Ken Ober is best known as the host of MTV's Remote Control, the greatest pop-culture game show ever made.
Now, on days like these, people who remember will suddenly become huge fans. "Oh yeah! I used to love that show! I used to watch it all the time!" they'll say. "It had that guy on it. You know, what's his name. And he did that thing! It was so funnae!"
Well I really did love that show. Really. As a kid, I always said that on my 18th birthday (so as to meet the show's eligibility requirements) I would be there, in Ken Ober's basement, winning myself a Mitsubishi Montero (It's a hot machine. It's the car you want to be in when you want to be seen.). Sadly, the show went off the air in 1990, four years short of my dream coming true.
To this day, I have a period Remote Control T-shirt and a mint-condition edition of the home game, upon which I have never been defeated. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
I loved Remote Control so much that, as a kid, I swear to God, I built a fully functional version of the show's basement set in my own basement.
It had a "Big Zenith" made from a big cardboard box, complete with channel indicators made of different colored construction paper mounted on strings (to simulate turning off the bulbs when the category was finished) and a screen made from an old dishwasher front panel to which I could magnetically attach my own crayon drawings of the category art.
It had the three contestant chairs, with trapdoors rigged between the ceiling beams, allowing me to pull a cord and drop a load of snacks on my contestants at the end of the first round. It had the final round's big green TV monster, made of an old shower curtain with "TV screens" made from pages cut out of a rock magazine. I had an ancient organ keyboard propped up on a shelf to create Steve's little musical lair. And, in an insane level of detail understood only by true devotees to the show, I made a giant Bob Eubanks PEZ dispenser with a tiebreaker question hidden safely in his neck.
When I said the set was fully functional, I meant it. I actually wrote enough questions for an entire episode, and convinced my parents and a cousin to play a full game, with me in the role of Ken Ober.
Needless to say, the show had a profound effect on my adolescent psyche. I credit much of my love for the pop-culture trivia of classic TV and '80s hair metal to Remote Control, and I credit much of Remote Control's uniquely addictive voice and style to Ken Ober.
You helped to make me who I am today, Ken Ober.
You probably owe me an apology.
Ken Ober - 1957-2009
I unearthed these pictures of the game played in my Remote Control set on January 14, 1989. (Wanna feel old? Kids who were born on this day can now legally buy beer.)
For those of you who may not have a photographic memory of 20-year-old game shows, I've included some pictures of the real show as well.
Here's the host podium and "The Big Zenith." On the show, the TV's number lights had three phases to note the channel's status: in play, selected, or finished. My Zenith's paper numbers flipped over between two colors for "in play" and "selected," and then once the category was finished, a third color was paperclipped on.
The antenna is made of Tinkertoys, and individually illustrated channel screens were stuck on the front with magnets.
With all of this attention to detail, it's surprising to me that my "Zenith" is branded "Corn Flakes."
Pictured are me and my sister as Colin Quinn and Kari Wuhrer. (I alternated between playing Colin and Ken, because I didn't have any friends.)
Here's Mom, Dad, and my cousin Kris as the contestants. They're all holding "remote controls" made of chunks of 2x4, and "buzzers" made of pieces of Hot Wheels track with yarn taped to them.
Although they are out of the shot, I did have construction paper versions of the brown "buzz in" lamps above their heads, and a string-activated trap door that dropped snacks on them.
In the real game the grand prize round featured a big green monster with an orange eyeball and nine video screens. It played music videos and you had 30 seconds to name each artist.
My version had a monster made out of a shower curtain and the dome of an orange siren light. You can see just at the right edge of the photo is a paper screen mounted on a skateboard that blocked the monster until it was time to play this round. My "video screens" are pictures cut out of hair metal magazines.
Unfortunately the keyboard bar area I mentioned above seems to have slipped into history unphotographed, but I do have this bonus picture.
Two weeks after this game the Big Zenith made another appearance as my 13th birthday cake.
I think it's funny that Mom obviously based her design on my Corn Flake Zenith rather than the real one.