5/19/10

Magnavox Radio Phonograph Television - A little entertainment.

Holiday magazine was clearly a rag for the rich. After all, it was a magazine all about travel and perpetual vacationing. The ads that fill the pages are those for luxury items like his and hers luggage, high-end booze (LOTS of ads for booze), and boats. It's no surprise, then, that in 1949 a television was kind of an expensive indulgence. Just for fun, let's run some numbers.

I did these calculations using the online inflation calculator, which is a fun little tool. Okay, hold on to your hats. First, you buy the radio-phonograph for the modern equivalent of $1,598 to $7,968. At any time after the purchase, you can add a TV receiver for anywhere from $2,667 to $8,458.

So, depending on how cushy your postwar job was and how much you liked your Howdy Doody, you could have one of these in your living room for as little as $4,265 for the base model or $16,427 if you wanted the really nice one. I wonder if the "scared robot face" cabinet was only available on the expensive model. Maybe the robot face just found out how much you paid for him?

But look what you got for your (median price of) $8,213. First, there's what looks to be a ten inch screen. Then there's the tube-based receiver and amplifier. By the way, tubes are still used today in guitar amps. They have a particular sound that some musicians find irreproducible by any other means. That's as may be, but tubes were horrible for anything other than gathering lint and burning your fingers.

My family had a tube TV that my dad built from a kit. They looked like sausage shaped light bulbs, and if I recall, our TV had maybe ten of them back there on the circuit board, and they were perpetually covered with fuzz and dust. Tubes generate a lot of  heat, and you had to keep them relatively clean or they could overheat and burn out prematurely. If a tube burnt out, dad had to pull the set away from the wall and take the back off the cabinet. Sometimes you could tell which one was dead just by looking at it, but more often than not, you had to pull out each one and put it in a tube tester. Yep. There was a special instrument that would tell you if a tube was good or not.

Tube testers cost the modern equivalent of $360, and many people couldn't justify the expense of owning one, but that was okay, because the local hardware store usually had a tube testing station right next to the display of replacement tubes. So, you pulled out all your tubes (probably) and carried them down to the Ace store where you tested each one, bought a replacement, and humped the whole mess home and reinstalled them in your $8,213 television... hopefully NOT knocking loose some other component in the process. Whee.

So what was on TV in 1949? Bozo the clown debuted, for instance.Then there was the aforementioned Howdy Doody. There were variety shows, usually involving singing or comedy sketches. Various dramas, Candid Camera, which is basically still being imitated today, and Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which is basically still being even more imitated today. All in all, Wikipedia lists 73 different shows, which is more than I expected.

By contrast, you can buy a 26 inch LCD high def TV today for $500. That's about $55 in 1949. Plus, the thing will basically run for a decade, which is much longer than you'll want it to. Most people with six thousand pound CRT TVs can't wait for them to die so they can get a better, lighter flat panel TV. Few people will replace a CRT TV before it dies because they dread the ordeal of trying to move it. CRT TVs were made out of neutron star material, which has the density of the entire human population condensed into the size of a sugar cube. When it failed, my old 32" CRT simply underwent gravitational collapse and became a black hole. I ran like hell.

Hilariously enough, color TV was introduced in August of 1949. This Magnavox ad is from January of the same year, so the lucky people who spent $16,000 on a premium black and white TV console could look forward to it being made obsolete by the first color sets that appeared later that year, and cost $1000 (about the same as the "premium" B/W tuner from Magnavox) at the time, or $8,900 today. Ouch.

2 comments:

Phil said...

Fantastic history lesson!
You know, in 1950 they offered a fledgling version of what we now know as 'TIVO'. For a sum which roughly equates to $18,000/ year in todays dollars, you could pay a member of an immigrant family, the Tivocheskys, to watch your boob tube 24-7. When you got home from work, you would simply ask he or she to relate the subject matter of this show or that, as best as they could. Few were sold, however, and the TIVO fell into obscurity for the next 60 years.

Phil Are Go! said...

This explains the overnight popularity of "Evening man talking in front of curtain show" and "Foolish red head woman program".

Thanksfor commenting, Dopphilganger.

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