9/10/10

Zenith Black Magic - Huge sign.

Here's a fairly gorgeous painted ad for Zenith's Black Magic line of TVs. The artist is uncredited, but it looks like Haddon Sundblom to me. Since the ad ran in the Dec 5th issue of Look magazine, Christmas ads are plentiful. This ad shows us an apparently well-to-do couple having guests over to watch their new TV... sort of like a party. I guess that makes sense. A TV like this was pretty impressive in a 1950 home. It'd be like having a holographic TV today. You bet you'd invite your friends over to see it.

This TV set is called "Black Magic", which is surprising to see. It's hard for me to imagine any product making it to market today with a name like that. In 1950, Exotica was still a popular trend in music, and imagery of primitive cultures was fun to play around with, so maybe that explains the name. If LG marketed a TV called Black Magic this year, the factory would be burned to the ground by devout Christians wishing to promote the brotherly love, peace and understanding taught to them by their "holy book".

Speaking of factories, Zenith was a big presence in Chicago, and had a huge distribution center out on the west side, right off I-294, in Northlake. I drive past the old Zenith sign every day on my way to work. The gigantic sign was a Chicago landmark for years, but Zenith was bought out by LG in 1995, and by 2007 or so, the sign went out. To give you some sense of the sign's scale, each of those bulbs is an industrial flood lamp, which are about the size of a grapefruit. It must have been expensive to run. Here's a picture of the Zenith sign on Flickr in a still-functional state.
 You can still see the sign in Google maps, here...


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The ad also briefly mentions "Phonevision". "What the hell is/was Phonevision? Hurry up and tell me, you jerk!" you say? Calm down, I'm getting to that. It was Zenith's pie-in-the-sky attempt at pay TV. That's dreaming pretty big  for 1950. Basically, you'd call Zenith and ask for a movie, then Zenith would send your set-top box a signal, via the phone line,  that would allow it to descramble the signal. A $1 charge would appear on your phone bill, which comes out to about $9 today. Phonevision was first  tested in Chicago, and then here and there around the world, but never got any real traction. Nice try, Zenith. People just weren't ready for pay TV.

3 comments:

Phil said...

Wow, Phonevision! You could knock me over with a feather. That is a damn cool nugget of trivia, Mr. Go. Call me a dork (the line starts over there), but I have a fascination with American Pop culture that loves to be fed. That was a fine snack indeed.

Bowler said...

I miss the sign. I know it's still there (I pass it everyday, too), but I miss the huge letters.

Phil Are Go! said...

Phil: I didn't know about Phone Vision either until I read the little tag line at the bottom of the ad. Curiosity made me check it out on WPedia. The name alone suggests how absurdly ambitious it was, and the reality did not disappoint.

Steve: I agree. Even though I knew Zenith was defunct, and even though I would be wary today of any TV branded Zenith if the company were still around, I also miss the giant letters.

Thanks for reading, guys!

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