By Emily Carney
Certain commercials, jingles, TV show themes, and public television identifications from the 1980s and 1990s are etched into my mind like a road map of the past. These are the kinds of things that I’m humming after I wake up from a deep sleep . . . obviously, watching public television in those days made for some strong formative impressions. One new website, RetrOntario.com, takes this spirit further by preserving Ontario-based programming from that era.
RetrOntario was born on YouTube in 2006. The channel originally celebrated the Buffalo, NY station WNED-17 and later branched out into bringing viewers vintage TV idents, such as this famous TVOntario one from 1982. This channel brings comfort food to fans of Canadian public television in the form of old promos. RetrOntario is always on the lookout for content in the form of VHS and Betamax hauls, which have turned up gems such as this promo from a TVOntario correspondence course called Computer Academy (which, in 1984, could be bought for just $49!). The show’s theme song also borrows heavily from Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights,” but that’s a story for another time . . .
RetrOntario continues to uncover some unsung gems in Canadian broadcast history, including but not limited to the following:
CBC Baseball disco outro, 1980: Do you like baseball? Did you ever associate this vaguely manly sport involving crotch-grabbing and tobacco-chewing with the disco explosion? Well, apparently at one point, the CBC did. They turned the quaint baseball anthem “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” into a disco extravaganza with overexcited female singers. They did the same thing to the theme to Hockey Night in Canada.
Crazy Lee’s Rap, 1985: A chick and a dude, who are both clearly not teenagers, attempt to shill new-wave duds to confused Canadian teenagers while jamming out to an atrocious rap/rock soundtrack. Best comment: “Is this really what teenagers looked like in the ’80s? Jesus, they look like they could pass for 35!”
WWF jouets grans, 1987: Because mid-1980s wrestling toys are somehow even more hilarious and kitschy in French. The best part: check out the little kids dressed up like Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and (I think) Ric Flair at the start of the ad.
CityTV Channel 79 sign off, 1983: This is just neat. The end signs off with some Steve Miller music and lovely shots of Ontario and the beautifully 1980s City TV studio. In today’s world of 24-hour news, we never see these kinds of things. At the end, it all fades out into those elegiac color bars which tell you it’s time to go to bed.
Head Space Toronto Punk Club, 1979: “A real rock and roll punk place.” In what looks like a dive bar called “Larry’s Hideaway.” While the band looks “punk,” the crowd looks like a bunch of lumberjacks and girls with Dorothy Hamill haircuts, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. I do wish places like this still existed.
Of course, there are innumerable other clips to watch on this unique website. While those decades may have ended, Betamax and VHS are forever—and Retroontario.com has turned the waking wishes of a former public television junkie into fun (and occasionally kitschy) reality. By the way, if you have any of these clips, RetrOntario would be thrilled to have them.