When I returned to Milwaukee after college in 1996, I remember being amused and a bit surprised by the quality of the local television commercials. Compared to what was airing on the East Coast at the time, Milwaukee TV spots were surprisingly hokey and low budget. It pissed me off a bit at the time, but now, looking back, I love it. Small business bombarded us with sound effects, star wipes and jingles – and we ate it.
In fact, if you go back a little further to the 80s and 90s, you’ll see even weirder commercials on Milwaukee TV. Asking around the office, we all had sports to share – but many of these gems only linger in our memories.
Fortunately, some still exist on YouTube. Here is the best of the best:
1. Imports of owls
Their slogan “the only store of its kind in the world” was appropriate, because it was both a strange store and a stranger advertisement. The scary owl in the logo could only be improved for TV with the scary owl sound effect. I can’t believe this ad was aired in 1995…not 1955.
2. George Takei Advertising on MCTS buses
The story goes that Mr. Sulu did this super bizarre, low-budget, unlicensed bus commercial in 1984 while in town for GenCon. I don’t know what the weirdest part about this place is, but I think it’s Takei doing the Vulcan salute.
3. Wonderful waterbeds
In 1989, there were at least a handful of waterbed stores in Milwaukee. Nothing about this place is really that weird except that the waterbed shops were a thing and they advertised on TV.
4. Crazy TV Lenny
Take a bike, take a bike, take a bike! In the 80s and 90s, none of us thought it was weird to get a free 10-speed bike for buying a tape recorder. Or that the American had a pitchman named “Crazy TV Lenny”. His real name: Len Mattioli, which sounds less crazy. (Here’s a story Molly Snyder wrote about Lenny in 2004.)
5. Emergency Television Service
This pseudo-old-timey commercial ran so long that it didn’t look weird when it ended. It should be noted that Emergency TV Service remains in operation (they opened in 1955) with two locations. But how many VCRs do they service these days?
6. Promoting Steve Carrell for WTMJ:
I guess this one isn’t that weird, but why not just ask real listeners to do your testimonials? This spot makes sense because Carrell was working at Second City in Chicago when this was produced in the early 90s. I wonder how much he got paid for that six seconds of work.
This commercial is also no stranger than most radio spots of its day, but two quotes have become part of the Milwaukee lexicon for years after it aired: “Rock without the schlock”, and even better, ” You bet your babushka, mamma”. ”
8. Vincent Price for Cousin Subs
Vincent Price was an odd choice for a sandwich pitchman. The late horror movie actor, talking to kids about submarines with his creepy voice and making creepy faces? Stranger.
9. Ponty, the singing Pontiac
How do you get people to buy cars in the 70s? Singing Pontiacs, of course. Brilliant, Phil Tolkein. Brilliant, but weird.
10. Creepy furniture music!
I didn’t think anything was weird about this ad at first, but several readers noted the creepy music at the end of this Gordon Furniture ad. Once you hear it, you might agree that it has a kind of serial killer vibe to it.
Honorable mention (but no video available):
- Krazy King Konzel
- Nord TV and video jack
Bonus: fast horse and buggy from Tadych Furniture
Bonus 2: Da Crusher TV Disposal Service
Bonus three: wheel and pinion