Remember Ronco’s ‘Mr. Microphone’ Gadget?

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“Hey, good looking… We’ll be back to pick you up later…”

The name Ron Popeil may not immediately resonate with you. But if you were watching TV in the ’70s and ’80s, TV ads and infomercials for his gadgets were everywhere. The famed inventor and TV pitchman delivered a legacy of the Chop-o-Matic, the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, and of course, Mr. Microphone.

Born Ronald Martin Popeil in New York City, on May 3, 1935, his is the quintessential rags to riches tale. After his parents divorced, the three-year-old and his older brother were placed in a boarding school. When he was thirteen he went to work in a factory managed by his father. At sixteen, young Ron began to sell the products his father’s factory produced in the flea markets, starting his day at 5 a.m. to set up. He would gross as much as $500 per day; a huge sum in the 1950’s.

By age 17, Popeil had amassed enough of a savings to move out on his own and setup a stand at the flagship Woolworth store in Chicago. He hawked his gadgets six days a week, twelve hours each day. During the state fair season, he took his show on the road becoming a staple of state fairs.

In the early 1950’s after discovering the reach and power of television and the ability to beam his pitch into America’s living rooms, Ron created the first infomercial. Along with his partner at the time, Mel Korey, he produced the first minute long, black and white commercial for slightly over $500. The first television infomercial was for the Ronco Chop-o-Matic.

Watch Popeil’s pitch for the Chop-o-Matic

One guess as to how the name Ronco was derived.

Sales of the Chop-o-Matic quickly spread nationally and made millions turning Popeil into a household name. This led to several generations of parodies from I Love Lucy and Saturday Night Live.

Watch SNL’s parody, the “Bass-o-Matic”

Some of Popeil’s other products included: Mr. Microphone (the first Karaoke machine), the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, the Veg-o-Matic, the Buttoneer, the Smokeless Ashtray, Popeil’s Electric Food Dehydrator, the Inside-the-Egg Scrambler, GLH-9 (Great Looking Hair Formula #9) Hair in a Can Spray, Rhinestone stud setter (later called the Bedazzler), the Cap Snaffler, the Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker, the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator, the Ronco 6 Star Plus Knives, and the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ. Some of his products are featured in the Smithsonian Museum.

Popeil was also a pioneer in the recording business. Ronco Records was one of the first in the recording industry to build compilations of well-known artists’ works and to package them for direct to consumer sales on television.

Related: K-Tel’s “As Advertised on TV” albums

Ron Popeil (Photo via his website)

His sales format, pitch style, and catch phrases were almost immediately duplicated by dozens of other pitchmen. Most of the marketing sales on television today, and the “countdown pricing methods” are direct derivatives of Popeil’s works. The expression and branding “As Seen on TV” was first coined to describe his legendary success.

Many of the phrases and pitches Ron has used in his infomercials have become an inseparable part of America’s household and entertainment vernacular including: “Set it, and forget it,” “But wait, there’s more,” “Now how much would you pay?” and of course “Less Shipping and Handling.”

Popeil appeared as himself in both live action and animated television and films including The X-Files, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and many others including appearances on late night entertainment programs The Tonight Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and more.

In 2000, Popeil reportedly broke sales records by selling over $1 million worth of his Showtime Rotisseries during a one-hour live airing on QVC (selling approximately 150 units each minute to viewers).

“Hey, good looking… We’ll be back to pick you up later…”

Watch the ad for “Mr. Microphone”

Ron Popeil passed away peacefully surrounded by his family in Los Angeles on July 28, 2021, at age 86.

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