In our present "No user serviceable
parts inside" world of electronic products, it is easy to understand why very few
people have an appreciation for the technical prowess needed to troubleshoot and
repair them. When reading through these episodes of "Mac's Radio Service Shop" that
appeared in mid last century editions of Radio & Television News magazine,
I am inspired to envy the skills that small electronics repair shop owners had for
working on the old vacuum tube based radio and television sets. Digital electronics
has its own unique set of quirks and special knowledge requirements to troubleshoot,
but when everything is analog rather than merely being required to be a '0' or a
'1,' tracking down problems in an efficient manner requires an acquired combination
of experience, theory, and luck - where the luck portion is actually largely a factor
of experience and theory. When I drive past a long ago shut down service shop with
a faded sign offering repair of Sylvania and GE television, I wax nostalgic over
an era of electronics that I missed by only a couple decades.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Service Bench Chatter
By John T. Frye
A loud slam of the shop screen door announced' that Barney was back from the
service call he had started on only a few minutes before.
"Mission accomplished!" he said, making a sign of smug self-approval with circling
thumb and forefinger. "It was the old story: they had moved the TV set across the
room and, as a result, had more lead-in than they needed. Someone had told them
that twin-lead could not be spliced; so, since they thought they might sometime
want to return the set to its original position, they rolled the extra twin-line
into a neat little coil and poked it into the back of the set. As you can guess,
Channel 4 was very blizzardy, and 6, 7, and 9 could not be seen at all.
"As soon as I whacked off the extra lead-in, everything was hokey-dokey. I sold
the man one of these little plastic twin-line splicers and showed him how he could
use it to restore the chunk of line we had amputated if he ever wanted to move the
set back to where it was. Then I checked the ion trap to make sure it had not been
jarred out of adjustment when the set was moved. Sure enough, it was off quite a
little; so I put it back where it belonged and at the same time touched up the focus.
The guy was most happy to learn that nothing serious was wrong with his set, and
he paid the service charge without a whimper, even though I had only been in the
house about ten minutes."
"Good boy!" Mac applauded, "I especially like the fact that you checked that
ion trap. Often when a technician locates a simple trouble, it seems to the customer
that he is being charged an awful lot just to be told that his set was not plugged
into the wall socket, and so forth. What he can't always understand is that if the
technician had not been called away from his bench, he could have made that five
dollar service charge and more without stepping outside the shop. In such a case,
the service charge is really not for what the technician does at the customer's
home; instead, it is to compensate him for the income he lost by being called away
from his bench.
"However, an alert technician can invariably make some little adjustment on a
set, such as touching up the linearity or centering controls, that will produce
an easily-seen improvement in reception. This minor service usually takes only a
few seconds to accomplish, and it leaves the customer with the happy feeling that
he has received a good return for his money. In this case, he really did, too. If
that ion trap had been left out of adjustment, it could easily have ruined the picture
tube in a short time."
"Oh yeah," Barney interrupted, "there's one other thing. After the set was turned
off, the tube continued to emit flashes of light like heat lightning every few seconds
all the time I was there. The man said it would continue to do this at a decreasing
frequency rate for as long as two hours after the set had been shut off and even
the plug pulled from the wall socket. I promised to ask you about it."
"That's a timely one!" Mac exclaimed with a chuckle. "Just last week I wrote
a letter to the engineering department of a large kinescope manufacturing concern
and asked about the same thing, for I had noticed it happening on a set we had in
here for service. The engineers wrote back that quite often a tube will have what
they call 'cold emission' and continue to emit electrons sporadically for some time
after all heat has left the cathode. The filter condensers on the high voltage circuit
retain a charge for a long time and maintain a potential on the tube electrodes
after the power has been cut off. This potential directs the bursts of electrons
to the screen and causes it to flash. The engineers said they did not know how to
prevent it and did not think anyone else did either. However, they left the impression
that it was nothing to worry about, outside of the rather spooky feeling it gives
you to see a 'dead' set carrying on in that fashion."
"I had to do a little service on my own set last night," Barney said as he placed
an a.c.-d.c. set on the bench and started removing a defective filter condenser.
"Right in the middle of the wrestling matches, the whole screen went dark except
for a streak right up and down the middle of the screen about a quarter of an inch
wide. I was feeling mighty low when I saw that, for I figured something must be
wrong with the horizontal portion of the deflection yoke. I reasoned that if anything
was wrong with any other part of the horizontal deflection circuit, there would
be no high voltage, for the set uses a horizontal flyback type of high voltage circuit;
and that would mean there would be no illumination of the screen at all.
"However, with the same dopey impulse that makes a man who does not know from
nothing about automobiles get out and lift the hood and peer beneath it when his
car won't start, I pulled the set out from the wall and looked into the back of
it. The first thing I saw was a tiny but very bright little spark on top of the
6BQ6G horizontal output tube inside the high-voltage cage. Right away I shut off
the set and poked the tip of my solder gun through the louvers of the cage and reheated
the solder on that plate cap; then I turned the set back on, and it took right off
and played all right all the rest of the evening."
"That was a queer one," Mac mused. "Apparently the expansion and contraction
of the tube broke the solder connection between the cap and the plate lead, but
the separation was so tiny that the current arced across it; and, while this current
was too low to sustain any appreciable amount of deflection, it was sufficient to
produce enough voltage to illuminate that narrow streak on the screen."
For a little while there was silence in the shop as each of the men became engrossed
in his work. Mac was installing a new quadrature coil in a gated-beam TV sound detector,
and Barney was installing new filter condensers in the small set. Barney was through
first, and after he had cleaned both cabinet and chassis and put the two together,
he placed the receiver on the secondary bench and snapped it on for the thirty-minute
check that Mac insisted each set must pass before leaving the shop. For several
seconds there was no sound at all, and then the set snapped on with a burst of music.
Barney turned the volume down and picked up another set from the to-be-worked-on
"You satisfied with that set?" Mac asked without looking up.
"I know from your tone that I'm supposed to say No," Barney replied; "but I don't
seem to see much wrong with it. It's a little slow warming up is all."
"How about that popping on so abruptly?"
"Probably an oscillator tube cathode that comes up to operating temperature a
little after the others," Barney suggested.
Mac shook his head. "I don't think so. The sound came on too abruptly. Seemed
as though something had the audio completely choked off until the set reached a
He picked up a little rubber hammer such as doctors use for testing reflexes
and walked over to the set. Removing the back, he tapped the 12SQ7 first on one
side and then on the other. Suddenly the set stopped playing as abruptly as it began,
but another rap on the duo-diode-high-mu triode started it once more.
"The grid is probably shorting to the cathode," Mac explained as he tossed the
tube into the discard box and put in a new one. "In these high-gain triodes the
spacing is very close, and quite often a short will occur at one particular temperature.
This tube was shorted until it got just so hot, and then the short disappeared;
but the slightest jar was all that was needed to make it short again.
"Never let one of these sets that come on with a bang go out of the shop," he
concluded. "Even if it is a slow-starting oscillator, find out why it is sluggish
and correct it, for the oscillator that starts slowly this week probably won't start
at all next."
""Okay," Barney said with a shrug of resignation, "but if you keep on giving
me symptoms of coming trouble for me to keep in mind and correct before letting
the set go, I'll be getting out about two sets a day."
A quick frown went across Mac's face.
"I'd rather have you put out one set a day and do it right than put out a dozen
cobbled-up jobs that will probably bounce or lose customers or do both," he said
sharply. "Eventually I want you to learn to turn out good work fast; but if you
will just keep on concentrating on doing your best on every set, the speed will
"Now don't get your Scotch up," Barney said soothingly. "I was just popping off
without thinking. I know you are doing your best to make a really good technician
out of me, and I want you to keep right on doing it. For example, what do you suggest
about this job here. The lady says that this set has a very annoying whistle in
it at times, but I've had it playing for three hours without hearing any whistle."
He turned on the little three-way portable, and instantly it emitted a little
pinging sound and then started to play perfectly normal.
"Put it on the isolation transformer and run the line voltage down a little,"
Barney obeyed, and at one setting of the line voltage the set started to howl
with the characteristic musical-saw sound of a microphonic tube.
"There's your whistle,''' Mac told him. "As you should know by now, you can't
place too much importance in the words a customer selects to describe the way a
set sounds. We'd call that a howl, but to her it is a whistle. It only happens when
the microphonic tube - and you can find which one that is by tapping them - is at
a certain critical temperature. That is why it emitted that little pinging sound
as it passed through that critical temperature during the brief warm-up. When we
backed the line voltage down until the filament temperature was again at that point,
the microphonic condition was sustained. At her home, probably the line voltage
often stayed close to this critical voltage-figure for some periods of time, and
then her set kept right on whistling - I mean howling!"
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 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.
Posted February 22, 2016