I remember when my parents bought our very first VCR, sometime around 1977. It cost about $800, which was about what my mom made in a month at the time in her job working in a credit union, and at the time was likely the most expensive single item in our house.
So, it was a major family event…
It was a top-loader and looked a lot like this one (although this VCR is a Betamax ours was VHS). It had bogo-wood trim, a glowing clock, and was a big, heavy thing that looked worthy of such a princely sum.
And it was in many ways the first big “tech revolution” that actually directly impacted my life in ways that I was aware of as a kid.
Before the VCR, a TV was basically a radio with pictures. You had a TV Guide (or the TV listing from the local paper, which you used if your parents didn’t want to pay extra for TV listings), and carefully managed your evening based on what was in the listings.
If there was a hot new show or a major sporting event, you stayed home to watch it. It was also a big deal if there was a Hollywood movie of any quality on broadcast TV; you’d make darn sure you were at home when it was on, and you felt a bit like you were stealing something (even if the bad words were edited out and you had to sit through enough commercials to make a 100 minute movie run for 3 hours).
We were relatively lucky compared to many in that we got all 3 big networks, PBS, and three independent UHF channels without needing to do too many contortions to the rabbit ears to make it work. So we had at least a bit of selection.
Cable television helped a bit by adding channels and - especially - adding more movies, but a minor detail was we didn’t have cable TV in our area. Fortunately, my grandparents did, so we’d go to their house to watch movies on weekends.
I often planned my day as a kid around my favorite shows: Flintstones at 3, Star Trek at 6, play outside in between, homework after, followed by whatever was on at Prime time, when everyone would gather in the living room and watch (although I was bookish enough that if the show wasn’t compelling, I’d go read in my room - especially when Dallas was on, which my mom loved but I hated)…
The VCR changed all that.
Suddenly, you could actually record shows! And you could rent - and even buy! - movies!
A whole new world of freedom and flexibility opened up, and I could record my favorite shows or TV events and watch them when I wanted. I could even get recordings from my friends.
A pilgrimage to the video store to rent movies for the weekend became a standard thing-to-do on Friday afternoon - followed by returning the movies Monday morning (making sure the VCR tapes were rewound so you wouldn’t be charged extra).
We still watched cable shows at my grandparents, but they also came to our house sometimes for dinner and a rented movie.
I found that old VCR in a plastic bag in the garage while cleaning out mom’s house after she died, and it launched a tsunami of childhood memories.