1. “The Captain has turned off the ‘No Smoking’ sign.”
This announcement was heard less frequently beginning in 1988, when smoking was banned on all domestic flights of two hours or less. Ten years later smoking was verboten on all domestic flights, and by 2000 smoking on any U.S. airline was banned by federal law.
2. In Stereo (Where Available)
The FCC adopted a standard for stereo television transmission in 1984, but it took several years for the networks and local affiliates to update their equipment to accommodate the second audio channel. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was the first network show to broadcast in stereo (in July 1984), but only New York’s WNBC had stereo capability at the time. Stereo TV sets were just hitting the market and most viewers had to connect their TV set to their home stereo system (that meant a turntable/radio combination back then) in order to enjoy the enhanced sound. As different stations slowly adopted the new technology, more shows included an “In Stereo (Where Available)” announcement during their opening credits. Some syndication copies of older shows still include the notation.
3. Please Be Kind and Rewind
You're not going to believe this, but people used to actually drive to the video store and rent VHS tapes. (Just so we're all on the same page, a VHS tape is that oversized cassette shown here.) A lot of renters had a habit of returning a movie after watching only half of it, or worse, after watching the whole thing but without rewinding it. Special rewinding machines were a common component of home entertainment systems back then, because using your VCR to rewind tapes tended to wear out the video heads. But it was darned frustrating and inconvenient to come home from Blockbuster, pop The Crying Game into the VCR and have it start right at the shocking reveal. At first, stores tried using these types of gentle reminder stickers to nudge their customers; eventually many of them would charge a rewind fee for violators.
4. Unleaded Fuel Only
Lead was added to gasoline beginning in the 1920s when it was discovered that the chemical reduced engine “knock.” But in the 1970s, the federal government admitted that lead was a poison and started taking steps to remove it from our fuel. Catalytic converters were added to new vehicles, which required a new (and more expensive) unleaded gasoline. For many years gas stations offered both leaded and unleaded gas. Since unleaded was more expensive, a lot of owners of newer vehicles purchased a special gadget that allowed the leaded nozzle to fit in their unleaded gas tanks. The government intervened and made “Unleaded Only” warnings standard equipment on new vehicles. Leaded gasoline was banned completely in the U.S. in 1986.
5. No Deposit, No Return
During the Great Depression, most stores in every state charged a two cent deposit on every glass soda pop bottle, which was refunded when you returned the empty. Glass bottles were heavy, so folks returning huge sacks full of them wasn’t a problem for merchants at the time and the nuisance factor was minimal. When the 1960s rolled around, soft drink bottlers started using plastic instead of glass, and they weren’t going to re-use the empties, so consumers were free to just toss them (and save 12 cents per six-pack to boot). “No Deposit, No Return” was printed or embossed on pop bottles until the late 1970s when so-called “Bottle Bills” started passing through various state legislatures. Too many folks were littering the landscape with their discarded containers, so deposits on not only bottles but also cans were once again implemented. Even if your state doesn’t have a return law, your soda labels still have the various requisite deposit amounts printed on them.
6. No Cyclamate
Sodium cyclamate, usually abbreviated to simply “cyclamate,” was an artificial sweetener that was approved by the FDA in 1958. It was sweeter than sugar and had much less of the bitter aftertaste of saccharin. For diabetics, dieters, and kids prone to cavities, cyclamate was nothing short of a miracle. Sugar-laden products were able to offer sugar-free varieties that tasted the same. But then a study published in 1967 announced that cyclamate caused bladder cancer in laboratory mice, and manufacturers started voluntarily pulling their products from shelves before the FDA officially banned the additive in 1970. Research done since that initial study found that the mice in question were of a certain genetic strain that might have been prone to cancer in the first place, and the amount of cyclamate given to them was equal to 350 cans of diet soda pop per day. Cyclamate is still legal and used in many countries around the world, including Canada and the UK.
7. Brought to You in Living Color
All three major networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) began broadcasting in color during prime time in the fall of 1965. Many of the daytime soaps were holdouts, though, and all-color programming didn’t begin until 1972. In early 1968 economists predicted that color TV sets would outsell their B&W counterparts for the first time by the end of the year (they were off by a few years; it didn’t happen until 1972). Only 20% of U.S. households had two or more sets at the time, and almost all portable TVs (usually the choice for a second set) were still black and white due to the technology involved for color. As a result, the networks hyped their color broadcast capability until the mid-1970s in order to get those last holdouts out to the appliance store to buy an RCA console model.
8. This Film is Rated GP
The MPAA started issuing ratings for films in 1968, and the Original Four ratings were G (for general audiences; all ages admitted), M (mature audiences), R (restricted; children under 17 must be accompanied by an adult) and X (no one under 18 admitted). The M rating confused a lot of patrons who equated “mature” with “nudity” or “sex scenes”, so in 1969 M was changed to GP (general audiences, parental guidance suggested). The MPAA officially changed GP to PG in 1970s so that the “parental guidance” angle was more obvious, but a lot of studios stuck with GP long afterward. The 1980 Olivia Newton-John bomb Xanadu was the last commercially released movie with a GP rating.
If the two channels/two speakers used for stereo sound were good, then quadraphonic sound, which required four channels/speakers, was better, right? Quad sound was originally available only on reel-to-reel tapes until 1971, when Columbia and Sony started marketing quadraphonic vinyl LPs. In order to enjoy the full effect of four channels, however, one needed to buy a compatible (very expensive) quadraphonic audio system. Some quad albums were “stereo compatible,” meaning they could be played on standard stereo equipment, but they didn’t provide the full “surround sound” experience that was intended. A few radio stations experimented with broadcasting in quadraphonic, including Detroit’s WWWW.FM (W4).
10. Home Quarantine Signs
These are actually even before my time, and I’m fairly ancient. But both my parents remember seeing similar signs in their neighborhoods when they were kids. In the pre-antibiotic days, scarlet fever was highly contagious and frequently caused damage to the heart valves. The U.S. achieved measles eradication in 2000, and cases since then have mostly been imported by unvaccinated folks returning from overseas. Other conditions that were cause for quarantine by local health departments at one time include whooping cough, influenza and diphtheria.
11. Free TV! Telephones in Every Room!
Today’s travelers look for lodgings that provide free Internet access. But at one time free TV was a selling point for Mom & Pop motels. And we’re not talking free cable – we mean an actual television set. At one time TVs were such a luxury item that many motels and hotels only had a limited number available for rent from the office. And in-room telephones? Forgetaboutit. They were another luxury that usually added a dollar or two to the price of the room. Unless you were a businessman who lived and died by the phone, most folks saved their money and used the payphone outside.
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As always, we love to hear from you! Share your memories of signs you haven’t seen in a while, or other similar disclaimer-type thingies.