Barbara Hale went from Perry Mason to promoting the first countertop microwave
When did you first use a microwave oven? If the answer was 1968, consider yourself one of the fortunate few. While the technology was not new — American inventor Percy Spencer came up with his "Radarange" in the mid-1940s — primitive microwaves were far too expensive and clunky for home use.
Appliance giant the Amana Corporation introduced a countertop microwave model in 1967. It was also called the Radarange. Finally, a nuclear family could nuke food in the comfort of the suburbs. Too bad they had to wait 16 years for the Hot Pocket to come along.
But here's the thing. While the Amana Radarange could cozily fit atop your Formica counter, the sucker was expensive. Consider that in 1970, Sears was selling a cheaper knock-off for $430. But could you really put a price on cooking a hot dog in minute? Yes, yes you sure could. With inflation, that works out to about $3,000 in modern money. Gulp!
So how was Amana to go about selling a kitchen appliance that cost as much as a used car? Easy. Amana hired one of the most beloved stars of television.
Barbara Hale has recently wrapped up her nine-year run on Perry Mason. She took home an Emmy Award for her role of Della Street on the pioneering mystery series. Hale was credited in all 271 episodes of the series. Perhaps that's why she took it relatively easy after Perry Mason ended in 1966. Hale popped up on an episode of Custer and Lassie, and reunited with Raymond Burr on Ironside, but her guest roles could be easily counted on a hand.
If you wanted to see Hale on TV at the dawn of the '70s, it was best to look in the commercials.
Hale turned up in several commercials for the Amana Radarange. "Hello, I'm Barbara Hale, and I've made the greatest cooking discovery since fire," she said in the ad.
"Set the timer. Push the start button. That's all," she explained. Remember, this was new to people. "Why you could have sizzling bacon with all the fat cooked out in minutes," she promised. And Hale was a face you could trust.
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I remember hearing about the home Amana Radarranges on "Truth or Consequences", either they were prizes or "promotional considerations".
It took till 1967 for there to be home microwaves, but others soon followed. I can't remember what years, but Heathkit soon sold a kit most of the assembly was mechanical. And "International Crystal" that sold mostky electronic componentsbut some test equipment and CB sets sold microwave ovens too.
I guess in both cases they were a niche market, before lots of comoanues jumped in, so small companies could do okay for a while.
They were still expensive, and primitive, since the timers were mechanical turn the dial to the right time and it ticked down