Well I'll be darned, old Mac the master radio repairman taught
me something else new this month. Along with giving sidekick
Barney a lesson on business ethics and how honest dealing can
pay dividends as societal conditions change, he also put on
his Sherlock Holmes cap and deduced a surprising cause for circuit
failure based on the physical location of a lady's radio; read
on to learn the details. As usual, the exact scenarios of the
stories do not apply to today's environment and/or equipment,
but the troubleshooting logic certainly does.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Mac Quotes Benjamin Franklin
By John T. Frye
Now and then the lazy breeze that put just the final touch
of perfection to the beautiful October Indian Summer afternoon
wafted a slight odor of burning leaves into Mac's Radio Service
Shop where the owner and his assistant, Barney, were busily
at work at the bench. Suddenly the red-headed youth dropped
his alignment screwdriver and pointed an accusing finger at
the chassis on which Mac was working.
"Oh, oh!" he said triumphantly. "I saw that! Here you have
been lecturing me on making neat solder joints, and just look
at what you are doing: You cut the lugs loose from that twist-prong
electrolytic without unsoldering the wires, and now you are
soldering them right onto the lugs of the new condenser. Do
you call that a neat-looking solder job?"
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,"
Mac resignedly quoted to himself as he turned the a.c.-d.c.
chassis upside down and shook it vigorously to make sure no
loose particles of solder remained inside to cause trouble.
"Well, Junior," he said as he put the set aside, "I must
admit that I am not practicing what I preached. I did tell you
that you should make each solder job look as nearly like the
factory solder joints as possible, and I must confess that those
connections I just made are not things of beauty.
"However, there are some extenuating circumstances. In the
first place, look at how cramped for room this chassis is. Parts
are crowded and jammed into every square inch of space so that
there just is no room left for maneuvering a soldering iron
and the needle-nose pliers. Note, too, that the condenser lugs
are used as tiepoints for much of the wiring of the set. Each
lug has several wires going to it, including two or three paper
"Now if I took the time to remove each wire, I should have
to spend many more minutes on this job; furthermore, unless
the lugs could be made absolutely free of solder and perfectly
straight, it is most likely that I should have broken the Bakelite
mounting socket in trying to remove the old condenser. On top
of that, in wrestling around the leads of the paper condensers,
I would be almost certain to break one loose from its foil;
or one of the wires would break off too short and have to be
"When I told you to make a 'good-looking' solder joint, my
main concern was to see that you made a 'good' joint. I knew
that if the solder flowed smoothly around the wires, and if
there was no excess of solder or rosin to mask the actual connection,
the chances would be excellent that the joint was electrically
all right. See what I mean?"
"Yes; it is the same thing our biology teacher used to tell
us. Nature causes men to go for pretty girls and girls to like
handsome men because beauty and health usually go together.
The beauty is not important in itself but for what accompanies
it. Did you ever notice how healthy I am?" Barney asked as he
thumped himself vigorously on the chest and then subsided into
a fit of coughing.
"A fine physical specimen," Mac agreed dryly; "but to return
to the subject, did you notice that I took care to loop one
wire of each tie-point through both old and new lugs so as to
make each joint mechanically solid before flowing the solder?
I made sure that every one of those joints was solid as a rock,
even though they do have their aesthetic shortcomings.
"The whole point is that the customer gets just as good a
job with this method for less money than he would if I removed
and replaced each wire separately. In addition to the extra
time for which I should have had to charge him, he would quite
likely have had to pay for one or two paper condensers ruined
by tugging and twisting its leads; moreover, I have learned
from long experience that the less the wiring and parts of a
set are disturbed the smaller is the likelihood that it will
develop new troubles. Especially is this true in the case of
an older set, like this one."
"Yes, but I thought you wanted to make money. If you spend
more time on a set and put in more parts, you make more money,
don't you ?"
"You make more on one set, but you lose out in the long run,"
Mac replied. "Do you remember what old Ben said ?"
"Benjamin Franklin, who might be called the daddy of radio
since he used a kite string for an antenna and his knuckle for
a receiver in proving that lightning was electricity. He had
as much horse-sense as any American in history, and he said,
'Honesty is the best policy.' Mull that over a bit. He was not
advising that you be honest because it was the moral thing to
do or because religion taught that you should. He simply meant
that consistent, unvarying honesty is good business; and it
"You mean that when you are working on a set you ought always
to be thinking of the customer's interests?"
"Exactly. You should always be trying to put the set into
the best possible condition in the least possible time."
"Even when you are charging by the hour? How are you going
to make any money that way?"
"By turning out more sets in a day. Suppose, for example,
you have a shop and turn out ten sets a day, while I turn out
fifteen. Both of us charge the same hourly rate; so it might
seem that I am getting the worst of it, inasmuch as I am doing
more work for the same money you get; but just remember that
the cost to my customers would be, on the average, only two-thirds
as much as you charge them. Assuming that we do equally good
work, which one of us do you think will be getting the most
of the business ?"
"Yeah, but how about it when times are tough and there aren't
so many sets to service. Won't your cut-rate business backfire
"There is nothing cut-rate about it.
Remember we charge the same hourly rate. Individual charges
are brought down by increased efficiency, just as they are in
our mass-production factories. When times get tough - and I
speak from experience during the last depression - customers
are all the more likely to patronize a shop that can turn sets
out cheaper because it turns them out faster. Trying to get
more money out of fewer sets is the same type of foolish action
that the man took when he killed the goose that laid the golden
eggs; and, in time, it wilt end just as disastrously."
"Is that just an opinion, or can you cite an example."
"There is plenty of proof all around us. During the war, when
there was a lot more service work than normal, several fellows
around here - some new to the game and a few, I am sorry to
say, old-timers - fell for the temptation of easy money. People
were willing to pay almost any price to keep their irreplaceable
sets going, and these fellows took advantage of these conditions.
They charged all that the traffic would bear, and they were
slovenly and lazy in their work. Instead of doing all the good
work they could, they did about half of that and made up the
difference in overcharges.
"Now things are rapidly changing. New sets are plentiful;
competition is more keen; people are watching their nickels
and dimes more carefully. As a result, we see the boys who belonged
to the 'pour it on' school are beginning to fold up and go out
of business. The customers who had to put up with their poor
service during the war are now in a position to be more choosey.
By the same token, the shops that played square with the customers
when they could have taken advantage of them are still covered
up with work."
"Okay! So you and Ben have me convinced that the way to be
a success in the service business is not to see how much money
you can squeeze out of each set, but to see how many sets you
can squeeze into a day's work. And now let's change the subject.
"The owner of this set complained that it was noisy when
tuned, and it was. Blowing out the condenser plates with the
air-jet took care of that, but I noticed on the job record card
that we had the same set on the same complaint last March. It
doesn't seem to me that it should get dusty that soon. The condenser
plates are well spaced, and they don't look very dirty. It just
seems that the dust that is in there is of a kind that does
an exceptionally good job of shorting out."
Mac rubbed a finger across the chassis and then rubbed the
dust picked up between his finger and thumb while he looked
at it closely. Next he glanced at the job card, picked up the
telephone, and dialed a number.
"Mrs. Brewer," he said when the party answered, "this is
Mac's Radio Service Shop. I am wondering if your little radio
that we have in the shop could possibly be used in your home
in a spot that is near a steam radiator. On a shelf in the bathroom
directly over a radiator, you say? And is the radiator painted
with metallic paint? It is? Well, Mrs. Brewer, I suggest that
you try to find some other position for the set. Not only is
it bad to have your set in a spot where it is likely to become
so warm, but in this case tiny particles of the metallic paint
are being carried upward from your radiator by convection currents
and are lodging between the plates of your tuning condensers,
causing them to short out. That is what made the noise when
you turned the dial. If you leave your radio there, it will
have to come into the shop every few months to be cleaned. That
will be fine, Mrs. Brewer; you are quite welcome."
"Oh me!" Barney groaned as Mac hung up the receiver. "Not
only do I have to be honest like Ben Franklin and tell my customers
how to keep their sets out of my shop; but I have to make like
Sherlock Holmes and be able to feel the dust on a set and tell
where it sits in the owner's home! Why didn't I take up something
easy, like ditch-digging?"
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.
Posted October 1, 2015