Milwaukee History Commentary

A whole bunch of commercials shown on Channel 18 on Oct. 20, 1979.

10 weird old Milwaukee TV commercials

When I moved back to Milwaukee after college in 1996, I remember being amused and a little surprised by the quality of the local commercials on TV. Compared to what aired on the East Coast back then, Milwaukee's TV spots were surprisingly hokey and low-budget. It annoyed me a little back then, but now, looking back, I love it. Small business bombarded us with sound-effects, star wipes and jingles – and we ate it up.

In fact, if you go a little further back into the '80s and '90s, you'll see some even weirder commercials on Milwaukee television. Asking around the office, we all had some spors to share – but a lot of these gems remain only in our memories.

Thankfully, some still exist on YouTube. Here are the best of the best:

1. Owl Imports

Their slogan "the only shop of its kind in the world" was fitting, since this was both a weird store and a weirder commercial. The creepy owl in the logo could only be improved upon for TV with the creepy owl sound effect. I can't believe this commercial ran in 1995 … not 1955.

2. George Takei MCTS bus commercial

The story goes that Mr. Sulu did this super-weird, low-budget, unlicensed 1984 bus commercial while he was in town for GenCon. I don't know what the weirdest part of this spot 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 spot is really specifically that weird, except for the fact that waterbed stores were a thing, and they advertised on TV.

4. Crazy TV Lenny

Get a bike, get a bike, get 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 deck. Or that American had a pitchman named "Crazy TV Lenny." His real name: Len Mattioli, which is less crazy sounding. (Here's a story Molly Snyder wrote on Lenny back in 2004.)

5. Emergency TV Service

This pseudo-old-timey commercial ran for so long that it didn't feel weird by the end of its run. It should be noted that Emergency TV Service remains in business (they opened in 1955) with two locations. But how many VCRs they service these days?

6. Steve Carrell promo for WTMJ:

I guess this one isn't that weird, although why not just get real listeners to do your testimonials? This spot makes sense, because Carrell was working at Second City back in Chicago when this was produced in the early '90s. I wonder how much he got paid for that six seconds of work.

7. 93 QFM

This commercial isn't any weirder than most radio spots of its day, either, but two quotes became part of Milwaukee's lexicon for years after it ran: "Rock without the schlock," and even better, "You bet your babushka, mamma."

8. Vincent Price for Cousins Subs

Vincent Price was kind of a weird choice for a sandwich pitchman. The late horror movie actor, talking to kids about subs in his scary voice and making scary faces? Weirder.

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. Scary furniture music!

I didn't think anything was weird about this commercial at first, but several readers noted the scary music at the end of this Gordon Furniture ad. Once you hear it, you might agree that it has sort of a serial killer vibe to it.

Honorable mention (but no video available):

  • Alarmtronix
  • Krazy King Konzel
  • Nord TV and Video Outlet

Bonus: Tadych Furniture speedy horse and buggy

Bonus two: Da Crusher TV disposal service

Bonus three: Wheel & Sprocket


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