Wired for sound
13 January 2014: In the attic, I stumbled upon a Piccadilly Radio annual and on reading Tom Tyrrell’s writings, remembered one thing when I was years away from taking my ‘O’ Levels. As a Manchester United fan, I wanted to be the next Tom Tyrrell. Sometime between Play Guitar With Ulf Goran (us Granadaland residents had to wait another year for TISWAS, and my pen pal from Lichfield used to make me jealous about it till 1979), I saw an advertisement which meant one small step toward being paid to watch Manchester United. Or being thrown out of Stamford Bridge by Ken Bates and having to commentate on a mobile phone.
Needless to say, I mithered my parents for this. Instead they got me an Alba tape recorder with a proper microphone. Probably a much better move. Plus I never got my tapes back from Piccadilly Plaza, only a rejection letter and a The Bradshaws cassette.
Once upon a time, before karaoke, Ronco came up with this toy in 1978…
The idea is simple. Switch on the cordless Mr Microphone. Then you could set your radio to VHF/FM and Hey Somerfield… your voice is on an FM radio. Turn the volume to your preferred setting, and your trusty transistor becomes an amplifier. Double the fun with another Mr Microphone, and you could replicate Barbra Streisland and Barry Gibb. Or Kylie and Jason. Or Dollar.
Launched in 1978, it was a popular enough novelty item or entry level P.A. system. A 1981 advert shows Mr Popeil slating the party for being a bit on the dull side, till he switches on Mr Microphone. Cut to children singing Jingle Bells (obviously run-up to Christmas job). Next clip: tall singer dancing and singing to himself with Mr Microphone and his portable radio.
The next part can be described as at best cheesy, and as at worst a tad dangerous. Shortly after our narrator says ‘broadcast over any FM car radio’ we cut to a blonde Matthew Kelly (Holding The Fort era – appropriately one of LWT’s sitcoms from a year earlier) lookalike along with five others in a soft-top Mercedes-Benz sports car. Cue the immortal words:
“Hey good looking, we’ll be back to pick you up later…”
Highly unrecommended around Manchester Piccadilly railway station. Is it any wonder why this line was lampooned in an episode of The Simpsons? Cut to face-saving rehearsal shot featuring guitarist and small audience, then a dozen roller skaters saying “I’ve got one” (obviously worn out Rock and Roller Disco then – playing Babylon’s Burning too often I suppose).
There was also another version with additional features, like a connecting cord, batteries and an FM radio.
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1981 price: £9.99 (from Woolworths, John Menzies, WHSmiths, Boots, Carpenter Shergold and Owen Owen).
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S.V., 21 December 2013.