watch another, but I still do record shows when I can’t be watching when something’s being broadcast.

    Health challenges only allow me to work part-time hours so I don’t spend money on luxuries, such as 21st century methods of watching TV shows and movies. When my VCR stops working completely I’ll try to replace it with a used one. I’d sure love to get another Admiral brand, to go with my 12 inch Admiral TV.

  4. My dad got a Sears Beta VCR around 1978. It had mechanical buttons that went kachunk when you used them. I used the VCR so much that I burned through at least two sets of those mechanical buttons.

  5. Bought my first VCR in 1985 for $390 so I could tape As The World Turns. The process to tape wasn’t on screen at that time. I messed it up the first week. Finally got the hang of it. Tried teaching it to my Mom but she could never grasp it.

    Had it for a decade. Probably weighed a dozen pounds. When we bought a new one my wife thought the box was empty since by that point they only weighed a couple pounds. My daughters have no memory of VCR’s. Just last week my wife and I got rid of probably 40 tapes. Saved a couple for nostalgia purposes.

  6. My parents bought one somewhere around the 80s because it was a lot cheaper to rent films than going to the movies. I did use it to tape a few things but I think I would up re-recording everything later.

    Later I got hold of a broken beta machine with a missing belt. I managed to use elastic bands as a replacement, but the rubber wouldn’t last more than an hour. I still have a couple beta tapes but I only really keep them in case I run across another machine and need to test it.

    Around the early 90s, after a couple weeks of buying machines and then having to return them for being faulty, I eventually bought a mono RCA VHS machine and that seemed to last forever. I think I still have it packed away. I eventually replaced it with a number of stereo machines but none of them seemed to last as long.

    That was when I really got into serious taping. Aside from recording TV shows to watch later and movies I wanted to keep, I tried to record a lot of specials like TV promo specials which I felt I might never see again if I didn’t, and in some cases I was right. I also started to cataloged everything so I could find it. I even kept track of the black space at the end of tapes since I often shuffled things around to reuse tapes.

    Eventually, around 2000 I got a computer with a TV card and transferred everything I had on tape that I wanted to keep to disk. The machine and storage space limited the quality I could record at, but the recordings are still watchable. I started with data CDs and replaced those with data DVDs.

    I got rid of almost all my self-recorded tapes but still keep a few around if I need them. I still have most of my commercially recorded tapes, at least the ones worth keeping. Much of the stuff I tapes I replaced with better recordings later.

    I now use my computer as a PVR, particularly off-air recordings. If I do keep anything now, I convert and edit it to remove ads.

  7. Being past age 50 now, I grew up in the pre-VCR age when I had to be home to see something I wanted to watch. I remember not being able to see ABC’s HAPPY DAYS/LAVERNE & SHIRLEY/THREE’S COMPANY because of my Tuesday night Boy Scout meetings unless we had a rare week with no meeting. The first show that I had taped for me was a bowl game where my college alma mater played in 1985. I was fortunate to get our neighbors to tape it for me, since my parents didn’t get their first VCR until 1986. I would occasionally get my parents to tape shows for me, or I’d tape them myself when I visited them, as I was in college by this time.

    I started my first “real” job after college late in 1988, and the first things I had to buy for myself were a microwave oven & a VCR. 2-head VCRs were under $200 by this time, but someone (probably a store salesman) convinced me to spend over $400 for a 4-head VCR. I’m glad i spent the extra $ now, since I still have good tapes from that time, more than 30 years ago.

    Eventually I got into trading tapes of game show & other shows I’d taped, as well as old TV GUIDE issues, so I bought a 2nd VCR and stacked them 1 on the other so I could dub tapes this way both to make tapes for traders and consolidate my own shows for trade. This was long before You Tube, where I now watch most of what I don’t have, if it’s out there.

    Sometime around early 2009 I bought my first VCR/DVD recorder/player, so I recorded a few shows, like the 2009 TV Land Awards and all the 10th anniversary of WWTBAM shows, to DVD. I never have been able to rerecord to disc, and in late 2009 I got my first DVR through AT&T U-Verse, where it’s much easier to record shows for 1-time watching, like each new JEOPARDY! show, instead of taping & rerecording to tape daily. Unfortunately the DVR has limited space, and i’ve twice (in 2010 & 2014) had to have the DVR replaced, so I don’t have any shows recorded to DVR from those times before the last replacement.

    My latest “project” has been to dub most of the shows on the 100s of tapes I have from 20+ years of taping to disc, using VCR/DVD recorder, so I’ll still be able to watch them after my last VCR gives up the ghost. Unfortunately my first recorder gave out on my a few years ago, and my current recorder has been “in the shop” at least since early December, and I can no longer find these recorders in places like Walmart or any store. The repair shop when I called more than a month ago told me that the bands in the VCR part were worn out, and it’s been hard to find replacement parts. I’ll check on this again soon, as I still have at least 1 more box + to dub before I can consider my “project” done. I already have some 200+ discs dubbed, as tapes can hold 6 or 8 hours, but discs can hold only just a bit above 4 hours. I may have to “bite the bullet” and lay out about $400 for another recorder if I can find a good one.

    1. You might try pawn shops and second hand shops for machines. You should be able to find something decent for less than $100, especially if all you’re doing is transferring material since you won’t need a lot of extra features. And once you’re done with your transfers you likely won’t be using the VCR much so you don’t want to be paying too much for a new machine. But you want to make sure it works. Most shops will have a limited warranty since they often do repairs themselves.

      The bands are made of rubber which deteriorates over the decades so even the replacement parts may be unusable. What old parts that were usable have likely been used up by others repairing their old machines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.