- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 2, 2006

It’s official. For the big gift this year, each and every American wants one of those 63-inch Hi-Def Wi-Fi Bluetooth Beige-Plasma Broadband Mixstick MP23 Nanoprobe LCD-display PoodyPods — the ones with Gorillavision, Attitude Adjustment and Smellarama.

And they’re willing to riot at Best Buy to get it.

Why, they had a PoodyPod riot in Cleveland only yesterday. Consumer grief therapists were called in to console all those who couldn’t get one.

But guess what? Actually, not everybody wants the fabled, coveted PoodyPod.

While the consumer electronic industry wasn’t looking, an entire population of anti-technology lovers was growing — pining for the days when vacuum tubes, rotary dials, turntables and bobbing antennae were the hallmarks of modernity.

It has been a low-tech backlash. These folks prowl junk stores for RCA stereos, they clack at manual typewriters and look askance at the frantic hordes who wear cell phones like jewelry and are sequestered alone for hours on end with computer screens and high-speed connections.

Anti-techies are not just nostalgic, outdated or plain stubborn. This is an aesthetic thing. It brings joy to their hearts to place a 33 rpm album — let’s say a little Louis Prima or Pat Boone — upon the slender stem of a record player and wait patiently while the device clicks through its paces. They revel in the muffled scratchiness of what they hear, its immediacy.

“Yeah. Now that’s what I’m talking about,” the anti-techie mumbles, enjoying a long pull from a Royal Crown Cola or perhaps some working man’s cocktail from the early 1950s.

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra has much to say about the appeal of low-tech. This six-man group — which produces a visceral percussion beat on old manual typewriters — has appeared on national television, at public festivals and now on a new recording. Some startling samples can be found at the group’s Web site (www.bostontypewriter orchestra.com).

But wait. This is not an ode to the vintage glories of thrift shops and junk stores. This is an announcement that all the good old stuff of yore is still being manufactured by a number of businesses that didn’t give up the business. And business is booming.

With incredible gumption, humor and charm, 86-year-old Crosley Radio Corp. continues to offer brand-new, decidedly low-tech fare for those who spurn the anonymous perfection of computer-chipped, miniaturized listening pods. We’re talking weighty record players that play 33-, 45- and 78-rpm vinyl, along with nifty radios, telephones, boxes to tote records and those all-important record-player needles.

The product names speak volumes: Stack-o-matic, Autorama, Collegiate.

“Music is in its purest form on vinyl,” says Bo LeMastus, president of Crosley. “It captures everything the producer wanted to put in the record. On CD, you lose a certain something.”

Indeed. To most anti-techies, the intrusion of cutting-edge electronics is dehumanizing. It makes people passive. It neutralizes a sense of the marvelous.

“You just sit with an MP3. It’s almost too efficient. There’s no twiddling knobs, no involvement,” says one Fredericksburg, Va., man who keeps a Crosley tweed-covered Traveler record player in his living room with a bunch of old 78s.

The company (www.crosleyradio.com) also makes items such as a pastel pink Princess phone — with clear plastic rotary dial, of course — table and floor radios with chunky dials, and “entertainment stands” with slots sized for albums, not CDs.

But Crosley recently bridged the gap between the old and new universes. Brand-new this year: a record player that incorporates a CD recorder to burn off a copy of those Prima favorites. Another connects directly to a computer for the same reasons, plus there’s a 1950s-style radio that receives satellite radio signals and offers surround sound.

Meanwhile, mail-order and specialty retailers such as Signatures, Dr. Leonard’s and Hammacher Schlemmer continue to sell Olivetti manual typewriters — brand new ones — for those who are convinced they can’t write the great American novel or a film noir screenplay without one. Yes, there are still tack-tacking keys, smudgy ribbons and a return shift that looks like a silver airplane wing.

But there also has been another happy little meeting between eras here. One can have a favorite old typewriter font, minus the typewriter. A company called Vintage Type (www.vintagetype.com) offers 15 authentic fonts from beloved old devices — on software discs for computer use. Among the choices: Royal Deluxe, Blick Cursive, Corona, Olympia, Underwood Portable. Collections are $30, single fonts are $19.

Another style — Remington Perfected No. 4 — has been gleaned from the “first true QWERTY-based typewriters, identical to the original Sholes & Glidden made famous by Mark Twain,” the company advises.

It also has duplicated a pair of telegram-style fonts, as seen on countless old movies, advising some leading man, “You inherited $1 million. Stop. Contact your great aunt. Stop.”

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and Pat Boone for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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