You think your Mobile Phone is expensive? Check out this Mobile Phone Pricing Plan from the 1980s!

When Gary Burton decided to pick up a new phone for his classic eighties car, he thought, “Why not add the ultimate eighties car accessory, the cellphone?” So he hit the antique mall and picked up the Uniden beauty you see above. That in itself is pretty great, but what he found with the phone is even more magical. A copy of the Cellular One phone plan.

As you will see, what we see as complexity in our phone plans, is nothing compared the menu of choice you had back in the eighties (I think late eighties). If you were to pick any of the plan that included minutes, they are all local and at $99.99 you are still only getting 360 of those local minutes. That doesn’t even include the $30 activation fee and what I assume are a bunch of taxes, plus whatever the phone guy is going to charge you to hook this up in your car. It makes today’s phones look simple and downright affordable by comparison. I wonder if in 30 years, people will look back at how much we pay for what we get and laugh at the simplicity of our current phones and the limitation of our phone plans? (No Mars texting included??? That is sooo shazbot!)



*Thanks to Gary for sharing this find with us and allowing us to post this here.


The Bicentennial Stereo is the last Stereo you will ever need…

Browsing old magazines and newspapers, it is amazing to see just how many people were using the United State’s 200th birthday as a flimsy excuse to sell something. I am sure they seemed like a good idea at the time, but now they really do seem like a cash grab and I love it.

Radio Shack, on the cover of their 1976 catalog offered something called The Bicentennial “Everything System”. Which they claim is the best way to kick off America’s 3rd century (with a boon, not a boom).

For $499 you get a tuner/amplifier, speakers, cassette deck with Dolby, turntable, headphones and two cassettes.

Then they end with something I do not really understand, but I really like…

“The cases and the bases. You’d better give in soon. Because you can’t beat the System!”

I assume they are referring to the stereo system, but it is so cryptic. Are they referring to the political system? Is Radio Shack trying to start a political revolution? So many questions….


Buy your Color TV at the Howard Johnson’s?

This commercial from the early eighties is pretty straightforward. A great retro graphic (see above) and a fast talking salesman giving the skinny on an upcoming sale of what are probably used color TVs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If it is so straightforward, why do I love this little snippet of retro advertising? Because my family used to go to floor model and remaindered electronics sales all the time hoping to score a cheap entertainment or life-improving option. Most of the time this ended badly for us, since they tended to make “all sales final”. Yes, it turns out a $99 air conditioner is usually too good to be true, but my first “walkman” came from such a sale and when I could afford batteries that thing ran like a champ for years. So results were mixed.

Nowadays I reckon they advertise a lot of sales like this online. That’s a shame because when you pop a fun graphic and throw it on the TV, a sale of potential junk at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge common room seems a lot more glamorous.


VideoBeam and NovaBeam Televisions and Henry Kloss

In the seventies, Henry Kloss invented the Advent Video Beam Television. It was a CRT TV projector that allowed you to watch TV on a projected screen. This wasn’t the standard projector size we are all used to nowadays. They had to put an entire TV in this unit along with the projection system. So this machine was large, but on the plus side, the early models had an amazing seventies era Sci-Fi look.


Kloss would continue to improve upon the technology and by the dawn of the eighties was selling the NovaBeam Projector. The Kloss Video Corporation would continue to iterate on this technology until the later part of the decade with the release of the Videobeam 3000. The model they would probably be selling in this ad is probably the Novabeam Model Three or maybe the Model 100. I am guessing the Three is more likely, it was available widely in 1983 and this ad is touting its advantage while watching the 1984 Olympic games on it.

Sadly the form factor for the NovaBeam was streamlined and made more “early eighties”. Meaning it was squatter, boxier and had a wood finish. Normally, I like that style, but compare to the VideoBeam…well…it ain’t gonna win a beauty contest between the two.


Henry Kloss, who passed away in 2002, was an amazingly talented engineer and business person who was instrumental in the creation of the acoustic suspension loudspeaker and the high fidelity cassette deck. For his work creating the VideoBeam, Kloss would earn a technical Emmy Award. If you don’t think that Kloss’ achievements were impressive enough at this point, he also helped found two other companies that you probably heard of, Cambridge SoundWorks and Tivoli Audio.

I have never seen a VideoBean or NovaBeam in action, although I have seen a couple of them for sale at Flea Markets. The Video Beam is hard to miss because of its size and design style. Unfortunately everyone who I have found selling them has wanted more money than I am willing to spend on old tech. Still I keep my eyes open, because you never know when a good deal is going to pop up. And even if I might not pull the trigger on a purchase, I can still appreciate the find and the learning that accompanies it.


RB5X the Personal Robot

I am nutty about robots. As a kid I have always wanted one and as an adult I have kept a close eye on the robot world looking for a bot that will finally be the electronic best friend I have always wanted. Over the years some robots have caused more of an infatuation than others. In the mid eighties, one of those robots was RB5X by the RB Robot Corporation. I would like to say I wanted him because I thought his capabilities were impressive, and they were for the time period.

No, I wanted RB5X because he kind of looked like one of the coolest robots to ever grace the big screen, R2-D2. Yes, it was just that simple. I wanted to live the Star Wars lifestyle and most of the commercial bots I saw did not resemble Artoo or Threepio, but RB5X with his domed head and cylinder body fit the bill perfectly. Plus it didn’t hurt that this particular piece of tech was featured on the arcade game show, “Starcade“.

Here we see a report about RB5X from 1984, when the promise of a robotic future still seemed likely.

Nowadays RB5X is still being manufactured and the capabilities have improved. This fabulous bot has infrared sensing, ultrasound sonar, 8 sensors/bumpers, voice synthesizer, and an optional 5 axis armature that can lift a full pound. It can also play interactive games with up to 8 people and programs can be written and downloaded from any computer including Macintosh, DOS, Windows and Linux/Unix. Plus it still looks awesome.


Phone Centers … The Business of the ’80’s

I have mentioned my infatuation with novelty phones a few times on the site, but for those who have not read some of my past rantings on the subject here is a quick summary. I wanted colorful quirky plastic novelty phones, but I came from a family that made its living through the phone company. So we would not waste our money on the weird, but awesome phones. No, we always had the bare bones sturdy models that would last for decades (and they did).

While it made fiscal sense, it was a constant struggle for my parents, who put up with me begging for a Mickey Mouse phone for the better part of a decade. You would think I would learn after the first couple of years that I was not going to get one, but these phones were so in my face all the time that it was hard for me to even try to switch tracks and consider a world where I would not be staring at Mickey while calling my Nana to thank her for the 5 dollars she included in my birthday card.

It wasn’t just that they were on TV. Oh, and they were on TV a lot in both commercials and in shows. It was the stores that were popping up in malls throughout the country. Stores like “Just Phones”, which the above ad is from showed up seemingly overnight and quickly became a “must visit” location on our shopping trip along with the arcade, toy store, pet store, etc (no wonder our trips to the mall required a meal, we must have been there for about 18 hours each visit).

What I did in the store each time still has me scratching my head because each time it was exactly the same and yet it never seemed to get old. I would run into the store. Find my favorite phone and then I would pretend to make a call, appreciate the design and style, pretend to make another call, note the price and then run to the next phone. At the end of the process, I would go find my Mother, who was usually smoking a cigarette by a fountain and explain to her which of these phones was the best and why we should buy one immediately. She would nod her head and then instead of dismissing me outright she would say, maybe for Christmas or your birthday. Which is a brilliant parenting move. Especially when your kid has the attention span of a gnat, which I did.

I would never get those phones of my dreams when I was a kid, but I always kept dreaming. By the time the last phone stores started to close up shop, I had moved onto my obsession with computers. My parents were smart to not buy me that phone. In the end, the classic phone models were good enough for me. Plus they needed to save that money for when I put my begging and whining into overdrive to get my hands on a Commodore 64 (a much better use of money).


Akai, for the most Avant Garde fans of of Stereo Equipment

I find this late seventies commercial for Akai stereo equipment to be confusing and indulgent. So naturally it is now my favorite thing in the world. It feels like they had a few actors show up and they told them to act artsy. This sort of behavior seemed to peak in the eighties, but for my money, the stuff they did in the seventies was much better.

If you wondering if my favorite member of the “Akai Stereo Players” is, its laser hand mirror guy.