Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35′s Annual Christmas Eve Broadcasts of Scrooge & Beyond Tomorrow (1999)

Remember my article detailing WAOH/WAX‘s annual Halloween broadcast of the original Night Of The Living Dead? Well, “The Cat” didn’t just go the extra mile for Halloween. Nope, they loved them some Christmas, too. Relatively speaking, they went all out. For years, every Christmas Eve they would play the 1935 version of Scrooge and 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. And to make it all feel that much more special, both movies were commercial-free. Considering The Cat just loved to play cheapo mail-order CD ads over and over during the day and dirty, dirty phone chat line commercials ad infinitum during the night, them running not one but TWO movies commercial-free was a pretty big deal. I guess. ‘Course, a highly suggestive phone chat commercial would have really put a damper on the ostensibly family-friendly holiday spirit had it aired during Scrooge; them cats at The Cat were clearly usin’ their noodles when they decided to go the commercial-free route.

Much to my chagrin, I don’t have an actual promo for this Christmas Eve event; if I did, that’s what you’d be reading about right now. I’m pretty sure they ran them, though, and truth be told, I have so many recordings from The Cat that I may actually have one somewhere after all, but for the time being, no promos. I do, however, have the intros to Scrooge and Beyond Tomorrow. I recorded Scrooge in it’s entirety, but only the start of Beyond Tomorrow is on my tape. That being as it is, this post will be pretty Scrooge-centric. I sincerely hope that’s the only time I ever have to write something that stupid again.

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As the screencap above attests, the entire commercial-free evening was sponsored by Whole Shop Inc., who are still around, and I’ve even been to their place of business before. Indeed, most of the intro is taken up by a pitch for Whole Shop, but since they were gracious enough to sponsor the whole thing, you could and should be courteous enough to listen up. Well, in this case, visit their website.

Scrooge and Beyond Tomorrow are both incredibly, unbelievably, undoubtedly public domain, and thus probably quite easy for The Cat to obtain (this event was done by the station itself, rather than being syndicated content from America One, which The Cat relied on much of the time otherwise). Indeed, their PD-status has allowed them to be released over and over and over again on any number of budget VHS or DVD releases. I could go out and buy a ‘legit’ copy of either righnah aswespeak if I so desired, but I’m more than satisfied with my Cat broadcast of Scrooge, and nothing you say can change that.

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Following the Whole Shop Inc. pitch is the most hype we’re gonna get for Scrooge during this intro: “Now, gather up your family and enjoy our special, commercial-free presentation of Scrooge! Here on The Cat, channels 35 and 29!” Somehow, I have a hard time seeing anyone gathering up the kids and sitting down together on the couch to watch a scratchy, black & white British creaker from 1935 on a low-power independent station that probably isn’t even picked up in large parts of the area, but hey, it’s a nice sentiment.

In all fairness though, I do have fond memories tied to this/these Christmas Eve broadcasts. Scrooge itself, sure, but more because of the atmosphere it was part of rather than the actual movie. Back then, Mom would turn off all the lamps, and the living room would be illuminated only by the lights on the Christmas tree, and Scrooge played hazily in the background while any final preparations for the following big day were made. I was long past the “Santa is COMING I’llneverfallasleep!” age, but there was of course still anticipation for Christmas, while conversely the atmosphere was also relaxed. I don’t know, maybe it’s impossible to put into words my feelings of nostalgia for the time period, but nevertheless it’s a time period I do indeed hold fond memories for. And Seymour Hicks was a part of it all.

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It’s quite possibly the most trashed print of Scrooge ever! The whole film doesn’t look at bad as the opening moments do, but no one would have ever mistook this for archival quality material.

This recording was of the “third time’s the charm variety” for me. I first saw this Christmas Eve broadcast during the 1997 season; I wasn’t taping it that particular time, and in the days before DVRs, if you weren’t taping then and there, baby, you was outta luck. The next year, I did record it, or at least tried to. We were using a remote that handled both the TV and VCR, and I think my Dad hit something while trying to turn the channel, because the recording cut-out-and-then-back-in shortly after starting. I wasn’t real pleased about that. Luckily, 1999 went off without a hitch, and this whole stupid post is brought to you courtesy of that recording (fittingly, the tape this is on also features The Ghoul’s 1999 broadcast of, say it with me, Scrooge! The very same 1935 version, albeit a print in slightly better shape).

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This version of Scrooge is also host to the world’s biggest lint-in-the-projector moment. Lookit that fella makin’ his way up the right side of the frame like a champ! I really have no idea why I’m wasting space on this insignificant aspect of the broadcast. I think this is what they in the industry call “filler.”

Beyond Tomorrow immediately followed the conclusion of Scrooge:

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The intro was almost identical to Scrooge‘s, albeit with the obvious footage difference. “Now, gather up your family and enjoy our special, commercial-free presentation of Beyond Tomorrow! Here on The Cat, channels 35 and 29!” I have a feeling even more people ignored the family invitation for Beyond Tomorrow than they did Scrooge. I mean, I guess in theory I could see parents wanting their kids to see an old classic version of A Christmas Carol, but I’m guessing a significantly fewer number would have cared about Beyond Tomorrow. I mean, people know of it, but it’s not exactly up there with It’s A Wonderful life in popularity.

As for me, I’m casually familiar with the film, but I’ve just never had much interest in watching it. Maybe that’s unfair to the movie, I know, but I’m not going to lie to you; I just don’t really care about Beyond Tomorrow, which is why I never bothered to record the whole thing like I did Scrooge (also, I think I have at least the opening credits still on tape, but that would require back-breakin’ tape-diggin’ in order to unearth, and considering only three people are going to care about this post anyway, I’m going to risk the ire of those three and skip the Beyond Tomorrow screencaps. I know, I know, bah humbug).

WAOH/WAX ran these Christmas Eve broadcasts for years, though I don’t know when then began or ended. Maybe they ended with the affiliate-switch to RTV in 2009. Nevertheless, in their own small way, these airings became a kind of part of my yearly Christmas holiday. Not that I ever sat there hardly daring to blink in anticipation for them, but they were indeed a comforting little something ‘extra’ each holiday season. Maybe that’s all they were intended to be, and if they weren’t, maybe that was enough anyway.

Have a great Christmas Eve and a wonderful tomorrow (I’ve got a Christmas Day surprise lined up for y’all, as well.)

UAV’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians 1987 VHS Release

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Tis the season? For one of the worst movies ever made it certainly is. If I’m gonna get a post out of this one, baby, the time is now. It’s 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a movie that not only lives up to the promise of awfulness delivered in the title, but actually surpasses it. It’s widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and make no mistake, that ranking is justified. It’s not so much an ‘offensive’ bad though; don’t get me wrong, it’s probably capable of killing a few brain cells, but you probably won’t feel like taking a shower afterwards, like you would if this were Manos: The Hands Of Fate or something.

Back in the good old days of late-1990’s Ebay, before films like this were reissued on DVD, I remember this (and other) copies of the movie going for some good dollars. Maybe not mighty dollars, but definitely mightier dollars. It was the same deal with any number of old then-long-out-of-print videos, such as Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis, and the VHS release of the M*A*S*H series finale (and Heaven help you if you wanted a Laserdisc copy of any of those, because then you would need to spend the mighty dollars). Nowadays, you’d be lucky to get even a few bucks for VHS copies of those, but back then, you’d have to pry open the wallet a bit. I know I certainly did, particularly in the case of Moroder’s Metropolis.

When I found this particular copy at Goodwill for the low, low bargain price of $1, those days were long gone, but I still received a residual thrill when I came across it. And what makes it even better is that this copy is sealed, all new and minty fresh-like. This post won’t be the last time you see me talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians this holiday season (and I know just saying that now obligates me to a future post that at this point is still only a half-formed idea, but sometimes I need that extra incentive), so I don’t really want to open & play it to take screencaps; how many new sealed copies can still be out there nowadays? Plus, it’s out on DVD (I have a budget copy with the title Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens), and it’s public domain, so you can even download it without fear of the authorities kicking down your door and beating the hell out of you, which is always preferable. My point is, the actual movie is readily available if you want to see it, so lets just look at the finer points of this stupid tape.

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Ignoring the gaudy cover photo, which, if the title somehow didn’t tip you off, points definitively to the fact that this is an awful, awful movie, my favorite part of the cover is actually the Christmas banner at the top. As if this is a heartwarming tape you’d want to bust out every Christmas Eve and watch with the kids or something. Theoretically meant to be a treasured part of your Christmas library, suitable for placement next to Rudolph and Chuck Brown, if you will. There’s also the declaration of “Christmas Videos,” which is just awkward as all hell; is that the best they could come up with? I get it was probably a budget line of seasonal tapes or something, but geez, say “Treasury Of Christmas Classics,” or “Holiday Film Favorites,” or even a quirky “Santa’s Top Flix Pix” (I should be getting a million dollars a week for these ideas). As it stands, the horribly generic “Christmas Videos” works more as a lame descriptive device than it does as a vehicle to get you to add this tape to yer videa library (didn’t stop me from buying it, obviously).

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Of course, ragging on the front cover is really just me being a nitpicky bastard. The back of the box, though, they make it too easy. The description reeks of half-assery. “A bunch of aliens,” huh? That’s the best they could kick things off with? My high school English teacher would have punched me in the face if I turned in a paper that included a line like that. I guess you shouldn’t expect much out of a description that is five sentences long and wastes one of them on Pia Zadora. I get that her name is almost always a big selling-point for releases of this film, and it’s not so much the inclusion of it that bothers me. Rather, it’s the whole “precocious” remark that I find particularly irritating. Never mind that her character isn’t really any more precocious than any of the other kids in the movie (maybe even less so, when compared to the Earth kids), it’s just an odd comment in general. “Oh, Pia Zadora is precocious in this? Well, I had my doubts, but now I’ve gotta buy it!” Seriously, why even bother including that? On the plus side, the first part of the description sums up the film aptly, which is good, because it saves me time trying to explain this crap.

But, maybe I’m being a little harsh on a thousand year old budget tape. It was meant for the lil’ baby childrens, after all. And when you’ve got a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, you have to do what you can to make the sale. Maybe it was easier back then, before the innernets, when all you had was Leonard Maltin and his cronies to tell you about ancient movies such as this. Something tells me most parents weren’t consulting Mr. Maltin’s annual movie guide prior to heading to K-Mart where tapes such as this were inevitably found.

“A must for your Christmas video library.” Ha! Told you that’s what they were going for! The best thing about that whole “Christmas Library” ideal actually isn’t even part of this particular video. Rather, there were other VHS releases of Santa Claus Kicks Martian Ass Conquers The Martians that really took the theme to new heights. I don’t have ’em, and thus can’t post photos (I refuse to nab another person’s pics), but some of them went all-out. Ribbons & bows, Santa on his sleigh, and so on. I feel a little cheated on that front, but screw it, mine’s sealed.

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I did done told you it was sealed! Would I lie to you? Never! The fear remains that this could have been opened and re-shrinkwrapped at some point in the past, a revelation that would cause me to lose sleep for several weeks days. But, I doubt it. The box is in too nice of shape.

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That be it, Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, via UAV’s 1987 VHS release. For all of my joking, the film has become a perennial holiday favorite. Not for the reasons the producers probably would have intended, mind you. This isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life Part II. Rather, it has instead become the choice of bad movie lovers the world over, having gained a cult following that’s really quite impressive, especially for a film that isn’t the original Night Of The Living Dead. Mystery Science Theater 3000 once tackled it, and for years it was the movie featured in Son of Ghoul’s annual Christmas show. Only the 1959 Mexican Santa Claus holds a similar dubious honor, conversely The Ghoul’s annual Christmas movie choice (and MST3K riffed that one, too). Of the two, I prefer …Martians, if for no other reason than I find it less freakish, but suitably oddball nevertheless. Plus, the persistent rumor that Jamie Farr is in it makes the film all the more endearing to me (no, Klinger’s not really in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, but I sure wish he was; such is my love of M*A*S*H).

Sony Mega Watchman Model No. FD-555 (1991)

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Lookit this cool beast! It’s Sony’s Mega Watchman FD-555! This is early-1990’s technology at its best. Not only do we have a TV and AM/FM radio, but also a cassette player. The large speakers and the presence of a surround sound button make it clear: this ain’t no regular radio! This sucker is a legit boom box! And if it’s not, it certainly aspires to be!

This guy is kinda sorta similar to the Panasonic Desktop TV/Clock Radio I reviewed back in September. I had this Watchman loooong before I had the Panasonic, but I think I like the Panasonic more: it’s older, it has a cool mirrored clock thing, and fake woodgrain, all aspects that fill me with glee. The Panasonic gives the impression of something a businessperson, college student, or high school kid would keep on his/her desk and turn on during late night whatever sessions. This Sony Watchman, on the other hand, feels like something that should be used in the garage while someone works on a car, which is unfortunate in my case, because me working on a car is recipe for total carnage and/or bloody tragedy. On the other hand, being from the sweet spot of the early-90’s, 1991, this Mega Watchman also seems like it’s well-suited to being carried down the street, blaring the latest smash hit single on cassette tape, while you and your backwards-hat-wearing hoodlum friends look for shenanigans to cause. And when you were done creating a ruckus, you could watch Blossom.

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The flash on my camera illuminates every lil’ thing I thought I had cleaned off. Aside from dust in some of the crevices and sticker residue that refuses to leave the top of the cassette player, this thing is actually pretty clean, honest! I love the sleek look and black coloring, and the presence of the old “It’s a Sony” logo is always the mark of something I want to hold during the night.

Oddly enough, there’s no clock anywhere on it. A digital clock somewhere seems like it couldn’t have been too hard to add, but I guess the ability to tell time had to be sacrificed in order for you to listen to the Too Legit To Quit cassette whenever you damn well pleased.

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The back. I forgot to take a picture with the handle extended, but I’m sure you can imagine how that works. There’s a  few various ports, including one for an external antenna, as well as vertical hold controls. The cord can be unplugged from the unit and eight size-D batteries (a bottom-compartment, which I also forgot to take a picture of) used instead, which is helpful, because otherwise, the whole “portable” motif would fly right into the toilet. There’s also a port for a DC adapter, which seems a bit superfluous since you already have a plug and the ability to take batteries, but I guess they wanted their bases covered.

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Damn dude, August 1991. I was all of five years old! The early-90’s are at the tail-end of my personal preferred electronics-picking period. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy anything if I find it interesting (and cheap enough), but I generally want the things from the early-1990’s (1990-1993) on down, and particularly the stuff from the 1980’s or before.

That said, with the rounded curves, big ass speakers and revolutionary surround sound technology, this is certainly a nice example of early-90’s electronics, and it probably wasn’t cheap, either. I’m not saying it would set you back too much, provided you weren’t only relying on allowance or grass-cutting funds, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a budget item, either.

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The TV (and radio) both work perfectly. Since everything is digital now, it goes without saying that I’m not actually picking up any TV channels. I suppose if you took advantage of the external antenna jack, you might be able to rig this thing to play real television, but I really have no idea, and while I like my Sony Watchman, I’m not that interested in going to extreme lengths to make it “go.”

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I’ve had this unit for years, and while I tested the radio and TV functions when I got it (at least I guess I did, it’s been awhile), I had no idea if the cassette player worked until today when I decided to do this review. Now, the old GE clock-radio by my bed has a cassette player, and for quite awhile I liked to fall asleep to certain tapes. Unfortunately, the player died, leaving me at the mercy of the radio. That being as it is, provided this Watchman’s cassette player works (he typed as if he didn’t know the outcome already), I could conceivably haul this thing upstairs and once again fall asleep to The Ghost Of Tom Joad. I probably won’t, but I could.

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I grabbed a few cassettes laying around for testing purposes. The first one I put in was Billy Joel’s The Stranger, not so much because I had a burning desire to listen to an album I also own on other, better formats, but rather because if the Watchman ate the tape, I wouldn’t be pissed. Sorry Billy, I like you, but when it comes to Mega Watchman-testin’, you’re expendable.

To my everlasting joy, the cassette player works! Like a champ! I’m not all that surprised though, Sony has always put out a quality product; it’s one of my more trusted brands when it comes to old crap like this. However, the sound of the cassette was insanely muffled. Had the tape been played into the ground, or was the cassette player itself at fault? Further testing was required.

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Next up: Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which is in my top ten all-time favorite albums. Bruce put my fears to rest (as he so often does), because the sound quality was much better. A little spotty, someone obviously played the tape quite a bit (as well they should), but the difference in sound quality was very evident. This means I can old school party to “Sherry Darling” whenever I like! Or rather, whenever I don’t feel like messing with my turntable. Northeast Ohio Video Hunter top tip: The River sounds best when played via a nice vinyl. In comparison, the CD pressing is in desperate need of a remastering. I’m no audiophile and even I can plainly hear the difference (and I’m far from the first to point that out). But, I digress.

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Still not satisfied, I decided on one last test: The Michael Stanley Band’s You Can’t Fight Fashion. This is an XDR (Expanded Dynanic Range) cassette, and man, the sound quality was terrific, this Watchman is capable of producing some great sound output! One of the benefits of being a Northeast Ohioan is that we’ve got our hometown hero, Michael Stanley, and Fashion is right up there with Heartland as my favorite MSB album. You’d do well to pick up a copy yourself, regardless of format.

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So, how about the surround sound? Upon pressing the button, I expected to have the sound blast me in the face not unlike that old Maxell advertisement, but much to my chagrin, it only made things slightly louder. I have no knowledge of the inner workings of something of this nature, so I’m just guessing that when it’s not on, the speakers are simply not used to their fullest. When it is on, they are. How’s that for deductive reasonin’! I know, I know, “duh!”

Don’t get me wrong, though. This unit has very nice sound for the portable nature & time it came out, and I guess it can be room-filling if you turn the surround sound on and crank the volume & tone dials waaay up, but don’t go in expecting a high end set-up, okay?

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There it is, my Sony Mega Watchman FD-555, from August 1991. It’s a very cool piece of old school electronics. Sure, it doesn’t come off all that impressive nowadays, but back then, this was assuredly “to the max.” I’m seriously thinking about throwing some batteries in it, grabbing my cassette copy of Don Johnson’s Heartbeat, and going rockin’ down the street with “Love Roulette” blasting at top-volume.