The revival of retro TVs

Once upon a plate of meatloaf, the TV warmed up while Dad sat in his chair smoking a pipe and Mom dusted the figurines. Minutes later, they watched "I Love Lucy" or "Gunsmoke" on their fat-bellied, freestanding Philco Predicta TV.

Today, it's 40-some years later, and although Mom and Dad are long gone to the golf courses of Central Florida, the Predicta TV is alive and well, thanks to a small Wisconsin company named Telstar.

"Mike and I always had a lot of hair-brained ideas, but this time, we had a little money, and we wanted to bring the Predicta back to life," says David Reidel who founded Telstar with longtime friend and Dungeons & Dragons artist, Mike Scott. "It was important to us that it wasn't just a replica ... we wanted to take it to the next step."

So the two men started to take the old-school, black-and-white Predicta to the next level by working long hours (on top of other full-time jobs) in David's workshop in Dousman and Mike's West Allis studio. "The plan was to create 10 prototypes, and we thought that if they didn't sell, we would still be left with 10 of the coolest TVs out there," says Reidel.

But the space-age sets did sell, and today, Telstar is a full-time Internet business boasting an eight-product line. The televisions, made almost entirely in Wisconsin, are in high demand, with a couple of orders from Hollywood.

David and Mike are vigilant about simultaneously preserving and improving the product. "We didn't build them until we had thoroughly studied them," David says, who credits his wife, Liz, with doing a lot of the research. "Whenever we made a change, we had to make sure our reasons were for the sake of artistic harmony, not for money reasons ... I hate when a decision is made on bottom line. The product is about the details, and cutting them out saves a few dollars, but it also destroys integrity."

Unlike the past-generation Predictas, the new sets are cable- and stereo-ready, remote controllable and blazing with color. (They are soooo "Nick at Night.") Telstar recreates five of the original Philco models and three of their own: The Meteor, Corona and Shalet. They range in price from $1,200 to $3,300 and can be completely customized to match your tastes and decor.

The Philco Predictas were manufactured from 1958-1961. Philco wanted to create a television that looked different, so they moved the tube outside of the cabinet and experimented with the aesthetic of the cabinet and stand. Although the lamps and furniture of this era had a colorful, geometrical design, the public didn't embrace this style for TVs. The failure of the Predictas contributed to the eventual bankruptcy of the Philco Corporation in 1962, and remaining sets were sold in bulk to hotel chains.

Reidel lovingly refers to the Predicta as "The Titanic of TVs," yet despite it's unpopularity a few decades ago, consumers today, many of whom were not alive in the 1950s or even the 1960s, covet these pleasingly impractical televisions. Currently, there is a six-month wait for a Telstar Predicta, and surprisingly, Reidel and Scott built this empire without conducting any marketing research. "If you write a song, you don't survey people to find out what kind of song to write," says Reidel, who called in for the interview from a rock-a-billy festival in Green Bay. "Pure market survey leads to brown mush, and we wanted to do something with heart and soul."

Interested in getting a Predicta of your own? Check out their Web site at predicta.com.

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