There's not a much better way
to finish up a hard week at the office than reading a new episode of John T.
Frye's "Mac's Radio Service Shop." Mac McGregor and his trusty sidekick technician
Barney tackle nearly every issue associated with an electronics sales and service
establishment back in the heyday of radios and televisions. You might recognize
the title of "Pride and Prejudice" as being borrowed from Jane Austin's classic,
which, to summarize, deals with, well, pride and prejudice based on one's social
status, and how it results in lost opportunities. To be honest, I have not read
the book (Melanie's the designated book reader in our household) but I did see the
movie version starring Keira Knightly. Anywho, you'll need to read the second half of
the story to get to the actual pride and prejudice part. As for the first part,
it might be difficult to imagine what all the fuss is over tape recorder usage (or
non-usage as is the case here), but remember that in 1955 it meant a case with vacuum
tubes and requisite heavy transformers.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Pride and Prejudice
By John T. Frye
"Hey, Mac," Barney called to his employer; "how's about my taking the tape recorder
home with me this evening to perform a little experiment?"
"What kind of an experiment?" Mac asked cautiously.
"Nothing that will hurt your precious recorder," Barney promised, "I have long
had a yen to know exactly how I sound when I'm talking over my ham rig. There's
no way of finding out without a recorder. You can't talk and at the same time listen
to yourself satisfactorily in a pair of phones plugged into a monitor. My idea is
to plug our signal-tracing r.f. probe into the microphone jack of the recorder,
ground the shielding lead, and let the hot probe tip pick up modulated r.f. from
my transmitter. The crystal diode in the probe will demodulate this signal and feed
the audio component into the recorder. All I have to do is call a snappy CQ and
then play back the tape and hear how I sound. It's the only way I'll ever know precisely
how my voice sounds when I am speaking over my transmitter."
"Well, I've been listening to your voice for a long time," Mac said mocking Barney's
accentuation, "and believe me it's no treat. However, from a purely technical point
of view, I see nothing wrong with the idea. I suggest you put the recorder a little
distance away from the transmitter so that r.f. will not get into some of the audio
circuits and overload them. That can easily happen to any audio equipment placed
in a strong r.f. field. However, you'll have to wait until tomorrow, because the
recorder is not here. I took it home a couple of days ago to do a little experimenting
of my own."
"What kind of experimenting?" Barney demanded. He always considered it a personal
affront if Mac did anything in the electronic line without first briefing him in
"I've been building a kind of special bass-reflex cabinet to use with the recorders
at the high school," Mac explained. "The superintendent asked me to help him with
a problem he has. They have a couple of dandy recorders over there, but the teachers
simply do not make use of them. When he tried to find out why, they told him that
it was too much bother to lug the heavy recorders around, set them up, pack them
away again, etc. What's more, some of the teachers in the music and speech department
objected to the loss in fidelity that was occasioned by the small speakers used
in the portable tape recorders."
"Sounds to me as though you're solving the fidelity problem with a large speaker
in a bass-reflex cabinet, but at the same time you're aggravating the problem of
the recorders being too heavy to carry around," Barney observed. "I can just see
a frail school teacher using one hand to carry the tape recorder and trying to lug
that bulky speaker cabinet along with the other."
"You're forgetting I said this was a special type of cabinet," Mac chided with
a teasing grin. "It is built so the large flat top is perfect for holding any ordinary
tape recorder in proper operating position. On the bottom of the cabinet are four
rubber-tired wheels of the kind found on tea carts. Two of these swivel; the other,
two are fixed parallel to the wide dimension. of the cabinet."
"I get it!" Barney interrupted. "A recorder is ordinarily left right on top of
this rolling cabinet with the large speaker plugged into the 'External Speaker'
jack of the recorder. That means the people listening will hear all that is on the
tape instead of just part of it as they have been doing with the smaller speaker.
What's more, the whole business can be easily wheeled from room to room without
disturbing the magnetic tape recorder in any way."
"You've got the idea. The superintendent was over last evening, and after pushing
the cabinet all over the basement and listening to me play a high-fidelity pre-recorded
tape through that cabinet-mounted speaker, he was most enthusiastic. In fact, he
insisted I start immediately building another exactly-similar unit."
"Say! I think you've got something there," Barney said excitedly. "We both know
many people who buy tape recorders and use them a lot for the first few months,
but then they park them away in a clothes-closet to collect dust. When asked why
they don't use the machines more, they usually say it is just too much bother to
get the recorder out, set it up, and then pack it away each time. If they had one
of these rolling cabinets of yours, they could keep the recorder right out where
it would be ready for use at a moment's notice. It could sit alongside the TV set
for recording the many fine programs often heard there. If something interesting
came on the radio-phonograph combination, or if you wanted to make a tape recording
of a record, the recorder could be wheeled over to it and the program taped. When
Mom heard a good recipe starting on her kitchen set, she could have the recorder
taking it down in a matter of seconds."
"You're right, of course," Mac agreed. "Having the recorder always ready for
instant action any place in the house would double its usefulness - and its use.
At the same time, don't overlook the fact that employing that high-fidelity speaker
in a proper cabinet will greatly increase the pleasure of listening to the tapes
being played back. In the beginning, the small speakers it is necessary to use in
portable recorders were fairly adequate for reproducing the limited range of frequencies
that could be put on tape; but in the past few years tremendous strides have been
made in tape recording techniques. Only a fine speaker in a good cabinet can do
full justice to the quality of recording and playback put out by even popular-priced
machines these days. Some manufacturers have improved the quality of reproduction
by using two, or even three speakers in the recorder cabinet. While this definitely
sounds better than a single speaker, it is not the complete answer.
"Few enlightened people will contend that two or three small speakers mounted
inside the recorder case that is already pretty well occupied with the tape-transport
mechanism and amplifier will equal the reproduction possible with a high-fidelity
speaker or speakers mounted in a proper baffle. And when you add speakers, you add
weight, which is always a serious matter with equipment supposed to be portable.
By using an auxiliary speaker system when you want high quality reproduction, you
can keep the recorder proper light and compact - as it must be for maximum versatility.
"Being the tape recorder fan that I am," Mac continued earnestly, "it worries
me to know that many of these wonderful little machines are sitting virtually unused,
just as you describe. I felt so sure that a combination quality-speaker-and-mobile-recorder-stand
such as the one I've built would go a long way toward putting these recorders back
into use that I actually wrote to a couple of speaker manufacturers and tried to
persuade them to build these units and put them on the market. With their facilities,
they could design a cabinet that would be a beautiful piece of furniture and still
be a strong, mobile stand and correctly designed baffle."
"What did they say? Were they all bursting with enthusiasm? Are you headed for
your first million?"
"They were afraid to tackle the project. Naturally, a few problems exist. For
one thing, the voice-coil impedances of recorder speakers vary all the way from
three to eight ohms. The voice coil impedance of the speaker used in the cabinet
would have to be a compromise value to work with all recorders, or a matching transformer
would have to be used. For that matter, though, some of these rolling speaker cabinets
could contain additional space for compact high-fidelity amplifiers; and then the
speaker could be used with TV sets, radios, record-players, and tape recorders for
high-fidelity reproduction. However, this would result in a much more expensive
unit; and right now I am mainly interested in something that will break down the
prejudice keeping tape recorders from getting the constant use they deserve. They
are worth the effort.
"And speaking of prejudice," Mac went on smoothly, "that reminds me of something
else a little closer to our everyday work. I'm beginning to worry about a prejudice
concerning TV service that is taking root in the public mind. What especially concerns
me is that I'm afraid we service technicians have planted this prejudice and are
still nourishing it; yet I'm sure when it attains its full growth - and it's growing
like a weed - we'll be sorry we ever let such an unfavorable idea get started."
"You know I don't love a mystery," Barney complained. "Give! Tell Uncle Barney
all about it."
"The idea is shaping up like this in the minds of the majority of customers:
a good TV service technician can and will perform all service work right in the
customer's home. If he suggests taking the set to the shop, he immediately stands
revealed as (a) a bumbling and untrained worker who is afraid to let the customer
know how long it takes him to locate the trouble, or (b) an unethical chiseler who
only wants to get the set out of the house so he can run up a fantastic bill by
replacing parts not defective, steal good parts, etc., etc.
"As service technicians, we know that in the words of the song, this 'ain't necessarily
so.' A number of TV troubles render making repairs in the home highly impractical
or unnecessarily expensive. Take a set that needs alignment. No technician who has
proper respect for his equipment is going to lug his expensive and delicate scope,
sweep generator, marker generator, probes, etc., into the customer's home and try
to align the set on the floor or on a makeshift workbench without proper grounding
facilities. If the customer insists on the set's staying in the house, all the technician
can do is 'touch up' - a misnomer if there ever was one - the trimmers by looking
at the picture. We both know what kind of an alignment job that produces.
"Or suppose the set has an intermittent condition that only shows on a long and
unpredictable cycle. The customer would scream like a panther if you charged him
for the time spent sitting around waiting for the set to cut out; yet not charging
for this time at your regular rate means you are cutting your own throat. With the
chassis on the intermittent bench in the shop, the technician could watch for it
to cut out while he went right ahead with his other work. This way the customer's
bill could actually be much lower; yet the technician would not be losing valuable
time and money."
"How do you mean we technicians started this stupid fallacy?"
"In the beginning, when TV service was new, we tried to show how smart we were
by repairing as many sets as possible in the home. We prided ourselves on being
able to go in with only a v.o.m. and a tube caddy and having the set going in a
few minutes. When all sets were comparatively new and tube failures constituted
seventy-five per-cent of the trouble you could do this. You can still take care
of a very high percentage of TV trouble right in the house, and most technicians
greatly prefer to make the repair at the residence if they can do it right and in
a reasonable length of time. They should not, however, be afraid to recommend that
the set be taken to the shop when the symptoms and common sense dictate this step.
"Once more," Mac concluded, "we can learn from the medical profession that has
already taught technicians so much. Doctors no longer treat a patient in the home
until he is in extremis before taking him to a hospital. Whenever his condition
is puzzling, when the doctor feels extensive tests should be made, or when close
observation is needed, they send the patient to the hospital. There he can benefit
from the use of elaborate non-portable test equipment, can receive x-ray, diathermy,
and similar treatment impossible in the home, and can be closely watched all the
time. In the time required to make three or four house calls, a doctor can visit
twenty patients in a hospital. Were it not for this more efficient use of the doctor's
time, medical expenses would be even higher than they are; and doctors would be
still harder to get hold of.
"The man who insists that all work on his TV set must be performed on his living
room floor might do well to think about this a bit. Let him look around until he
finds a service technician he thinks he can trust, and then let him trust that technician
and follow his advice just as he follows the advice of his family physician. Ninety-nine
times out of a hundred, he will get better, less-expensive service by doing so."
Posted September 25, 2023
(updated from original
post on 4/19/2019)
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive technodrama™ 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 April 1948 in Radio News
magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then
World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final
episode was published in a 1977
Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac
McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant.
"Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.