April 1960 Electronics World
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
Electronics World, published May 1959
- December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
I love me some good "Mac's Service
Shop" episodes. In this saga, Barney got an earful from a customer who referred to
all electronics technicians as "robbers, crooks, and inefficient boobs." During a
bout of self-assessment as to whether the woman had a point, Mac makes the following
obvious and somewhat profound observation, "The manufacturer has to daddy the first
breakdown because it happened before any of us touched the receiver." That statement
is as true today as it was nearly six decades previous. It applies to every product
made, electronic or otherwise, provided the user hasn't been abusive purposely or
accidentally. Truth is that depending on the design and manufacturing process, even
subsequent breakdowns could easily be blamed on the product itself and not on the
repair effort that remedied the first breakdown - a point Mac also makes. Is Mac a
sage or would modern sarcastic lingo label him as Captain Obvious? Knowing Mac as
well as we do, "sage" is the appropriate term. Read on for proof of the assertion.
Comparison of the procurement and cost-of-ownership between commercial (consumer) and
military electronics gear ensues.
Mac's Service Shop: How Good Are We?
By John T. Frye
Barney stood in the wide-open door of Mac's Service Shop drinking in the beauty of
the spring day outside. The warm sun beat down from a cloudless sky, and the breeze was
so gentle it barely stirred the limp pennants adorning the gas station across the way.
"Man, what a sample of summer this is!" he called over his shoulder to Mac, his employer,
busy at the service bench.
"Don't let it fool you," Mac grunted.
"Tomorrow it will probably be snowing; so let's not catch spring fever quite yet,
"Soul-shrunken slave driver!" Barney growled as he turned reluctantly away from the
door and walked into the service department. "I really need something to pick me up.
The woman who owned the TV set I delivered just before lunch really read my pedigree.
In fact, she read the pedigree of the whole service profession. 'Robbers, crooks, and
inefficient boobs' were among the kinder things she called us."
"What was her beef?" Mac asked with a quick frown.
"Nothing in particular, but she said she had already spent a fortune on that set before
she called us. Now we were sticking her another ten dollars, and she was sure the set
would go out again in a few days."
"Did you tell her that if her husband had kept his busy little screwdriver out of
the set when the capacitor shorted we would not have had to bring in the receiver for
"Sure, but she said that was just an excuse. Her husband tells her electronic technicians
are obviously a sorry lot; otherwise they could fix a set so that it would stay fixed.
Just between us girls, what do you think? Are we doing a reasonably good job or are we
fooling ourselves and our customers? After letting her bend my ear, I'm not sure."
"She must have been a persuasive talker," Mac said with a grin; "but let's examine
her suspicions and accusations as objectively as we, the accused, can. In the first place,
service technicians can refuse to shoulder all the blame for the set's failure. The manufacturer
has to daddy the first breakdown because it happened before any of us touched the receiver.
What's more, we both know that a very high percentage of subsequent failures have absolutely
nothing to do with repairs we have made. They are caused by continued breakdown of original
components. But a lot of people seem to think like the Chinese when it comes to TV sets.
It is said that when you save the life of a Chinaman you are responsible for him from
that time on; and many customers seem to believe that once a service technician has taken
the back off their receiver, anything that happens to it from that day forth is his fault."
"And how!" Barney agreed.
"Of course we must not overlook the fact a technician could put in a wrong replacement
that would place additional strain on an original part and make it fail, but this rarely
happens. Anyway, saying that if a technician really knew his business he could repair
a TV set so it would not break down again is foolishness. It is only slightly nearer
the truth to say that if a manufacturer knew his business he could produce a set that
would never need maintenance at all.
"But actually all this proves nothing. To judge how good or bad a job the service
technicians are doing, we need something with which to compare; and I think I've found
it in a couple of reports coming out of the 41st annual Preparedness meeting of the American
Ordnance Association that met in New York the last of 1959 and the Sixth National Symposium
on Reliability and Quality Control in Electronics held in Washington the first of this
year. Much of the discussion in these two groups centered around problems of maintaining
military electronic equipment."
"Hold on!" Barney objected. "I don't think such a comparison would be fair to us.
After all, military electronic equipment is built to very exacting specifications, employing
only the best of parts. Much of that equipment is manufactured on a cost-plus basis so the manufacturer does not have to cut corners
to meet tough competition as radio and TV manufacturers do. Then, too, the maintenance
men are carefully trained to be specialists. Ordinarily each one services only a few
pieces of equipment and so becomes darned familiar with that equipment. On top of that,
the military electronics shops I have visited had fine, laboratory-type service equipment
beyond the reach of the average service technician. My mouth waters just remembering
the wide-band scopes, the calibrated signal generators, and the spare-parts storeroom
of that Air Force Base electronics shop I visited last Armed Forces Day."
"Before you start hollering 'Foul!' answer me this: how many TV sets per hundred do
you think are out of commission waiting to be serviced here in town at this moment?"
"M-m-m-m-m-m, not more than seven or eight per hundred at the outside," Barney said
after a little reflection.
"I'll go along with that. Compare it with the 1952 survey cited by Rear Admiral Paul
B. Stroop, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Weapons, which showed only one-third of its electronic
equipment was functioning properly, with the remaining two-thirds either partially or
entirely out of commission. And consider the remarks of Lt. Gen. Robert F. Sink, commander
of the Army 18th Airborne Corps describing communications: 'When they are good, they
are very good; and when they are bad, they are horrid.' He went on to say that Army communications
equipment is superior to any ever before devised and is inherently capable of operating
on any battlefield in the world. 'Under hothouse conditions it does,' he added sarcastically.
'The funny thing is, when they push-to-talk, commanders never know whether the system
"Wow! Those military maintenance boys really are in a rough spot," Barney remarked.
"At least our customers are not our superior officers."
"Vice Admiral William R. Smedberg, commander of the Second Fleet, paid the maintenance
men a thoughtful compliment when he said that 'somehow the men who control and maintain
our equipment have managed to stay on top of it.' That 'somehow' he uses indicates he
understands that maintaining complicated electronic equipment is not easy. Rear Admiral
Stroop appreciates this, too. He declared industry cannot answer the military's electronic
problems through pyramiding circuitry, additional black boxes, and super-colossal gadgetry.
He said, 'We must guard against producing equipment so sophisticated that our personnel
cannot maintain it. Equipment must be tailored to talent available in the Armed Forces
to operate and maintain it.' "
"Boy, I hope the manufacturers who make civilian radio and TV sets were listening,"
Barney said earnestly.
"Yes, and let us hope they were listening when W. T. Hudness, director of maintainers,
Air Material Command, USAF, urged designers to consider the problems in finding defective
small parts in a complex system which fails. He declared Air Force studies have shown
the majority of system failures can be attributed to resistors and capacitors. Failures
of this type, he pointed out, are very often difficult for a technician to find."
"I wish resistor and capacitor failures were the toughest service problems we had,"
Barney remarked; "but I wonder how a person could compare the cost of maintaining military
equipment with the cost of service to our customers."
"Well, Mr. Hudness said the Air Force alone spent about six-hundred-million dollars
last year for maintenance. Lt. Col. Wm. F. Stevens, operations staff, Weapons Guidance
Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, said the AF estimates it spends
ten times as much to maintain a complex system as it costs to build it. Rear Admiral
Stroop said an AF report showed maintenance costs on electronic equipment during its
operational life varies from two to ten times the acquisition cost. And just remember
the operational life of AF electronic equipment is pretty short compared to a radio or
TV set that may be kept in daily operation from ten to fifteen years."
"Wheeee-whoooo!" Barney whistled. "Wouldn't some of our customers squawk if they had
to put out six-hundred dollars in service bills on their three-hundred-dollar TV set?
And imagine what they would say if those service charges went up to $3000, or ten times
the cost of the receiver!"
"Undoubtedly there are some factors in military servicing we are not taking into account,"
Mac said; "but these facts and figures are still mighty interesting. Military maintainers
are carefully and intensely schooled and permitted to specialize on a few pieces of electronic
gear. We are expected to be equally at home with hundreds of different models of radios,
TV sets, tape recorders, record players, and hi-fi amplifiers. Government electronic
shops are ordinarily stocked with the finest test equipment and an unlimited supply of
replacement parts. We have to be satisfied with the test equipment we can afford; and
we can't simply trace down the trouble to a comparatively large portion of the circuit
and replace the whole thing as military maintainers often do. We've got to find the exact
small component that failed and replace it from our limited stock of universal replacement
parts in order to keep the service charges down."
"Yeah, and don't forget the ordinary customer feels he's been had if he has to payout
half the original cost of his TV set in maintenance; yet the minimum maintenance figure
you mentioned was four times this, and twenty times seemed to be the average. That hardly
makes the service technician's solder gun look like a highwayman's pistol."
"True; but possibly the most significant thing in the long run is that the military
is awakening to the fact that easy, low-cost maintenance begins with design. Equipment
can be made easy to service if maintenance problems are kept in mind right from the start.
What's more, the Armed Forces are no more convinced than we are that 'more complicated'
necessarily means 'better.'"
"We've been saying that for a long time," Barney added; "but very little attention
was paid to our griping. Now that Uncle Sam is echoing our words, I'll bet they carry
"Right," Mac said as he picked up his solder gun; "and if I'm not badly mistaken,
the insistence of the Armed Forces on equipment that is easier to maintain is going to
carryover into civilian design and make our job easier and our customers better satisfied
in the long run."
Posted November 22, 2018
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive stories was the brainchild of none other than John T.
Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in
Popular Electronics for many years. Mac's Radio Service Shop began life
in Radio & Television News
magazine (which itself started as simply Radio News), and then changed
its name to Mac's Service Shop after the magazine became
World. 'Mac' is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney
is his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. 'Lessons' are taught
in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.