Author Archives: neovideohunter

WEWS TV-5’s The Morning Exchange – Vintage Coffee Mug

Yeah yeah, I know, I took nearly all of August off. A combination of being busy, lack of ‘writable’ material and absence of drive kept me from duly updating my arbitrary blog. Those last two reasons are related; technically, I’ve always got lots of stuff I could write about, but the fire man, the fire has to be there. It’s like how a car don’t go without no gas or some stupid analogy like that. And when I go out thrifting, I very nearly always come home with what I consider some good winnins, but it’s the cool winnins that give me the fire. And it’s those very cool winnins that have been more-or-less MIA in recent weeks. This, my friends, was not an ideal situation for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, but it’s not like I had much say in the matter.

‘Course, it’s times like that when I can just sit back and let my old material do the work for me. I mean, when I wrote about that sentient alarm clock over a year ago (!), I held no illusions about it being a particularly popular post; I just got jazzed enough over the device that I wanted to introduce it to a potential audience. It’d be there for the right people when they come looking. And for quite awhile, that’s pretty much where things sat, until in recent months when its popularity relatively exploded, with enough page views and comments to put a figurative smile on mah face.

ANYWAY, this find from just last night is, rest assured, just the sort of thing that can get my creative juices flowin’ and another new update on the dinner table. Dig this: it’s a vintage coffee mug promoting WEWS TV-5 of Cleveland’s long, long running and incredibly influential daily talk show, The Morning Exchange. Cool winnins.

I take solace in the fact that (apparently) most people don’t find the same things that I do interesting, because this is the sort of thing that I would (and did) snap up with extreme fervor; there was absolutely no question it was coming home with me from first glimpse. And yet, when I came upon it, it sat nearly alone in a big tub, seemingly unwanted by those who knew no better. But I knew. I knew.

Now to be honest, I’ve got lots of glassware and mugs and what have you that I could write about, and sometimes I did consider doing so during what turned out to be my unintentional hiatus. I decided against it though; it just felt too soon after the last time I looked at old Northeast Ohio television-related coffee mugs. Heck, in the time since, I picked up yet another new-to-me WVIZ java accessory, but I just didn’t want to go back to that well. Not yet, anyway. I don’t want to become known as “The Mug Man,” man.

This Morning Exchange thing is different though. Not only because it’s promoting an absolutely legendary piece of Cleveland television history (it was so popular locally, it inspired ABC to create the national Good Morning America!), but also because it was hosted for nearly all of its 27 year (!!) run by local icon Fred Griffith, who sadly passed away recently. No joke, Griffith was a certified local legend, and from what I’ve heard, a genuine good egg to boot.

Here’s the thing with this mug: as you can see in the above pic, the logo is quite wide, and as such, getting the whole thing in one definitive shot just isn’t going to happen, unless y’all wanna provide me with one of them Matrix cameras or something. Wait, I don’t think that would work here, either.

So anyway, to better educate and inform and annoy the masses, I’m gonna have to provide some additional pictures. As such, here’s the left side of the mug, showcasing the, uh, left side of the Morning Exchange logo. Also visible: the ever-handy, erm, handle that allows one to make use of the mug without scalding their delicate lil’ hands.

Look, I don’t really know what you want me to say about it, okay? It’s one side of a coffee mug. And since I just used up whatever I could think to say about it here, I’m already questioning what I’m going to write about the other half. Nothing can ever be easy in my world.

So yeah, here’s the right side. The rest of the logo, close-up of the channel 5 logo, big swoopy thing comin’ off the “g” in “Exchange,” you can see it all here. The white lettering over burgundy is an attractive, appropriately morning-ish look. I dig it!

(Yeah, now I’m spent.)

It’s funny; I didn’t (and don’t) ever really watch any morning shows, mainly because I’m rarely up in time, and even though I have little direct history with The Morning Exchange, because it was such an ever-present part of the Northeast Ohio television landscape for such a long time, I remain fond of it. My grandmother used to watch it, my mom says she used to watch it, so there’s some pleasant memories there. But really, it’s more about what this mug represents that enamors me so. What’s that? One of the giants of Northeast Ohio television, that’s what!

All that said, I have no idea how old this mug is; there’s no date anywhere on it. I’m considering it late-80s or early-90s, but I could be dead wrong on that. The channel 5 logo was updated around 1995, so methinks it’s prior to then. The Morning Exchange ran from 1972 to 1999, so even at the latest it’s around 20 years old as of this writing. I really don’t think it’s even that relatively-recent, though. I do think it’s somewhat newer than this example, but how, when and where it relates to these examples, I do not know. I’m going with a mental “circa-1990” descriptive term, though I’m not confident in it enough to add it to the title of this update. (While on the subject, I couldn’t find a sequence of wording for the title that I was totally happy with, so if it reads awkwardly, that’s why.)

How would one go about getting one of these back in the day? My brother suggested it was a souvenir of actual guests on the program. If that’s the case, MAN is that cool. I’m not prepared to go quite that far though, not just yet. I’m thinking this was a promotional item anyone could have gotten, but that begs the question: where? There (probably) wasn’t any internet yet, at least not in any form approaching how we now know it. So, personal appearances by the hosts? Industry swag? A mail order item? Was there something akin to what WJW TV-8 later had, their very own store? (It was in Summit Mall.)

These are questions I know not the answer to. Maybe it was a guest-used/show-used item. That’d be, as the hip individuals say, pretty baller.

Regardless of its origin, the very fact that this coffee mug promotes a veritable Cleveland institution such as The Morning Exchange is more than enough. The fact it’s a coffee mug (cause coffee/morning, dig?) just makes it all the more appropriate. The era and images and feelings it invokes is indelibly Northeast Ohio. A bygone era in our broadcasting history. The sad fact of the matter is stuff like this doesn’t turn up all that often, but when it does, it’s cause for celebration and weird, amateurish touchdown dances. I didn’t, but I could have.

There’s your precious update. Maybe I’ll get another one up within the next several decades, we’ll see.

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VHS Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980 MCA Videocassette Inc. ‘Two Part’ Version)

Hey, do you like The Blues Brothers? Sure you do! I mean, who doesn’t? Movie’s a legit classic, yo. I certainly love the film; a random weekend broadcast years and years ago introduced me proper to it, and I’ve been a fan ever since. To me, it’s the gold standard of SNL-based movies, and – unless you’re counting something like Ghostbusters which featured more than one SNL alumni but wasn’t based on an actual SNL skit – man, it’s not even close.

Which makes this random find from last week so mind blowing to yours truly. While looking over rows of used VHS at a thrift store, my eyes feel upon, say it with me, The Blues Brothers. Upon first glance it appeared to be just another relatively-early copy of the film; I may love the movie, but earlier pressings are practically a dime-a-dozen.

That is, until I noticed the copyright of 1980 at the top of the sleeve spine (reason enough alone to snap it up; earlier copies may be common, but not necessarily the earliest) and, perhaps more interestingly, the notation of “Part II.”

The historical aspects of this find were immediately evident: this was almost-certainly the very first home video issue of the film (it’s from 1980; it can’t go any earlier than that, cause that’s the same year the movie came out, man!), and as such, because it was a fairly lengthy film (2 hours 13 minutes), it had to be split over two VHS tapes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must specify that I only have Part II here. I certainly looked at the thrift, but Part I was MIA. Either someone didn’t realize what was up and bought tape #1 before I got there, or (what seems more likely) Part I was loooong gone before Part II ever set foot in the store. Either way this was mildly irritating for yours truly, but I can’t complain too much; I had zero idea that The Blues Brothers was split over two tapes for its initial video release, or truthfully, that the movie even had a video release the same year it hit theaters.

It makes sense that they’d have to split the movie into two parts that early on though; that sort of thing was not uncommon in the early years of VHS for longer flicks such as this. The first video release of the 1976 King Kong remake went the same route, for example. Just a few years later, companies figured out how to get the entire film all in one package. Indeed, by 1983 The Blue Brothers was seemingly all on one tape, but apparently the technology wasn’t there yet in 1980.

From initial appearances, the front cover here doesn’t look too different from the common VHS releases of the films seen throughout the rest of the 1980s and probably into the 1990s. Visit that just-linked page and you’ll see that the 1983 edition looks pretty close front-cover-wise to this one – except that for this initial issue they colored Jake & Elwood’s sunglasses green. I don’t know why they colored the sunglasses green, but it seems to be unique to this first release.

Other than that though, the cover looks extremely similar to that 1983 edition, and barring just a few further changes, even the 1985 release looks pretty much the same. It’s all about those green glasses and, you know, two-part thing here. (Also, I just noticed John Candy didn’t get a credit at the very top; say what?!)

If you go back up and check out that link to the 1983 edition of this film, you’ll see that by and large it looks very, very similar as far as the back cover goes, too. In fact, except for that whole “Part II” notation here and the missing credits and “Dolby” info seen in ’83, it looks pretty identical. Even the synopsis is the same.

The summary on the back is fine, and it’s not like there’s room for a novel back there, but even so, some pertinent info was left out. Namely, that Jake & Elwood are in a race against time to raise some (honest) money in order to save their childhood orphanage. Remember, they’re “on a mission from God.”

To do this, they have to get their old band back together, do some playin’ and make some money fast – all while causing a lot of destruction and creating a buncha enemies.

It’s a very, very funny movie, endlessly quotable (“I hate Illinois nazis”) and featuring some terrific musical numbers. Despite being rated R (which, oddly enough, I don’t see mentioned anywhere on this release), it’s not a particularly objectionable movie. Some salty language and a few other things that warrant the rating, but the main plot is overwhelmingly positive in nature.

A weird aside: I always kinda get a kick out of the old school “MCA Videocassette Inc.” logo. It’s ‘early home video’ in the best way, and a sure sign of interest whenever I’m out spending more money than I should at thrift stores and the like.

(The back of the sleeve is much brighter than my picture here shows – I took the shot in a darker spot than I did the others in this post. Also, the ancient tape residue in evidence points to Part I originally being fixed to this here Part II – so where’d it go???)

The tape itself. Obviously it was a former rental, from some place called Video Ventures. I have no idea what paths this tape took to find itself in mah grubby mitts here in Northeast Ohio, but according to that sticker, it evidently spent some time in Bremerton, Washington!

I’m not sure how well my pic shows it, but the sad fact of the matter is this tape has gotten a little moldy in the nearly 40 years since release. I noticed this upon finding the thing, and generally such maladies are enough to make me avoid a buy, but in this case this tape was coming home with me regardless.

I know not who scratched out the running time and wrote “7 min” above it or why, I’m guessing the video store, but the actual running time is more like 28 minutes; seems like a pretty uneven split between two tapes to me. Maybe there’s more and the mold is just keeping the hardened tape from rewinding further – it’s tough to tell because that sticker is in the way, but removing it is not an option.

No, no in-movie screencaps to round out this review; I had to clean my VCR heads after running this one as it is. I doubt there’s anything here unique to this release in comparison to slightly later issues anyway. Except for, you know, that whole “split in two parts” thing.

I can find virtually no references to this particular VHS of The Blues Brothers out there in internet land, except for this Amazon page, in which a used copy (copies?) is presented sans sleeves. Like I said before, this was a release I was completely unaware of beforehand. Given the super early release date, I’m guessing it definitely falls on the rarer side of things.

For a Blues Brothers fan such as myself, it’s an incredibly cool discovery. I hold no illusions of stumbling upon Part I, though you never know. I imagine I’ll come across that 1983 edition at some point though, and that’d make for a nice consolation prize.

I still can’t figure out why they made their sunglasses green on the front cover of this one, though.

Memorex Video Information System (1992)

When I woke up today, I had no idea what a Memorex Video Information System was or that such a device ever existed. Had you shown up at my house to inform me of such a product, I’d have reacted with utter confusion and then told you to get out of my messy abode. Seriously, what were you thinking?

But oh how quickly things can change! Just a few hours after waking up (I won’t tell you when I woke up, but it was probably unacceptably late), I found myself at Goodwill, as I so often do. I waltzed out with an old piece of local glassware (does anyone remember Walsh’s Saloon of Akron? I can find nothing on them online!) and a two-VHS Godzilla set I didn’t really need but actually kinda did.

Found during the same visit was what appeared to be an old CD player, shoved on their electronics shelf and with a big $4 price scrawled on it in annoyingly-thick grease marker. An introductory glance revealed that this was indeed a CD-based contraption, but something  called a “VIS.” Clearly a closer inspection and look-up on my phone was warranted and granted. Turns out this was something called the “Memorex Video Information System.”

It was neat, it was interesting, and yet, I didn’t buy it!

Nope, I actually checked out with my treasures and went home sans VIS. I only had a few bucks on me anyway. I’d gotten the VIS bug though, and as soon as I got home, I did a bit more research, realized I had passed on a pretty rare item, grabbed some more money, and made a really hasty retreat back to Goodwill. There the VIS still sat, seemingly untouched by anyone since I had been bothering it probably less than an hour before. And so, here we are.

It looks like a cross between a VCR and a garden-variety CD player of the period, dunnit?

The Memorex Video Information System was actually a Tandy/Radio Shack innovation, originally releasing in 1992 and operating in the same “interactive multimedia” wheelhouse as the CD-i but evidently flopping far worse than that thing ever did (which is really saying something). It probably wasn’t really a video game system – I’m not sure any legitimate video games were even made for this – but it did originally come with video game-like wireless controllers (I looked, and they were nowhere to be found; I imagine they were loooong gone before this showed up at Goodwill).

It seems that the majority of software releases focused more on “edutainment” titles (*shudder*), but still, I find the CD-i (and Commodore CDTV) comparisons intriguing. I collect obscure gaming and gaming-related things like this, and when it comes to the early-1990s, the VIS is an obscurity of the highest order. Like I said, I had no inkling of such a thing existing beforehand.

Wikipedia has an informative entry on it, and according to them it retailed for a whopping $699 (!!), sold only 11,000 units (!!!), and ran on a modified version of Windows 3.1. There were actual VIS discs created for this thing; I’m not sure if it will run any regular PC games of the era or not, but I’m guessing that it won’t.

Look, it’s basically a circa-1992 computer in a console-ish shell and with its own brand of discs to run, not unlike the original Xbox except nobody owned the VIS (relatively speaking, I mean).

As you can see above, the front of the unit is pretty minimalist; only power and disc drawer open/close buttons are immediately evident.

But look here: a little slidey panel on the bottom-right reveals a few more options. Here’s where the cartridge input is located, though to what extent software was found in cartridge form for the VIS, I cannot say. Also, microphone and headphone inputs and a volume control, because hey, it was 1992. The headphone jack and volume knob are self-explanatory, but I can’t fathom what a microphone would be needed for here. Did this thing do some kind of recording? Or did something on the VIS beat Hey You, Pikachu! to the punch by several years?

The only other aspect of the front that ‘does’ anything is, needless to say, the CD drawer. It, uh, opens and closes. Unlike my 9-year-old Blu-ray player, the drawer of the pushing-30-years-old Video Information System opens and closes pretty fast and smoothly. Hey, for 700 bucks, you’d sure hope some lastin’ quality would be built-in!

(I’m not sure how well my pictures show it, but this particular VIS unit was in exceptionally good shape. Of course I have no way of knowing how much use it did or didn’t get back in the day, but it appears to have been well-maintained.)

Since I have neither software nor controllers for the VIS, what I can and can’t do with it is pretty limited. (Go figure!) Still, being a CD-based electronic, there are ways of testing it beyond merely plugging it in and seeing if the power light comes on.

Well, that’s a good sign! At least I get a start-up screen upon pressing power! I wish I could insert a disc or cartridge, VIS. One made specifically for you, I mean.

Now, I’ve got a ton of old PC games in my collection, but only so many within the immediate vicinity. As such, the copy of Mad Dog McCree I picked up fairly recently and thus was still in said immediate vicinity became my test subject. I questioned whether the VIS would run it or not, though even if it did, I had no way of actually playing it.

It was a moot point however, since the game wouldn’t run. I guess I didn’t seriously expect it to, but there was a small hope nevertheless.

I could have called it quits right there and been satisfied; it’s not like I’d be throwing such a rare item out even if it was entirely nonfunctional anyway, but the fact that it powered up and gave me a starting screen was enough for me to label this find a full-fledged cool winnin.

Still, I wouldn’t be an efficient time waster if I didn’t research just a bit further, so like I did with the Kodak Photo CD thing I babbled about a million years ago, I grabbed an audio CD I had lying about and loaded it up.

Not only did I get a specific “CD player” screen, but the VIS automatically started the disc playing! Obviously I had no way of skipping tracks or pausing or what have you, but for the brief time I had music going, it sounded really nice, and without any skipping/distorting. Pretty cool for something some 27-years-old! That’s not to say the entire disc would have played flawlessly; who knows how the VIS would have operated once really heating up or something, but in this day and age, is it even important? Maybe if I could play games (“games”) it would be, but as it stands, I’m labeling this all “good enough.”

So in summation, a trip (well, two trips) to Goodwill netted me a pretty cool piece of early-90s tech. The Memorex Video Information System was quite a failure for Radio Shack, though in just the brief time I’ve had it, I’ve read several different viewpoints on just how long it was on shelves. I suppose it doesn’t really matter; if the 11,000 units figure is correct, man, that’s like nothin’. (For the record: there’s no actual date on mine, so I’m going with a generic “1992” notation here, as seen in the title of this post.)

I wish I could give a better demonstration of VIS’ abilities. I can’t, but luckily, Gamester81 has an excellent video review of it that gives you a far better idea of how this thing operated.

I have no illusions of ever coming across controllers and/or software for the VIS, but hey, you never know what you’ll come across later in the day when you first wake up!

Still, for now I’ve got the system, and that’s enough. It kinda has to be, you know?

(And before anyone asks, no this is not for sale!)

The Pizza Shop of Canton, Ohio – Vintage Promotional Playing Cards

“Oooh where has yoy been East Video Dood???”

Here’s the deal: I had something ordered on eBay that I felt stood a very good chance of being worthy (ha!) of being spotlighted on my silly blog. I was excited for it, it held promise, so of course the seller never sent it. Days went by without any update to the order after my lightnin’ quick payment, I (politely) opened my yap, the item was then marked as shipped – but without a tracking number – days later, then weeks went by without said item arriving, I (politely) opened my yap again, a week went by before I received a response promising it was going out ASAP, I gave the benefit of the doubt and waited some more, nothing happened again, so I finally filed a complaint and got a refund.

Any semi-reasonable buyer would have filed said complaint and gotten said refund looong before I actually did, but with a generous window of time to act, only being out 12 bucks, and really wanting what I ordered, I played extraordinarily patient but was not rewarded. Not only did I not get what I hoped to write about (and I’m not saying what it was cause I don’t need all y’all battlin’ me if another one pops up), but weeks and weeks went by without a proper update here in the interim. I’m not saying that was the only reason you didn’t get an update during that time period, but it’s the factor I’m laying all the blame on.

So, instead you get to read about pizza-related playing cards. A fair trade-off? Without knowing what I was hoping to detail instead, you’ll just never know, will you??? (Unless I can obtain said item in the future; then I’ll spill the beans.)

No, this update has nothing to do with video, broadcasting, electronics, or any of the other normative suspects on this site, but it does have to do with Northeast Ohio and advertising, so I’m saying it fits. And even if it doesn’t, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.

Behold! It’s The Pizza Shop of Canton, Ohio, immortalized in playing card form! Actually, nothing here specifies if it was Ohio’s Canton, and Wikipedia sez there are lots and lots of places in this world with that moniker, but since I found these in Canton, Ohio, methinks it’s a safe guess that that’s where these originally hail from. Quite a leap, huh?!

Found with a two-compartment, ridge-sided plastic holder that appears to have originally had a lid at some point (there were none to be found in the vicinity, and I looked), many of these cards were all over the place when I came across them at a thrift store several months ago. They appeared to have been part of some card collector’s collection (that’s alliteration, as well as slightly redundant); other cards of the playing variety were strewn about as well. The Domino’s Pizza cards went back because they didn’t feature The Noid, but I’m a sucker for vintage local restaurant memorabilia, especially when said restaurant apparently doesn’t exist anymore, so there was no way these weren’t coming home with me – once I gathered them all back up, anyway.

I say the place apparently doesn’t exist anymore because I  can find no information on it whatsoever. Granted, typing “The Pizza Shop” and “Canton” into a search engine doesn’t exactly make for a narrow set of results, but nevertheless, I could find no info on this place at all. Is it still around? Did it evolve/merge into another place? Do you remember it? PLEASE, share any info you have in the comments! This is an interactive site, y’see!

The image you’re seeing on the left above is found across the back of each and every card in the set, presenting what I surmise were the actual logos of the restaurant proper: the name (which is sort of a must-have in cases such as these) and a little chef giving the “okay sign” and wearing a kickin’ bow tie (though aren’t most bow ties pretty kickin’ anyway?). There’s also the tagline proclaiming the place to be “Canton’s Original,” though original what isn’t specified. Was it Canton’s original pizza place, the original location of what was a local chain, or…?

(Also, if the plastic holder these are in did originally feature a lid, I wonder if any kind of graphics/info pertaining to The Pizza Shop was printed on it as well? If indeed the holder is even original to these cards in the first place, that is.)

Otherwise, and as demonstrated with the card on the right above, well, it’s just a normal set of playing cards. Brown & Bigelow playing cards to be exact, as per the company info printed right there for all to see. Brown & Bigelow of St. Paul, MN is evidently no longer around; this site says they existed from the 1920s to the 1980s. I have no hard data regarding what possible date(s) these could possibly hail from, but even if they’re from the extreme of the 1980s, that still counts as vintage so stop finding fault with my post title.

Actually, the font of “Canton’s Original” strikes me as being 1960s-ish. I have absolutely nothing to support that other than a gut-feeling, but I get that impression nevertheless. Again, if you can confirm or know otherwise, drop some knowledge in the comments!

Like I said, many of these cards were all over the place when I stumbled upon them, which meant I had to duly collect them all back up for collecting-purposes. It appears I got them all; I counted 53 cards here. That is, it’s a normal 52-card French-style deck, with one Joker. I searched pretty diligently, so if there were any more Jokers, I no not where they got to. I really do think I’ve got the whole set here.

Given my lack of success in figuring out when or how long this restaurant existed, the chances of my figuring out when and/or how exactly these cards were originally obtained seems doubtful as well. Free with a pizza, perhaps? Nevertheless, the deck is a cool little piece of Northeast Ohio eatery memorabilia, one that appears (to me) to hail from a truly bygone era. I don’t normally collect playing cards, but these were just too neat – and ostensibly obscure –  to pass up.

I wasn’t kidding before; if you have any info on this place, please share in the comments!

WVIZ TV-25 Auction Mug Round-Up (1983-1990)

It’s doubtful that any of my four faithful (?) readers remember the update, but this past August I shared the cool vintage Cleveland WVIZ TV-25 drinkin’ mug my friend Jesse picked up for me. It was neato, I was happy, I got a post out of it, and life went on.

But little did I realize at the time that my journey with local-PBS-affiliate-emblazoned beverage containers wasn’t over; oh no, it was just beginning. In recent weeks, that same friend has stumbled across a veritable cornucopia of WVIZ mugs, hailing from their annual fundraising auctions. All but one of them were found at the exact same time; I’ll be presenting six of them in this update, which means that it’s safe to say five probably came from the same person originally. That, or it was the most incredible coincidence ever.

(And funny enough, sometime in the middle of that first mug find and all of these, he found me another one of those mugs that I wrote about initially; go figure! Thanks for all these man!)

I’m guessing these were gifts for pledging a donation to WVIZ during that fundraising time? Or an added bonus if you won an auction? Perhaps even swag given out to people manning the phones? Specifics, anyone?

Anyway, come one, come all, come and enjoy my puke-green carpet and mug pictures this close to being inadequate!

1983

This earliest mug sets the template for the design used for the next few years. That’s not to say this was the first to use the same general look, but it’s the earliest that I currently have.

As you can see, it was for WVIZ’s May 7-15, 1983 8-day auction. The pertinent info is on one side, and the other side, obviously, features what I assume was their mascot of the era, a zebra. (Get it? It’s a WVIZebra!). Since the tagline is “THE GREATEST SHOW ON AIR,” the zebra is always airborne in some fashion; this template is used for not only this mug (duh!), but for all the mugs up through 1986; might’ve been around even longer, I dunno.

Anyway, here our zebra mascot is flying in a small airplane, because, uh, air. Of all the mugs in this ‘series’ this might be my favorite, simply because it’s the only one to present the 25 logo in some way. Look close; it’s stamped on the tail of the plane! (That is the tail, right? Look, it’s on the back of the craft, okay?)

1984

Here’s the 1984 edition. As you can see, it’s overall pretty similar-looking, and honestly would be easy for the untrained eye to overlook as a mere duplicate. But it’s not.

Held in May once again, 1984’s auction was also held over 8 days, but this time from the 5th to the 13th. On the other side, with the same slogan, our zebra friend evidently no longer needs an aircraft; he’s sprouted wings with which to soar through the clouds!

Look close, because this was something I totally missed until grabbing pics to put this article together: the zebra’s stripes spell out WVIZ! Nice touch!

1985

Evidently the auction was always held over 8 days in May, because for 1985 it ran from May 4th through the 12th. This brings up a question: does WVIZ (or any PBS affiliate) even still do auctions? Obviously they still run pledge drives where you can get tote bags or what have you, but I personally don’t recall the auctions. Obviously they existed at one point, and it’s not like I would have been paying attention to that sort of thing by the time I was old enough to watch PBS (Sesame Street and such was more my speed at the time), but still, yeah, I don’t remember these exact events. Maybe they still do ’em, I don’t know. Nevertheless, the only thing coming to mind here is that one episode of Cheers where no one wants Sam Malone’s jersey.

Uh oh, our zebra pal is still airborne in this one, but not necessarily in a good way! Dig it: he no longer has a plane, nor does he feature wings. Rather, he’s floating down to earth via parachute! Was there an equipment malfunction somewhere?!

You can just barely make out the W and the Z on his body, the rest being covered by the parachute’s harness; again, nice touch!

1986

Last of the “zebra mugs,” or at least my “zebra mugs.” You know, was the zebra their ongoing mascot in general during this era, or was he just something devised for the auction promotions? I certainly don’t remember him, but again, by the time I was old enough to pay any sort of attention to PBS, he may very well (and appears to have been) long gone.

1986 had the auction running May 3-11, and except for the differing date, yeah, there’s only so much I can think to say about it, except this was the first auction I was technically alive for. Not cognizant of, but alive for.

I might have to rectify that “favorite” statement I bandied about with the 1983 entry, because besides me officially being around for (well, during) the event, this variation features – in my opinion – the coolest “zebra action sequence” of them all: he’s flying! As in, like Superman! Dude’s even got a cape! As a lifelong Supes fan, that’s awesome, even if the relation is only of the most minimal variety. Man, you don’t even need the 25 logo stamped somewhere when you’ve got your mascot doing things like that!

Also: evidently those “WVIZ stripes” don’t extend to the opposite side of the zebra’s torso.

1987 & 1988

Sorry gang, I don’t have mugs for the 1987 and 1988 auctions, if there even were mugs for the 1987 and 1988 auctions. Maybe the original owner didn’t participate those years, or maybe someone inexplicably purchased those two but none of the others, or maybe they don’t even exist. At any rate, I don’t have ’em.

1989

’87 and ’88 may be missing from my collection (for now?), and the zebra apparently went MIA somewhere in the interim, but man, the 1989 edition was a home run, too! The one side merely states “WVIZ Auction ’89,” as you can plainly see here (no mention of the exact dates, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it was probably held in May again).

The other side though, hoo boy does it feature a cool gimmick! BP was apparently a sponsor of some sort, and that plays into the new (?) slogan: “Public Television – A Natural Resource.” Just like gas! Or something along those lines.

To go along with this, the illustration of a TV is used, with the BP logo ‘playing’ on its screen. What’s with the somewhat ‘muted’ coloring of the screen, you ask? That part of the mug is covered with some sort of material that changes colors when a hot beverage is housed within! That’s cool! This site has a page for this mug, and which showcases the hip color-changin’ abilities it holds.

I’m not sure if I like this one more than the 1983 or 1986 editions, but I still really, really like it, and it’s easily the most “technically advanced” mug in the line. Or at least in my WVIZ mug collection as it currently stands, anyway.

(For the record, this was the one mug that was found independently, weeks after the others. Maybe it originally hailed from the same person and just didn’t get put out with the rest at the same time, or maybe it originally came from another auction participant; gotta figure there were more than a few, you know?)

1990

Last one, found at the same time as all the zebra mugs. The image is the same on both sides, and hence, only one picture is needed. (Right?) Unlike the other ones seen in this article, which are all of the ceramic-variety, this one is plastic.

No real slogan, but this one does play up the fact the station was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since WVIZ went on the air in 1965, that naturally points to this being from, uh, 1990.

Though you know, without the information stamped all over it, I really have no idea if this is technically an auction mug or something merely created to commemorate the event in general. I mean, considering the others it was found with, it’s a safe guess, and that’s the scenario I’m sticking with, but it has to be pointed out that the mug doesn’t actually state such facts. I dig the red color-scheme, which stands in stark contrast to every other example seen in this update.

***

So there you have it, six different auction mugs from Cleveland’s PBS destination, WVIZ TV-25. Given the “public participation” aspect of the channel, it stands to reason that memorabilia from it is a bit more plentiful than from a network (or even independent) station, but nevertheless, TV-related things like this don’t show up every day, so I couldn’t be happier to have them in my ever-growing mass of stuff (i.e., collection).

RIP, Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed

The man himself, during a 1999 book signing.

I was putting the finishing touches on a new update when I heard the news just a bit ago: last night, Ron Sweed aka The Ghoul passed away. As had been known, and as I mentioned in my December update, he had suffered a heart attack in recent months, and last night he succumbed. I can’t tell you how heartbroken I am right now. The Ghoul was such a huge, huge part of my growing up. So much of my sense of humor and my outlook on life was shaped by him. This is just devastating. I can only imagine this is how people felt when Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson passed away in 1997; I didn’t grow up with Ghoulardi, but I did grow up with The Ghoul. When times were tough, when school wasn’t going so great, I always had those Friday nights at 11:30 PM to look forward to. He didn’t know it, but he kept me company from the television screen, gave me a respite from real life for a few hours each weekend. And I will forever be grateful for that.

I met him several times over the years, and each and every time he was absolutely wonderful; incredibly gracious and giving of his time. I never saw him shortchange a single fan. He was, is, an icon, a Northeast Ohio television legend, and his legacy will never be forgotten.

Back in August I posted my memories of growing up with his show on WBNX TV-55; I could never do better than my recollections there, so please, let that article be an ongoing tribute to his influence and entertainment. Words are failing me right now anyway.

RIP Ron, your Ten Star Generals in the Ghoul Power army will never forget you.

The Ghoul and I at that 1999 book signing.

DVD Review – RING OF FIRE III: LION STRIKE (1995)

While in recent times the habit has reached a level that would (should) probably be cause for concern, back in the early-2000s my tendency to be a night owl was a bit more manageable, less regulated by what was on the DVR (since DVRs barely existed at the time and we didn’t have one yet besides) and driven more by what local channels burnt off in the wee hours. Don’t get me wrong, I was staying up late no matter what (particularly during the summer months), but if a new-to-me movie was running somewhere, it could very well determine whether I went to bed late or I went to bed uber-late.

Today, with a seemingly-endless stream of infomercials and/or cookie-cutter sitcom repeats, local stations seem a lot more homogenized, much more “by the numbers” to me (though the rise of the digital subchannels has been a figurative lifesaver and major contributor to my current state of night owlery). Granted, this was an issue even back in the early-2000s, but around here, even at that late date channels could still occasionally display a bout of quirkiness – something that seems utterly inconceivable nowadays. I remember WEWS channel 5 running old black & white flicks, East Side Kids and obscure 1950s dramas and stuff like that late late at night around that time on weekends (I’m pretty sure), and trust me, for a ‘big’ channel that was pretty outside the status quo at the time.

Leo Gorcey was all well and good, but you know what I really wound up enjoying during those late night sojourns? Action flicks. Some of them were ‘big’ action flicks (Big Chuck & Lil’ John ran First Blood once!), while others were more second-tier fare (Big Chuck & Lil’ John ran Iron Eagle II once!), but it didn’t really matter how ‘esteemed’ a movie technically was; I found myself becoming hooked on the genre, and watching each film for its own merits. The thrill of ‘discovering’ a new-to-me action film was enough in and of itself. The fact I was up late, all alone and watching in the dark only added to the, I guess, immersive thrill of it all. Or something like that.

Channel 5 (I think it was) would occasionally run some of the relatively-obscure stuff from the 1990s; that’s how I discovered the Brian Bosworth epic One Man’s Justice, which I loved (MC Hammer was in it, too). But, at the time, the place to go for low budget, oftentimes direct-to-video fare was WBNX TV-55. These kinds of movies, along with syndicated shows such as Viper and The Lost World, were easily found on the station for years. And, as I explained back in August, when they moved horror host The Ghoul to Sunday nights/Monday mornings and largely altered the movies featured, he became a repository for just such action movies. (And unlike many of the films foisted upon him in that era, the action flicks actually did work on the program – provided The Ghoul was allowed plenty of host segments to litter the commercial breaks, anyway.)

It was all but impossible to stay up and watch The Ghoul during the school year, those Sunday night/Monday morning shows were on a week night after all, but things obviously opened up during the summer months, and in mid-August 2001, it was his show that introduced me to our subject today: 1995’s Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s action opus Ring Of Fire III: Lion Strike. The movie stuck with me (it probably held a lower rank in my eyes than One Man’s Justice did at the time, though that has since flipped considerably), and thanks to the magic of this newfangled digital video technology (that’s DVD to you), it’s available for all to enjoy!

Here’s the DVD itself. Well, the cover, anyway. The disc doesn’t present much in the way of extra features; no bonus kickboxing tips by Wilson, no commentaries, no trailers, no wacky behind-the-scenes bloopers. Nope, all you get is the movie – full screen and in revolutionary stereo – and scene selection. You want more than that? Well ain’t you highfalutin! I really like that tagline, at any rate.

As you may surmise through the power of deductive reasonin’, Ring of Fire III is the third in a series of movies. I have not seen the first two entries. Madacy released these films individually and together as a box set, but they’re all seemingly long out of print. Indeed, the first two films seem to have gotten less distribution over the years than the third entry has overall; even on eBay, old VHS copies of one and two are somewhat scarce whilst the third is readily found. Indeed, as of this writing III is the only one still easily available on DVD, courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment and their 2005 release, and it’s that very release we’re looking at today, right now as we speak.

If you ignore that whole third designation in the title, it works just fine as a standalone feature. I’ve only read synopsis’ of the first two movies, but I didn’t need to do even that; Ring of Fire III gets by on its own. (Actually, while I’m going by what I’ve grown up knowing it as, never mind what’s on the DVD cover, the actual on-screen title for this particular release is simply Lion Strike, which only helps matters honestly). It’s not high art, nor was it intended to be, but as a low budget action thriller – hailing from the mid-1990s direct-to-video era no less – it’s a lot of fun.

World kickboxing maestro Don “The Dragon” Wilson plays Dr. Johnny Wu, an everlastingly kind, gentle physician. In addition to that, he also has a  young son (played by Wilson’s actual son Jonathan), who is motherless; Wu is a widower, his wife having been killed by a drunk driver prior to the start of our film today. (She evidently figured into the first two films, which, as previously stated, I ain’t even seen.)

Our hero, early in the film, in mid-lightnin’ quick kick!

Oh, and Wu also happens to be a first-class kickboxer, because Don “The Dragon” Wilson. This is demonstrated aptly by, apropos of nothing, an opening sequence featuring the attempted escape of a mafia figure from the hospital in which Wu works. Wu of course puts the hurt on all perpetrators involved all by himself. This open has nothing to do with the rest of the film, except to let you, the viewer at home, know that Wu can deliver a serious beat down. This is further demonstrated by him later pummeling an entire group of uppity bikers single handed, including one who suddenly bursts through the hospital doors and down the hallway riding his motorcycle, which again, doesn’t have much to do with the story proper other than let us know Wu is a force to be reckoned with when pushed.

Look, was the big boulder that chased Indiana Jones ever referenced again after the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark? No? So why can’t you afford Don “The Dragon” Wilson the same consideration you give Harrison Ford? (Unless that big boulder was referenced again; I haven’t seen Raiders in full in a long, long time. Just go with me here, okay?)

Because constant pummelin’ has to wear on even the most hardy of heroes, Wu is offered the use of a cabin in the mountains by one of his colleagues, which he accepts. Spend some quality time with his son, catch some fish, not have to beat the daylights out of people, it seems like a well-earned vacation for Johnny Wu.

Except things don’t go as planned. We wouldn’t have much of a movie if they did! Through a series of circumstances, Wu finds himself smack dab in the middle of a nefarious plot: organized crime has gone global, with figures of an international variety (including famous character actor Robert Costanzo’s villain at the head of it all) conspiring together to sell nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union to the highest bidder. Plans detailing this dastardly scheme are housed on a floppy disk, which is fortuitously stolen from the bad guys by other, otherwise-unrelated bad guys – much to the chagrin of the original bad guys. Through a plot point worthy of The Brady Bunch, it eventually finds itself in the hands of Wu, which of course only further draws ire of the global mafia. Ah, the days when the fate of the world could hinge on a 3.5 floppy!

Eventually Wu finds himself and his son chased by legions of baddies, but he’s not alone; park ranger Kelly (Bobbie Phillips) is along for the ride. And guess what? She’s no slouch with the punchin’ and kickin’ and shootin’ either! (Wu joins her in beating the stuffing out of an entire group of poachers early in their acquaintance, and naturally the germ of a romance is planted, too.)

As I said before, Ring of Fire III isn’t high art, but again, it wasn’t intended to be. It apparently went straight-to-video back in 1995, and the easy-to-follow plot, relatively low budget, and mounds and mounds of fisticuffs totally point to this being a weekend renter back in the days of the video store. And given that criteria, it’s perfect. No joke, Ring of Fire III is a lot of fun!

Of course, it’s not a perfect movie. Some of the dialog is eye-glazing (You’ll hear the question “Where’s the disk?!” asked approximately 900,000 times over the course of the film), and there are a few moments that don’t quite make sense (when Wu and Kelly fight the poachers, a cowboy rides up and watches them intently, and it keeps cutting between the fight and the cowboy as if he was of some importance to the situation, but when it’s all over, he simply rides off and is never seen again. Say what?)

Furthermore, the acting is…well, it is what it is, okay? WIlson wasn’t hired to win awards in that area, (when he’s caught kissing Kelly by his son, he makes a face better suited to dodging a thrown pie, and later when it appears the baddies have killed said son, his reaction comes off somewhat less aggrieved than you might expect), but he projects a boyish, almost innocent charm…which is pretty funny considering the amount of pain he’s capable of doling out.

Which leads me to this: there’s no moral ambiguity in Ring of Fire III; the good guys are good, and the bad guys are really bad. There are no torn feelings on the part of the viewer; there are no antiheroes. Wu and Kelly are so utterly nice, and the bad guys so utterly ruthless, that you can’t help but root for the forces of good.

Despite the presence of a little kid, the overarching “good always triumphs over evil” theme, and some violent bad guys who are also presented in a loud, stereotypical, scenery-chewing manner that often comes off pretty funny (I assume intentionally), Ring of Fire III ain’t exactly for the children. As you may expect, it’s pretty violent, with lots and lots of punching, kicking, and shooting. The bad guys aren’t adverse to killing innocent people to get what they want (except when sparing them advances the plot, of course).

And there’s lotsa ‘splosions too. Helicopters blowing up, cabins blowing up, cars blowing up, cars flying through the air and then blowing up. Ring of Fire III may not tax your mental capabilities with complex character studies, but it’s certainly never boring!

Funny enough, compared to the action movies of today, or even just prime time television, it’s actually a somewhat tame movie. There’s a little bit of gore but it’s not particularly graphic in that regard. There’s no sex, no nudity, and except for some unsavory language, I really don’t think anything was edited at all when I first caught this on The Ghoul so many years ago. Indeed, bleep the salty talk and this could easily run on prime time network TV today. (Hey NBC, how about bringing back the movie of the week…with Ring of Fire III as the inaugural revival feature? Please?)

In the end, this is a pretty meat-and-potatoes action flick. The plot is simple, the kickboxing is plentiful, you know who to root for, you know who to root against, and it’s often even a little funny. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore, but then, I’m not sure they were still making ’em like this even when I first saw it in 2001. It’s a real artifact of not only the mid-1990s video store era but also a (seemingly) bygone era in late night television broadcasting, when stuff like this could actually show up on the schedule; hard to imagine nowadays. And yet, even though it’s a throwback, it’s one that still holds up – maybe I’m just easily pleased, but no joke, I’m continuously entertained by this one. It’s a breezy 90 minutes, it won’t tax the synapses, and it features Don “The Dragon” Wilson as a kickboxing physician. Sounds like a fun night at the movies to me!

(And yes, I totally stayed up late just last night and watched this; just felt right that way. )