Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Do you remember Columbia House?

Columbia House logo I just came across a vintage Columbia Record & Tape Club (better known as Columbia House) ad from 1976. These ads were ubiquitous in the 70s, and lots of people, including me, were club members.

The draw was getting 11 records or tapes for $1.00 (plus $0.86 shipping and handling), if you join now and agree to buy 8 more selections (at regular Club prices) in the coming 3 years.

Regular Club prices weren’t bad. $5.98 or $6.98 for records, $6.98 or $7.98 for 8-track tapes or cassettes. Reel tapes were always $7.98, never $6.98 or $5.98, but they were on their way out (* Selections marked with a star are not available in reel tapes).
Take your pick: 12" stereo records or 8-track cartridges or tape cassettes or 7" reel-to-reel tapes
Cassette tapes were just becoming popular († Available on records and 8-track tapes only). Vinyl and 8-track were king, covering all of Columbia House’s offerings.

The catch was the stupid automatically-mailed Selections of the Month. They were optional—if you prefer an alternate selection, or none at all, simply fill in the response card always provided and mail it by the date specified—but what Columbia House counted on was that people would forget to mail back the cards and thus would end up with records or tapes they might not have been otherwise motivated to order but nonetheless became obligated to pay for.

I ended up with a bunch of records—Boz Scaggs, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Dan Fogelberg, Melissa Manchester, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, Beach Boys, Chicago, Simon & Garfunkel, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole, Cher, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and more— none of which I have today. I carted them all off to Stuart Hall my freshman year at University of Dayton along with my stereo, and they quickly became scratched and unplayable. Not that it matters now—I bought a lot of the music a second time on CD and anything I don’t have now that I might want to listen to I can find digitally via legal or less than legal means.

Amazingly Columbia House still exists, but only for DVDs, not for music. They still ship stuff automatically unless you opt out, but now there are no cards to mail, just a website to visit. Except who buys DVDs these days?

Click on any of the images below to embiggen, or view all four pages in a PDF. Where did I find this ad? In the July 3–9, 1976 TV Guide (central Ohio edition), which I’ll post soon in another blog entry.

1976 Columbia House ad - page 1 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 2 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 3 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 4 (click to embiggen)
Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Web design (bad) — bank edition

Complaining about how a company provides electronic statements is definitely a first world problem. However, today I went to get my most recent statement from Wright-Patt Credit Union, and I was reminded of a petty annoyance with their website.

I’m not picking on WPCU because I dislike them. On the contrary, I appreciate WPCU. I have a car loan with them, at a much better rate than that offered by the bank my car dealer recommended. And WPCU pays me much better interest on my HSA than I got when it was at BNY Mellon.

However, here’s something that can be improved on WPCU’s website related to getting statements:


To the left you can see WPCU’s page for choosing which statement you want to download. The best thing about it is that there’s a link for the current statement, which is the one people will most often want. That link’s not very prominent, though, and there’s a problem with it which I’ll explain below.

If you want a statement other than the most current one, or if you overlook the link for the current statement, you have to click on a dropdown to specify which month you want a statement for.

The problem with the drop down is that it lets you choose months for which there aren’t any statements available. For example, today is September 4th, but WPCU’s dropdown lets me ask for a statement for October, November or December of this year, wasting processing time on their end and wasting my time, if I would ask for one of those non-existent statements, with an error message.

A bigger annoyance with WPCU’s system for electronic statements is that whether I click on the link for the most current statement or I navigate the dropdowns to choose another statement, I also have to navigate yet another screen and click on another link (see the image to the right) to say that yes, I do in fact want to view the statement I’ve just asked for.

What’s that all about?

I told you what statement I want. Just give it to me. Do not show me another web page and do not make me click another link. What purpose does that serve?


If WPCU wants to improve the statement section of their website, they can take a tip from the website of another financial institution I use, Charles Schwab:

When you go to the statement selection page on Charles Schwab’s website, they don’t make you use dropdowns to select a statement. The most recent statements available are already listed with links to view them.

And, most importantly, if you click on one of those links, the PDF is available without any further clicking for viewing or saving. No need for an intermediary page to say that yes, you really do want to see the statement you just chose.

First world problem? Yes. Something I wish WPCU would fix? Also yes.

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Old cigarette ads

If you read my Columbia House post, you know I recently acquired a copy of the July 3–9, 1976 issue of TV Guide. Before I share the whole issue, I want to show you the cigarette ads. There were a lot of them.

The Central Ohio edition that week had 128 pages, 32 pages from the color national wrapper and 96 black-and-white local pages. Of the color pages 21⅞% were for cigarettes, just over half of the color ads—for Viceroy, Benson & Hedges, Salem, Tall 120s, Kool and Kent.

Of all the ads, my favorite is the one for Benson & Hedges 100’s, a two-page spread showing a smoking clown looking at himself in a mirror while applying his makeup. His cigarettes are too long for him to get close enough to see!

“Oh, the disadvantages of our long cigarette,” jokes Philip Morris. Pay no attention to the real disadvantages of our cigarettes is what they’re really saying. If you focus on not hitting your long Benson & Hedges 100 against the mirror, you’ll forget that it’s killing you.


The Salem Longs ad is funny along the same lines. R.J. Reynolds asks if we remember that “We all smoke for enjoyment.” Salem Longs have “the good tobacco taste and menthol I enjoy. That’s all I have to remember to enjoy smoking.”

Yes, that’s all we have to remember—how good cigarettes taste. Don’t remember that smoking causes lung cancer.

The rugged manly racecar driver in this Viceroy ad doesn’t care about the taste or length of his cigarettes. “Why Viceroy? Because I’d never smoke a boring cigarette,” he says.

I don’t know why Brown & Williamson thought this ad proved their cigarettes weren’t boring. They probably didn’t really. They just wanted impressionable people to think that smoking Viceroys would make them as interesting as a racecar driver.


Tobacco companies strongly preferred advertising in color. In contrast to the color national section, almost a quarter of which was cigarette ads, only 3 pages, or 3%, of the black-and-white local section were cigarette ads, for Doral, Pall Mall, and Silva Thins. Perhaps having a B/W ad implied that your cigarette was inferior; I never smoked and don’t know which cigarettes were discount brands.


The impossibly-thin model in this Silva Thins 100s ad proclaims, “I’m a Thinner,” whatever that means. I bet American Tobacco Company wanted people to think it meant that if you smoked Silva Thins, you could be thin yourself.

I don’t remember Silva Thins, but googling them I discovered that ad exec F. William Free created a Silva Thins ad that said, “Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich.” The National Organization for Women didn’t like that and launched a boycott of Silva. Free got his though, dying of lung cancer.

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013


I just got my new license plates. Well they’re the new “Ohio Pride” design, but they’re the same plates I’ve had for 20 years. Yep, not only am I gay but my car’s gay too.

As you can see, I’ve gotten several GAY CAR license plates over the years, usually getting new ones when a new design became available. I skipped the “Beautiful Ohio” design, which I thought looked stupid. I have two rear plates and one front of the red, white and blue “Birthplace of Aviation” design; someone stole the front one off my car while I was up in Cleveland.

My current gay car, a 2009 Volkswagen Eos, isn’t inherently gay but is just gay because I drive it. My original gay car, on the other hand, was a 1991 Mazda Miata, which was pretty gay.

I got my first set of GAY CAR plates in 1993. I thought it’d be funny to have GAY CAR plates on a gay Miata, but I was also a young idealistic gay activist who wanted to be really out. No HRC equal sign bumper sticker that only other gay people would recognize for me. No, I wanted something that everyone would understand.

At the time I first got the GAY CAR plates, friends and family thought I was making a mistake. My boss at the time thought I was asking to have my car vandalized or worse. I wasn’t sure what would happen. As it turned out I was lucky. Nothing ever happened to my car (which always spent the night in a garage), and the only thing that happened to me was getting called names.

In the 90s I did get called “faggot” quite a few times while out and about in my gay Miata. Being the angry young activist, if someone yelled “Faggot!” at me, I’d yell “Bigot!” right back at them. One time some rednecks in a pickup truck yelled “Fag!” at me while we were stopped side-by-side at a light on Wilmington Pike, and I flipped them off and gunned it. I’ve always liked to drive fast, but that time I had a reason to. They chased me down the street, but I made it home and into my garage before they could catch up. Don’t know what I’d have done if they’d come up to the house.

Speaking of driving fast, my GAR CAR plates got me out of a speeding ticket once. I was driving down I-75 in a rush to get somewhere and sped right past a state trooper who of course flipped on his lights and pulled me over. He came up to me, looked at my license and registration, and said, “I like your plates. Slow down, okay?” and he let me go.

These days the reactions are almost always positive. At least once a day I’m stopped at a light and looking in my rearview mirror I find the driver behind me whipping out a cellphone and taking a picture of my car. People honk and give me a thumbs up. Last month a middle-aged woman pulled up beside me on Dorothy Lane and said that she liked my plates.

Something strange did happen this year when I ordered my new plates. Back in 1993 I expected that the BMV would deny my request for GAY CAR plates, but it wasn’t a problem. This year I got a call from a 614 number, and it was a woman from the BMV who wanted to know what GAY CAR meant. Well, I said, I’m gay, and so’s my car. Is there a problem? I asked. Oh, no, she said, we were just curious. After that call I wondered if there would be a problem, but my new GAY CAR plates did come, so there’ll be photo ops at traffic lights around Dayton for another couple years at least.

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