RCA - Inspired and uninspired.

This two-part ad ran on consecutive pages of LIFE magazine in 1970. It's a good thing the identical layouts make it clear they're from the same company, because the designs couldn't be more different.

On page 72 there was the ad for RCA stereo components. Square boxes, just like every component system you'd see in every rec room for 20 years to come. Were they designed to be invisible? I hope so, because if they were, mission accomplished. The specs seem impressive, because in my experience, stereos that looked like this always sounded muddy, with five watts of power. You know. You'd pull off the foam screen from the speaker and find that, although the thing was 15 inches tall, it had one single 4" speaker cone in it? I think memories like this are a symptom of the grey market imitating the look of name brands like RCA, and we mustn't let the imitator color our impression of the real thing. Anyway... turn to page 74, and there was this:

Super cool spacey 1970s futureclockradios. I would buy the hell out of the one in the middle, closely followed by the one on the right. How could RCA design fun stuff like this at the same time they were producing ho-hum rectangles like the one above? Maybe RCA demanded people take their audio gear more seriously? I don't know. Does serious have to mean "dull and forgettable"? There were some cool looking audio systems designed in The Seventies. See?


I wonder what made RCA keep the designer on such a short leash with the audio components? The world may never know, no matter how many times you lick that lolly. I must confess to being curious how 100 watts of 1970 match-blowing music sounds, though.

Click for big.

Click for big.


Steve Miller said...

Oh, dear RCA... I actually worked two weeks on the stereo line one summer (a perk of union membership -- otherwise the plant was closed and you got no pay).

RCA may have been a great name in television at the time, however it was a mass merchandiser, and the audio "components" were "good enough." Basically, they were re-boxed versions of the junk you found in the (a-hem) home entertainment consoles; sounded better than the little TV speaker(s) -- remember, TV audio was still mono -- so the improved sound was relative.

And as a mass merchandiser, RCA might build the same (or mighty similar) model for Sears as for Monkey Wards as for some other chain or your friendly local appliance dealer, but each retail channel got their sets with their OWN model numbers to befuddle comparison shoppers.

Apple, in its dark days supplying retail chains outside the limited universe of authorized computer resellers would resort to the same monkeyshines... which was good for the vendor who produced hang tags for the manufacturers, but not for the end user.

By 1970, the small electrics -- like your lust-object clock radio -- may have been styled by a domestic designer, but produced off-shore. Or at least over the border. By the time VCRs made an impact, your RCA was built by National. With a different case, you could also choose to buy it as a Panasonic.

RCA and I would continue to dance together occasionally over the years until the sadly diminished brand was shipped part-and-parcel to China. It had lost its identity years before...

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Wow! thanks for the back story, Steve. I guess that stereo probably sounded as feeble as the design. If I saw one of those clock radios in an antique store, would I buy it? Absolutely, running or not. but, I'd be a little bummed to flip it over and find it made overseas by slaves.

Thanks for the comment, Steve!


Steve Miller said...

I'll have to dig out some of the line-and-tone TV set illos we did for RCA's newspaper ads. Worst ^$&(% place I ever worked, and that's going some. Birchers and out-right sociopaths, collectively.

Ypek said...

I do like the RCA logo, though.

Post a Comment