Hello everyone. Today I am writing my story on having a VCR in my house while I was growing up in Chicago in the 80s and 90s. VCR stands for Videocassette Recorder, but it was much easier to say VCR. If you would mention the acronym VCR to any millennials, they would either look bewildered, and they would call it an old relic from the past. In those days, the VCR and the VHS movies were part of our lives every day.
As I remembered, our family didn’t get our first VCR until 1984. We were living in the Ashburn neighborhood of Chicago at the time, and it was an innovative way to entertain ourselves at home. They were two video formats in the 70s that were competing with each other for years. They were Video Home Systems (VHS) and the Betamax. VHS was the most popular, and Betamax lost its popularity down the road. Production of Betamax tapes and recorders ended production in the late 2000s. I have only once watched a movie on a Betamax recorder, and I remembered the picture on the TV screen had much clarity. Those tapes and recorders are very rare, and most are sold on eBay.
The first VCR we bought was a Panasonic Omnivision VHS VCR Model PV-1220 and was purchased at Video King. It was located at 5207 West 95th St in Oak Lawn, IL. My parents didn’t understand this new technology at the time and said to my brothers and me that they wouldn’t last. They were two video stores near our house at the time. One was, Classic Sound & Video on W 79th St, near Kedzie Ave, and the other one was Windy City Video which was located at W 83rd Place and S Pulaski Rd. I have a Facebook page of the two video stores that I mentioned. We frequently rented videos at the Windy City Video. I remembered being a good size store and had a great selection of videos on display. I also remembered the adult movies section in the back. I was 21 at the time, but there was a huge man there, guarding the section. His presence was too intimidating for me.
Not only we rented movies on our VCR, but we also recorded TV shows. I have a few shows on some VHS being somewhere in my closet. They were three speeds on the VCR, SP, LP, and SLP. The SP had the best picture quality, while SLP, was adequate. Recording two shows at the same time weren’t possible. You had to get another VCR for the other TV Set in your house, or if you had just one TV, you would watch one show and the other show you recorded, you would watch later.
People in those days had video collections in their homes. Whether it was on VHS or Betamax, they were great keepsakes. Blockbuster Video opened one near our house in November 1986 at West 87th St and S Cicero Ave in Hometown, IL. I remembered that store being so huge. They had movies to rent and to purchase. The employees dressed in blue and always greeted you when you entered the store. They also sold popcorn, candy, soft drinks, blank VHS tapes, and the ever-popular, VCR Video Tape Cleaner. We always had those in our house.
Over the years, we bought more VCRs. Sometimes if you insert a cassette, it would be eaten, and the tape would get all tangled up. That was a big pain if you had a show or movie recorded or a movie you just bought. It seemed like VCRs would get worn out very quickly over the years. And the motto was, “Be Kind and Rewind.” That sticker was always on the tapes and displayed at most video stores.
The VCR ended production in the United States in 2008 and Japan in 2016. The last VCR I bought was in the early 2000s. I still have it, but it isn’t plugged in, because I have a DVD player. The DVD player was introduced in 1997, but I didn’t buy one until 2002. That one lasted fifteen years.
These days, VHS movies are considered clunky, and the picture quality isn’t Blu-ray or 4k. Streaming is very popular these days. But I like to have physical media. Streaming doesn’t have the extras on the DVDs. VHS tapes didn’t have extras. It only had coming attractions for other movies at the beginning that you can fast-forward.
There is a slim chance that VHS movies would make a comeback someday. Just like music on vinyl records, which made a remarkable comeback in recent years. Also, your VHS movies that you collected over the years would be worth a lot of money today. The artwork on most videos was beautiful back then. We will see.
The one thing I miss the most during the VCR age was browsing in the video stores. Just like bookstores, it was enjoyable, relaxing to read the back of the videotapes. The plot description, the cast, and the running times of the movies. It was fun in those days. Thank you. Pete Kastanes, Admin for Vanished Chicagoland Facebook Page.