I was listening to the all-news radio station on the way to work this morning when the consumer reporter began talking about the growing popularity of DVD players.
According to the report, a consumer electronics industry group announced that the sale of DVDs had quadrupled in the last year, and that the price of the players was now down to an average of $51.
I’ve seen those $51 models. One hundred dollars more will give you a top-of-the-line machine, so spend the extra money.
DVDs haven’t been on the market all that long, so it is surprising how fast the price has reached a point where a kid with a paper route can buy the low-end model.
Consider the microwave. Amana is observing the 36th anniversary of the introduction of its Radarange, which debuted in Chicago in August 1967 for $479.
That’s not to say that there weren’t microwave-type ovens before 1967. The technology was a byproduct of the invention of the radar in World War II. When the war ended, many of the inventions that helped bring the Allies victory were discovered to have commercial applications.
The radar range was one of them. In the 1950s, many of them found their way into restaurants and some homes. However, the price was about the same as an automobile, so, like color television, not every home had one.
It was only after Amana’s version debuted in 1967 that microwave purchases began taking off. It was not until well into the 1990s that microwaves became standard in the kitchens of new houses instead of options.
My wife and I didn’t buy a microwave until 1982. It was a Sears Kenmore, and it lasted well into the 1990s.
We replaced it with another Kenmore, which is sitting in the garage but still works perfectly.
The second Kenmore is in the garage because, as the 1980s flowed into the 1990s, microwaves moved from the countertop to special shelves, freeing up the countertops for expensive espresso makers.
When I remodeled the kitchen in our city house, I had the electrician hide a new outlet in the cabinet above the microwave shelf, and then I drilled a hole in the wall end of the cabinet bottom so I could discreetly run the microwave cord from the machine to the outlet.
The only problem was that our venerable microwave was too big for the space (and heavy, too). My middle sister had given us a gift certificate (yes, Sears), and we spent it on a sleek, black microwave that weighed half as much as the first two Kenmores and fit like a glove.
Though it was something of a curiosity through much of the 1970s, the microwave oven has truly come into its own as a standard household appliance.
Since our new kitchen microwave fit perfectly (and was only two years old), we left it in the city for our buyers. The sellers of our new house did the same thing for us. Microwaves have become what a seller includes in the sale, as much as the washer, dryer and refrigerator.
In our old house, the washer was less than a year old; the dryer was about 22, but dryers tend to last, with proper maintenance, just about forever. We had a new heating element installed in the dryer a year before the sale.
Apartment ads in the mid-1990s touted microwaves as kitchen features. They are not mentioned these days because everyone expects them. They have been standard in most new homes for several years, too.
Amana’s first Radarange cost $479. That doesn’t seem like much money now, but it was in 1967.
Tuition, room and board at my alma mater for 1968 was $2,800 a year in 1968. That was what a year of preschool cost us for my older son in 1986.
Today, a year at the University of Chicago costs $37,000. You see where I'm going with this.
So when you pay $799 for a high-end Amana Radarange these days, it should come with someone to put the food in it and complete the settings.
But look at VCRs. I bought our first, a Sony Beta (remember those?) for $550 for Christmas 1984.
Beta went the way of the Edsel. But I've seen good-quality VHS recorders going for $79.
In a Yankelovich Monitor study in 2001, 75 percent of respondents ranked the microwave just below the automobile among the things they could not do without.
I certainly couldn’t. If I didn’t have one I’d have to serve sausages in a pan on the stove, like my mother did.
And that’s not progress.