November 2011. A coldish, dreary month at best, though fitting that this is the one whereby I have chosen to lay you, my dear friend, to rest. Sony VCR, sometimes referred to as The VCR, or humorously “the vicar”, not unlike your predecessors, your usefulness has long gone and frankly, leaving you plugged in is wasteful and rather morbid. Goodbye friend. No, I will not even be keeping your around for parts because your replacement is called Flash Memory and does not need your organ donation to remain viable throughout the coming years.
Autumn, 1979. When I was a teenager in the very early eighties, my grandfather, following his and his father’s proclivity toward new technology, purchased a top loading Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) and called us to his portion of the house for a sort of celebration. My parents, my sister, my grandmother and I all stood or sat in his cluttered huge Victorian livingroom, the multitude of chairs and couches aligned in such a way as top provide all but two seats full view of his new television and the VCR. It was a silver and grey device, top loading, with greenish LED letters on the front that flashed 12:00 over and over until I three days later set the time. As we watched, he pressed a button that caused a portion of the top of the large device to open upward. Carefully, he loaded a T-60 video cassette (Video Home System or VHS) into the top, pressed down the spring and hinges of the internal works by way of the cover until it was cloased with a click. The whirring from within were heard to engage and at his instruction we stepped backward.
My grandfather selected a television channel, a football game if I remember correctly, and then pressed the red “record” button. A series of clicks and more whirring occurred and we waited, watching the game, wondering exactly what we were waiting for silently, a few confused looks passing back and forth between us. After sixty seconds, one full minute, my grandfather pressed a black square “stop” button, the left pointing arrow “rewind” button and following more rapid, high pitched whirrings followed by a resounding clunk, nothing. He pressed the right pointing triangle, making sure I knew what he was doing, and after a few seconds of screen lineage and noises, static. The television displayed noise, snow, static.
Swearing ensued and we all stepped back for a while as he and my father proceeded to attempt to solve the issue, the failure to launch, and after a few more, I said aloud “it’s supposed to be on channel three”. They switched the television channel and I corrected them again before they attempted another demonstration bound to fail that it was the channel on the VCR that needed to be on three to sounds of derision and “kids..”. A second successful attempt later and we were firmly as a family in the future.
This feeling was not new to us. Our family were one of the first to own colour television, first to own a microwave, in my small city hometown. We like new things always have, whether we were suited to be able to comprehend their proper use or not. Hell, my grandfather even tried to create new technical devices in his workshop, melding one appliance with another, often with sparks and disastrously messy results.
Up until this time, for a good year before, we had rented a VCR at a cost of $25 a weekend from Clark Stuarts Furniture which existed a block from our home in a small city in southeast Ontario. For that price we received a unit and all cabling along with four movies for three nights. Late charges were $5 or $10 depending on how late you were, though we never paid this due top my father’s friendship with someone at the store, which was good because most often we also rented a further couple of movies and rarely had them finished by the end of the weekend. Being notoriously cheap in some areas and crazy spendthrifts in others, the idea of saving $25 a week by spending $800 seemed logical at the time.
I had always watched many, many movies throughout the week, ever week from my very early years for much of my younger life. Having a player in our home only added to the volume of flicks to be reviewed by yours truly and I assure you I made full use of it. I was able to record shows on late at night after I had gone to bed so long as nobody messed with the settings, which was never guaranteed given my father’s lack of technical abilities. In the good old days, I owned two players thereby allowing me to rent movies that I truly loved and record them onto another. Piracy was so innocent back then. Yar.
Over the years, I have probably owned and worn out five different VCRs of my own, the most recent being maybe five years old. In recent times, I have attempted with varying success to record TV shows but due to my lack of desire to purchase new video cassettes (can you still do that?) I have had to dig through boxes to find one, then another that still worked. Last show recorded was River Monsters last May and it only was partially watchable as the tape stopped recording after 30 minutes. For the majority of the past four years the VCR has really only been a conduit for the Wii which had three colour RCA cabling and we had no more available ports into the televisions. Poor VCR, it was merely a catalyst for my video gaming.
The new television is a gem, a joy, a forty inch flat screen wall mounted marvel, with a million inputs and we will be finally getting a PVR receiver for our dish signal. There is therefore no need for a VCR conduit for gaming or a VCR for recording. Its use, like my old Visor palm device, my pile of old cell phones, old remotes, cabling for defunct computer hardware, old printers, Sega Genesis and other sundry dead technology, is over.
Goodbye VCR. I knew you well.