If you, like Ed McMahon and many others, are one of those people who've put off Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve, here are a few Home Tech-type last-minute gift suggestions--all priced under $30:
BLANKING OUT: Here's one tip that'll work for just about any gift-getters with videocassette players, no matter what they like to watch: blank tapes. The typical taper is always running out of raw material and will be as pleased as Christmas-party punch to get one or more cassettes. There's just one trick: You'll have to know what kind of VCR he or she has. VHS models are the most common, though there are still some Beta loyalists around and a few people with 8-millimeter decks or even one of those new Super-VHS models. Find out and get the appropriate tape. Or tapes --standard-grade VHS or Beta tapes cost only about $5 or $6, making them great stocking stuffers.
OR NOT TO BLANK: On the other hand, not all affordable videotapes are blank. There's a fantastic selection of under-$30 prerecorded tapes at your local video store. For example: Either "Giant" or "Rebel Without a Cause" for a James Dean fan. And for $20 or less: "Red Shoes" for dance and film buffs; "U2: Under a Blood Red Sky" or "Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same" for rock fans; for kids or any-age animation fans, "Here's Goofy" or any of the others in the $15-each "Walt Disney Cartoon Classics" series; for the sports fan, either of these two tapes from Sports Illustrated--"Speed: Get the Feeling" or "Not So Great Moments in Sports." If the last one sounds familiar, yes, it's the same tape the magazine used as a come-on for subscriptions earlier this year, hyping it on TV as "not available in any video store." The humorous low-lights cassette is very available now--for only about $13.
HEAR! HEAR! Videotape isn't the only hot tape these days--and we're not just talking about music on audiocassettes. We're talking, in fact, about talking on audiocassettes--reading on them, to be precise. That's what some of the best actors in the world do--read great (and not-so-great) books (usually abridged) for your listening pleasure while driving, doing the dishes, etc. Book chains such as B. Dalton, Waldenbooks and Crown carry a wide selection of books-on-tape by such companies as Simon & Schuster, Dove, Listen for Pleasure, Newman and Warner. Single-tape condensations generally run about $8, double-tape audios around $12 to $15.
CD PLAN: Know someone who's recently bought a compact disc player? He or she would love to replace favorite, well-worn vinyl albums with their CD counterparts, but at $11 to $16 a pop has to proceed cautiously. Throw caution and 15 bucks to the wind and buy the Beatles' "Abbey Road" or any of the many other classic albums that have been digitally remastered on those cute little 5-inch discs. Some budget classics are even available for less than $10.
ALTERNATE PLAN: For music-loving friends who don't have a CD player yet, help them care for their vinyl treasures with a record-cleaning kit, such as the Discwasher Record Care System, which sells for around $10.
ARRRGGHHHH! The hottest new tech-toy gift of the year is a wise-cracking mechanical host called "Mr. TV Game Show," but he's probably too hard to find at this late date, and besides, his $130 price tag doesn't fit our limitations here. So you might see if you can locate a reasonably cheap alternative, like the Pee-Wee Herman doll. This miniature version of the kids-show funny guy sells for around $25-$30 and says six different phrases when you pull the string on his back. Including, of course, "Arrrgghhhh!"
GOOD NINTENTIONS: If your pal owns a Nintendo video game and you know what games he or she doesn't have, help complete the collection with "Stinger" or one of the others. They go for $25-$30 each.
GOOD BOOKS: The new-tech world is a jungle, so buy someone a guide. Like "Peter McWilliams' Personal Electronics Book," an excellent, witty explanation of everything from digital audio tape to car phones (Prentice Hall; $10.95). Or "Leonard Maltin's TV Movies and Video Guide," the best book among all those that rate, berate and review movies-on-video (Signet; $4.95). Or how about this: a gift subscription to one of the better magazines dealing with the tech field, such as Video, Video Review, Digital Audio, Audio or good old Consumer Reports.
Hurry up! Or the next weird electronic sound you hear may be Santa's new high-tech sleigh coming over the horizon. . . .