Infomercial pioneer Phillip Kives, founder of TV channel and sometime record label K-tel International, died on Wednesday, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. He was 87.
Kives and his brother started out as door-to-door cookware salesmen, and would demonstrate their products at local stores. The salesman was growing weary of life on the road, though, and founded K-tel in the 1960s, originally marketing household items via mail order before deciding to use television to sell his products. “I bought some TV time on the local channel so I could demonstrate to a whole world of people at one time,” Kives told The Independent in 2005. In 1962, Kives produced a five-minute long commercial for a Teflon non-stick frying pan—according to Kives, the first infomercial.
The “original ‘As Seen On TV’ company,” according to its website, K-tel products included the Blitzhacker food chopper, the Veg-O-Matic, and Baby Duckling wine. Outside of the kitchen, K-tel also marketed Comb Away Grey hair products and Air Rings earrings. However, Kives’ most popular household product was the Miracle Brush, which moved 28 million units by the late ’60s. Kives would acquire products from Seymour Popeil, father of Ron Popeil, who would go on to have his own success as a TV pitchman.
K-tel is perhaps most fondly remembered, however, for its album compilations—also sold in TV commercials—popular throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. In 1966, Kives released the first K-tel compilation, 25 Great Country Artists Singing Their Original Hits. “I had to do something else,” Kives explained to The Independent. “I thought, why not do a music album? I thought it’d be a one-off. Everybody said, ‘that won’t work.’”
It did work for Kives, though, and from 1972 on, K-Tel was doing an album every couple of weeks. With titles such as Music Power, Disco Rocket, and Star Party, K-tel branched out of the country “one-off” into every form of pop music playing on the AM radio, with the major labels taking a 16 percent royalty on the retail price. (“We were seen as a necessary evil,” as former K-tel sales manager Colin Ashby revealed to The Independent.) And while K-tel Records came to an abrupt halt in 1983, the company still distributes more than 200,000 songs on digital platforms like Amazon and iTunes, including tunes by The Romantics, Chubby Checker, and Little Richard.
A Winnipeg native, Kives remained in his hometown for his entire life, where he was an avid breeder of racehorses. He is survived by his brother George, wife Ellie, and children Samantha, Kelly, and David.