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May 1964 Electronics WorldTable of Contents
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Electronics World was published from May 1959 through December 1971. See all Electronics World articles.
Although not in the title as it used to be, this is a "Mac's Service Shop" story by John T. Frye. If Mac and Barney are the stars of the saga, then it can be none other. The story is about how the misdeeds of a few dishonest operators can taint the reputation of an entire industry - nothing new there. Barney is telling Mac about a 'sting' ploy pulled by a consumer protection group whereby TV sets with a specific easy-to-troubleshoot problem introduced to see how repair technicians from a suspect company would bill the service. I'll not spoil the ending for you; however, a comment mentioned that $10 would have been a reasonable price for a house call that included the fix. According to the BLS's inflation calculator, $10 in 1964 was the equivalent of about $78 today. You can't get a carpet installer to come to your house to mend a small tear for that much nowadays (I speak from recent experience).
The Fraudulent Technician - A Minority
John T. Frye
Recent crackdowns on a few shady service operators may be a real disservice to the conscientious, ethical TV servicer.
"Hey, Mac, did you ever have an experience with one of those investigators who rig up a TV set with some simple complaint and then have you fix it to see if you're honest in your charges?" Barney asked his boss.
"Not that I know of," Mac answered. "Of course such a set could have gone through the shop without my being aware of it. If your repair bill seems honest, I suppose you never know. But what brought up this morbid subject?"
"Oh I was reading about a case in which a state bureau of consumer fraud received several complaints about a particular radio and TV repair concern with several branches. According to the story, three TV receivers were put in perfect operating condition, and then a defective damper tube and fuse were installed in each. The doctored sets were placed in the homes of investigators for the bureau, and three different branches of the company under suspicion were called for service."
"The bureau people figured a good technician should be able to locate and repair the trouble quickly right in the home and that $10 would be a reasonable charge. Instead, in each case, the technician said the receiver had to go into the shop; and in all instances the receivers were returned with identical $39.85 bills. What was worse, parts in a couple of the sets had been marked with ink visible only under special lighting. Examination with this light revealed that while the bills included charges for new parts, the old parts were still in the set.
"The case was taken to court, and I don't know how it came out; but doggone it! why is someone always trying to make us look bad? The Better Business Bureau in the city where this happened admitted 80% of the complaints received were made against only three-fourths of 1% of the service shops advertising in that city. In other words, one guy suspected of being crooked among a hundred and thirty honest ones louses up things for everybody! Investigations like this throw the spotlight on that one guy, and the majority of the people jump to the conclusion he's typical of the whole service fraternity. I'd not be surprised if publicity like this doesn't breed crookedness. A fellow who has been playing it straight and finds his customers regarding him with suspicion after a story such as this appears is likely to decide: 'If you've got the name, you may as well have the game.'''
"Whoa, boy; steady now!" Mac interrupted, although he was smiling sympathetically. "I appreciate how you feel, but let's not get carried away. We're human enough to dislike having anyone in our 'group' branded as a crook. Maybe deep-down we're afraid of suffering a stigma through guilt-by-association. We know that can happen. But we mustn't let this instinctive fear go far enough that we want the guilty protected from exposure."
"But why is the service fraternity singled out?"
"Actually it's not. A few black sheep turn up in every flock. Every week lawyers are being disbarred, physicians lose their licenses to practice, storekeepers and filling station operators are warned about scales or pumps that give short measure, and even a few hapless clergymen succumb to temptation. Don't forget there was a Judas among the twelve disciples. You must never allow the discovery of a few crooked service technicians to make you feel either guilty or cynical. Honesty is an individual matter. You can't hold yourself personally accountable for the honesty of every individual practicing the same trade or profession you practice. All you can do is make sure that one member of that group, yourself, is scrupulously honest, and you can place yourself squarely on record as being opposed to any shady dealing."
"Then you're not opposed to these investigations?"
"Not when they are properly conducted by responsible people and the findings are accurately and adequately reported. An example of the kind of investigation I do not want was one conducted several years ago by a magazine. The obvious purpose of this investigation was to come up with a sensational article that would sell magazines. The title of the article was something like 'The Radio Repairman Will Gyp You.' Note what a blanket indictment that is. It leaves the impression all radio repairmen are crooked. If you read the whole article, you found out this was not the case at all; but many never read or remembered anything but that misleading title. The lingering, bitter memory of that article probably accounts for a lot of the resentment and distrust many technicians still feel toward any attempt to unmask the few chiselers in their ranks."
"Well, I've got the feeling we're going to be in for a lot more of these investigations. Thirteen states already have Bureaus of Consumer Fraud, and more states are considering setting them up. Inasmuch as the first of these bureaus, the one in New York, was established in 1957, you can see they're spreading rapidly."
"You seem pretty well informed about them; so how's about filling me in?" Mac suggested. "How do they differ from Better Business Bureaus?"
"For one thing, a Bureau of Consumer Fraud has more teeth than a Better Business Bureau," Barney explained. "The BBB is a voluntary, self-regulating agency of business itself. While it can bring strong public opinion to bear, it cannot, by itself, dole out legal punishment. The Bureau of Consumer Fraud, on the other hand, is a state government agency directed by the state attorney general and backed by the legal power of the state. The attorney general can get an injunction to force a concern to stop its shady dealing, and he can even dissolve a corporation that persists in bilking its customers."
"What kind of investigations does the bureau make?" p>
"I"It investigates any complaint in which a customer thinks he has been cheated or swindled by a seller of goods or services. That includes everyone using worthless guarantees, bait advertising, high-pressure selling tactics, or padded service charges. Not all the complaints are found to be justified, of course; and the bureaus say that when this is the case, the customer is told his complaint is unreasonable. As the New York bureau chief, Barnett Levy, puts it: 'We won't knuckle under to a firm, but neither will we browbeat it.' "
"Let's hope that will be the policy of all the bureaus, but there's just one little thing that worries me," Mac admitted. "Certainly no one can defend a technician's charging for work not performed nor for parts not installed; but when you come to deciding whether or not the technician is justified in attempting to improve the reception of any TV set, you're not on such firm ground.
"Take that business of saying a set to be used in an investigation is 'in perfect operating condition' outside of the deliberately induced faults. Quite candidly, I don't ever recall ever seeing a TV receiver I'd be willing to say was in 'perfect' operating condition, and I don't ever expect to see one. The layman might call the picture on it perfect, but not a trained technician. Invariably the latter would be able to point out a little non-linearity, a trace of a ghost, a suggestion of ringing, a little lack of definition, a bit of distortion or noise in the sound, etc., etc. in some cases these slight imperfections would be inherent in the set, but in other cases a decided improvement could be made if it were considered worth while."
"Yeah, and that would depend on how much of a perfectionist the technician was and how fussy he believed the customer to be," Barney added. "How often does a customer leave a 'dead' radio for repair, and after we've replaced the burned-out tube we find the set has too much hum, a slipping dial cord, or a noisy volume control? If we only put in the new tube that restores the radio to a playing condition, the customer comes bouncing back indignantly demanding if that's the way we fix sets. How about the hum? the noisy control? the slipping dial cord? It makes no difference that he failed to mention these things. He expects us to notice and correct them. Figuring out how far to go toward trying to achieve perfection is not an easy thing. Sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. And don't forget what every doctor knows: sometimes you arrive at the true cause of an infection by a process of eliminating possible and unlikely causes one by one."
"Truer words were never spoken! Last summer on vacation my car began to miss, and I took it to a garage. The mechanic first put in new points. Then he installed a new condenser. Next he cleaned and adjusted the carburetor. Finally he replaced a resistor-type sparkplug wire, and that cured the trouble. Actually all I needed to stop the missing was that new wire, but i had to pay for all the rest. And i must admit the points were rather badly pitted, the condenser showed a little leaky, and the carburetor had some dirt in it. Any one of these things could have been causing the difficulty and likely would have given me trouble later; so i paid the bill without bellyaching. I didn't feel the mechanic was trying to cheat me, and I hope he would give me the same consideration if I were working on his TV receiver."
"Well," Barney summed things up, "I guess we agree there are going to be more and more fraud investigations of all kinds of business. This is okay in the radio and TV service industry - with certain provisions: 1. An investigation should be undertaken only by a responsible government agency in response to complaints, not by witch -hunting amateurs. 2. Tests used in the investigation should be set up by people with a great deal of practical experience in service work. The technician must not be penalized for thoroughness. 3. Investigators should use a rifle rather than a shotgun to pick off the fast-buck boys. The guilty should be punished, but the innocent must be protected - hey, what are you chuckling about?"
"I couldn't help thinking we sound a bit like Mark Twain. Remember? He said he didn't mind criticism, but it had to be his way!"
Posted February 27, 2017