September 1945 Radio-Craft
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
The battle between the serviceman and the customer is epic. The serviceman knows the customer is out to cheat him of his rightful due for expertise and availability, and the customer knows the serviceman will try to inflate the bill to finance his exorbitant lifestyle. This story from a 1945 edition of Radio-Craft is a humorous take on the subject at first glance from the customer's perspective, but after reading it you might ascertain that it is really from the serviceman's perspective. An article from a 1957 edition of Radio News magazine titled "Strategy for C.O.D. Service" was written as serious advice to servicemen to avoid being ripped off by customers typified by the one ostensibly penning this article.
Beware! The Serviceman!
How to Avoid Being Gypped by this Master Racketeer
By E.A. Witten
"Then he touched it to the metal box of the set and scared me out of a year's growth."
Do you know that 98% of the servicemen in the United States will gyp you if they get the chance ? Yes, of course you do, but do you know what you can do about it? No, Well - this article will tell you all about it.
First, suppose you were to find some day that your Colonial (nineteen-when vintage) did not work some fine morning. You turn the radio off (it had been on all night), and shop around for a radio store. (It really doesn't matter which one as they are all just about as bad.) Try to pick one not too near you. This serves two purposes: One, at least you will have made him earn his money, and two, he won't be as likely to bother you in the future.
When you have decided which one you'd like to try this time, call him up and tell him that you have a big job for him. Make it sound important but act as if you are completely ignorant of what goes on in a radio. Tell him that you want him to call for the set at 11 o'clock that night. He'll be tired then and his sales pressure will be low so you'll be able to see that he doesn't gyp you.
When he comes, act as if it's just a small matter and doesn't really require attention. Also, see that he carries at least four separate instruments. (This is the test of a good serviceman.) He should have a tube tester, and a gadget that makes a loud piercing noise, and at least two more things that have a lot of buttons and dials and other things. These things aren't really too important in having your set fixed but may help to some extent. Mostly they are just his way of trying to make you think that he is doing a good job.
Before he gets in, find out if he is going to make a service charge in case you decide that he is a crook (Usually you can tell this at first glance.) If you are satisfied that he won't charge you for his time, you can let "him come in.
Now as for the kind of treatment he should get. There are two schools of thought on this subject. I usually prefer to stand over them and watch. You'd be surprised how much you can learn this way. Don't offer to help as this only puts you on a friendly basis with him and he'll try to charge more. If he speaks, grunt or don't answer. After all, he is only a tradesman (like salesmen and plumbers) and should know his place. This makes him nervous and he wants to leave in a hurry and so makes his price that much lower.
Some of my friends try the opposite approach. They treat the radio man with a friendly smile. (This always puts him off guard as he seldom gets that kind of welcome.) Then they invite him in and tell him to sit down in their best chair. Then they give him a cigar. A strong one helps. Two purposes are served by this. One: he's likely to be friendly and lower in his price to you, and two: if he has greasy clothes on, or if he drops ashes on your new furniture (how careless of you not to provide him with an ash tray) then you have grounds for a suit. It doesn't matter how old or decrepit the furniture might be or whether his clothes are greasy or not. He can still be bluffed into dropping his charges. Maybe you can even get a new radio out of him.
Keep Your Eye on Him
When using this approach, again watch him carefully, to see what you can learn. If he's any good at all, he should be able to give you an estimate without even examining the set. If he has to examine it, watch what he's doing. You can learn his business and fix it yourself the next time. He will follow the usual procedure as outlined below.
First, he will remove the set from the cabinet. He might make faces at dust or roaches, but give him a stern look. It's none of his business what is inside of the cabinet besides the set. He might then try to tap the tubes. Don't let him. His excuse will be something to the effect that he's trying to find a mikrohomic tube or something, but don't fall for that stuff. There is no such tube listed. I had one serviceman tell me that that was the trouble with my radio once, and I went out to check up on him. I couldn't buy one of those tubes anywhere. Some of those dopey radiomen didn't even know what I was talking about. I finally took the set to a good radio store, and do you know what the trouble was? It was just a burned out I.F. transmitter and a busted speaker input condenser.
So-Called Tube Testers
The serviceman will then test the tubes. This always makes me laugh. Those tube testers are a fake if I ever saw one. The mechanic puts the tube in this gadget and looks up a list telling him what he should do. Then he turns a lot of knobs and pushes some buttons and watches a pointer that looks like a speedometer. He then pushes a button marked "Noise Test." That's how I found out it was a fake. I got the guy to leave the room by telling him ·that I had another radio for him to look at, and then I listened in on his earphones or headphones or whatever you call them. Now my hearing is unusually good and I couldn't hear even one station or any noise whatever no matter how much I turned those knobs. When I confronted him with this damaging evidence, he had the gall to accuse me of burning up my own tube. Imagine.
Well, I knew I was right but I decided to give him enough rope and let him hang himself. He continued this procedure throughout the rest of the tubes. Then he put in another tube in place of the one he claimed I damaged. He next proceeded to turn the set upside down. Then he poked around and touched this and that. He took out of his bag a condsistor or something and stuck it in the set. Then he touched it to the metal box of the set and it nearly scared me out of a year's growth. Big sparks almost two inches long jumped from it. I am still convinced that the sparks that jumped that time damaged the set even more than before. This is just some more of these so-called mechanics' attempts at mystification in order to justify their prices.
Other "Rube Goldbergs"
He next proceeded to connect and disconnect a lot of wires and he hooked up a machine that had a funny sound but apparently didn't do anything satisfactory because he soon disconnected it and proceeded to hook in a thing that looked like a television set. It had a lot of knobs like all radiomen's junk, and it also had a television tube in the center of it. This only showed him a bunch of wavy green lines but no pictures. He tried to make the lines change shape and move around but I guess he saw that he was getting nowhere. I let him see that he didn't make much of an impression on me.
He took out a dirty old black thing with a lot of wires coming out of it, from the set. Then he took out some more parts and stuff. He had to go back to his shop for something or other (I think he said it was a power transformer he needed but that doesn't sound right). This gave me a chance to look over his equipment and see how they work, but the manufacturers purposely make them so complicated and tricky that even an expert electrician couldn't figure them out in less than fifteen minutes.
I did some checking up on prices while he was gone, just so's he wouldn't be able to put anything over on me. I'm passing along the information to the reader for what it's worth. I got it from my janitor who admits that he can repair radios better than most of these so-called radiomen. I also got some good inside dope from one of the kids upstairs who fools around with bells and other stuff, so must know something of what goes on in the radio field. They told me that most radiomen don't know what they're doing and guess almost all the time. He also gave me a list of what parts cost. A condentsor only cost three cents except if it's an elecrolylik and then it cost about five or six cents. A resister only costs one cent each. A power transmitter only costs about 30 or 35 cents.
"Inside" Dope on Parts
From this price list, you can easily see how much these gyps make on the unknowing customer. I also got some inside dope on what these things are made of. Condentsors are nothing more than a roll of ordinary silver paper wrapped up in a cardboard tube with melted wax poured around it. They are graded according to capacity which in plain language means how much silver paper the tube can hold.
Resisters are merely hunks of ordinary carbon put together with two pieces of wire sticking out of them. Some are made with a lot of wire wound around a piece of plaster. These are called wire wound resisters. Transmitters and chokes are only big bunches of wire coiled up on pieces of iron cut in the shape of letters like "E" and "L" and "T." Then a lot of tar is poured in and the whole thing is put into a metal box or case. Coils are a bunch of wire wound around a piece of cardboard tube and then covered with wax again. A speaker is just a circle of paper mounted in a metal frame, with a coil of wire wound around the smaller end of it.
Tubes are one thing that always scare the average person into paying a large bill. This bug-a-boo should have been destroyed long ago. Tubes are only little glass bottles with wires inside of them. Some of these wires hold up pieces of metal, while others are apparently just put there for their beauty as they don't hold up anything at all. And that's all there is to them. Absolutely all! If you ever get the chance or if you have a radio at home that you'd like to experiment with, do as I suggest. Take the set apart. Find at least one of each of these parts. Take each one of them apart thoroughly and carefully, noting what goes where so you can put them back again the same way. In the case of the tubes, be careful that you don't damage the glass too much. The paper piece of the speaker is only glued on so it should come off with a slight tug.
Try your best not to break the little wires on the bottom of this, as it's fairly hard to put them back. The condensors can be taken apart with a penknife and a small pair of pliers; Resisters might have to be broken apart with a hammer but the cost of these is so small that you can easily afford the fun. After you have satisfied yourself that what' I am saying is true, put the set back together again. If you find that it is too much trouble scoop it all up carefully into a large paper bag and take it to your nearest radio store. For a nominal fee (usually about fifty cents to one dollar) he will put it together again for you. Watch him carefully as he does this, for several reasons. You can learn a lot by watching him and listening carefully to his muttering, and you can see that He doesn't damage your set! In case you have no confidence in him, or if you prefer to put it together by yourself, you can obtain complete instructions by writing for the author's complete instruction manual, enclosing $2.00 to cover cost of handling and air-mailing.
To continue with my expose: About an hour later the mechanic came back and after fooling around for another hour he fixed the set so that it worked perhaps a little better than before. He gave me a long sales talk about what he did and then presented his bill for $8.00!! Imagine the nerve of that gyp! After wasting four-and-one-half hours of my time and ripping my entire radio apart, he wanted. to charge me $8.00. I held my temper, though. I told him that I only had $2.00 on me at the time and paid him that just to get rid of him. He'll never see the other $6.00 though. I know better than that. If he tries to collect, I'll sue him for fraud.
Now that I have exposed this thieving racket, I'd appreciate any letters from readers who have similar experiences to relate or who can supply additional information on how to beat the radio racketeer at his own game.
In my next article I will give you the on the inside story of television and tell you how you can repair your own high-voltage-power-supply television receiver and FM set. I am endeavoring to set up a school to teach the layman how to do all these repairs without any instruments at all, but at present we are bound up in red tape and they refuse to give me a license to operate this sort of school. Eventually we will set up this school, in another state if necessary. Then the public will benefit and these crooks will be driven out of business.
Posted February 4, 2019 (original 7/15/2014)