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February 1930 Radio-Craft[Table of Contents]
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Radio-Craft was published from 1929 through 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from Radio-Craft.
"And there is nothing new under the sun." - Ecclesiastes 1:9, NKJV (did you know that is the origin of the saying?). This 1930 editorial by Radio-Craft editor Hugo Gernsback describes a coordinated scam perpetrated by radio manufacturers to compel consumers to buy new sets rather than have their existing sets repaired. In short, retail prices were inflated to accommodate a built-in 'trade-in' allowance that far exceeded the repair cost or used radio cost. Radio service shops were getting the short shrift because many people who might have otherwise elected to have repairs made would instead trade in the old set for a new one. That a conspiracy was underfoot was evidenced both by the practice of destroying traded-in sets so they cannot be used again (similar to the Cash for Clunkers prOgram where engines were destroyed after trade-in), and by making it difficult or even impossible for repair shops to obtain adequate technical documentation. The latter is a prime reason why magazines like Radio-Craft began publishing Radio Service Data Sheets monthly.
By Hugo Gernsback
A situation which calls for plain talk at this time has developed in radio. For a long time it has been known, in professional radio circles, that there is something rotten in "Radiodom," but it was thought best to keep quiet about it, rather than embarrass the radio industry by washing its linen in public.
But the situation which has arisen of late makes it necessary for radio set manufacturers to come to their senses, if radio is to survive.
Talking very plainly and to the point, the situation is this: The majority of radio set manufacturers today make sets only "to be sold" and, apparently, do not give a tinker's damn what happens afterwards. Such a thing as giving real service is unheard of and, as a rule, the policy of "the public be damned" is pursued by practically all set manufacturers today.
The economic reason for this, again, is apparently very simple. A radio set produced by a first-class manufacturer, with good equipment and under good supervision, is probably good for ten years; and here is the crux of the whole matter. A radio set does not wear out like an automobile, for instance. without extensive replacements, an automobile lasts, at most, two or three years; then the owner usually trades it in and gets a new car. The best customers of the motor car manufacturer are the owners of cars. With a radio set, the situation is different. A radio set lasts for a long time; there is practically nothing to wear out and, usually, the only reason why a set owner gets a new receiver is that he wishes a more up-to-date one.
We started out with battery sets, which became almost obsolete in 1928; and the set manufacturers promptly found a bonanza in the popular rush for A.C. sets. Last season, screen-grid sets were the mode; but evidently 1928's A.C. set customers were fairly well satisfied, for most of them still retain their 1928 models; and the percentage who have traded them in for 1929 screen-grid receivers is more or less negligible.
The manufacturers tooled up for a tremendous production in 1929, and there was an unfortunate overproduction which, according to one radio trade periodical, mounted to the tremendous figure of 900,000 radio sets in 1929.
But, as we said before, the set manufacturer today, pursuing his purely selfish policy, must sell sets - must sell more, every year, to satisfy his stockholders - or Wall Street, which amounts to the same thing.
The set manufacturer is not at all interested to see that a set is properly serviced, once it is installed, for the simple reason that, every time one of his sets is serviced and put into condition, it causes a customer to remain satisfied, possibly for another year or more, and the latter certainly will not be in the market for a new set.
So what does the manufacturer do? He makes the list price of his set so high that his dealer can take back an old set from a customer, and allow him on it a small amount toward the purchase of a new set. But, within six months, Mr. Public finds out that he has been stung again; for, lo and behold, the same set for which he paid, let us say, $200.00, now sells for $50.00, or even less. But it is fair to state here that there are a few set manufacturers who do not reduce their prices; they probably do not overproduce, either.
The evils arising from such malpractices are patent. Recently New York City witnessed the sad spectacle of one large radio chain store which destroyed by fire hundreds of "trade-in" radio sets. The reason? You see, a man who does not already own a radio can journey to Cortlandt Street, in New York City, and buy a good set for $2.00 or $3.00. This, then, he takes to the large radio store - and gets an "allowance" of $25.00 if he buys a new $165.00 screen-grid "Inter-planetarian."
So the chain store, to discourage this sort of thing, now intends to destroy all "trade-in" sets; so that they cannot come back like the proverbial cat! Damned clever, these Radio Chinese! Curing one evil by burning up another one! Great idea, if it could only be made to work - even more efficient than perpetual motion! .
Radio-Craft has on file hundreds of letters from Service Men, all over the country, complaining bitterly that cooperation, of any kind, is unobtainable from practically all radio set manufacturers. Letters asking for information on their sets remain unanswered, or the information is given that only "accredited" dealers can get this information.
The "accredited" dealer, however, is in the same boat as the set manufacturer; for he also is not too anxious to really service a set and put it into shape, lest it lose him a sale. It is, however, to his interest to send out a "set butcher" who masquerades as a "service man," and to put the set out of order; so that the victim must buy a new set. A good racket while it lasts!
The honest radio dealer and the honest Service Man, who make their living by putting sets in good order and repairing them to the satisfaction of the community, are constantly working at a disadvantage; because they can expect no real help from the set manufacturer. For this reason, the Service Man must rely upon technical publications, such as Radio-Craft and others, to get the necessary information to take care of his customers. In doing this, he naturally performs a great service, not only to the man whose set he repairs successfully, but to the manufacturer of the set as well; although the latter does not give a hoot about it.
It stands to reason that the owner of a set, who has to sell it for five or ten per cent of its original cost, after he had it for a year or less, is certainly not going to shout its praises from the roof tops; he will be careful, if he has any sense, not to buy one of that make again. But, if a Service Man puts his receiver into good shape again, the layman owner at least does not blame his troubles on the set manufacturer; he thinks something went wrong with the set from natural causes; and, at some later date, he may buy a new model of the same make he had before.
Is all this of any interest to the set manufacturer? Perish the thought! When the Service Man wants information, the set manufacturer will almost never give it; or, if he does (as one famous Eastern set manufacturer does) he charges the service man $1.00 for an instruction book which is not complete and does not give all the information on every model this manufacturer has marketed.
Or take the case of a famous Midwestern set manufacturer who offered to repair one of his recent sets (which, by the way, had only a burnt-out power pack) for the modest sum of $27.00! Yet a new set of the same vintage, brought out by the same manufacturer, can be had on the open market today for much less money than $27.00.
Small wonder, then, that the radio set industry is in its present deplorable shape; with practically all the larger radio factories closed down for the time being, tremendous stocks of unsold sets on hand, bankruptcy of a number of radio set manufacturers, and grief all along the line.
It took the majority of radio set manufacturers, with perhaps one or two exceptions, five or six years to wake up and support the industry that was getting them all the business; by that, I mean the broadcast stations. Only during the last year have set manufacturers deemed it wise to seek good will by broadcasting.
It will probably take the industry another five years to learn that it will pay them to take the Service Man into their confidence, and to talk to him in his own language. It is an interesting sidelight that at the present time the radio set industry is out only to catch new suckers in the shape of new customers. If there is any manufacturer who is giving real service to the public who have bought his sets, Radio-Craft will be the first to shout his name from the housetops; and we invite any radio set manufacturer to supply us with evidence to this effect.
Posted October 13, 2015