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Mac's Service Shop: The Technician and Progress
October 1955 Radio & Television News

October 1955 Radio & TV News
October 1955 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Prior to news of the A-bombs dropped at the end of World War II, most people had no idea what nuclear anything was. My guess is school textbooks made scant mention of it mainly because what was known of the science was kept under wraps at the Department of War (DoW, now the Department of Defense, DoD). The Department of Energy (DoE), which currently administers nuclear policy and oversight, did not formally exist as a separate entity until 1977. Per their website, "The Department of Energy has one of the richest and most diverse histories in the Federal Government. Although only in existence since 1977, the DoE traces its lineage to the Manhattan Project effort to develop the atomic bomb during World War II, and to the various energy-related programs that previously had been dispersed throughout various Federal agencies." In 1955 when this episode of "Mac's Service Shop" appeared in Radio & Television News magazine, one of the popular items for electronics hobbyists was Geiger counters (along with metal detectors). As you would expect, even the "professional" models were bulky and heavy, and had relatively low sensitivity compared to today's models. Many construction articles and product reviews about Geiger counters (and metal detectors) were published in electronics magazines in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I have not posted any of them figuring no one would be interested. After the era of constant global nuclear war threats had waned, interest in radiation detection petered off as well. The need to be able to measure latent nuclear contamination level to determine whether it was safe to emerge from the backyard shelter effectively disappeared with adoption of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) philosophy. BTW, there is a house here near Erie, PA, that still has its backyard bunker.

Mac's Service Shop: The Technician and Progress

Mac's Service Shop: The Technician and Progress, October 1955 Radio & Television News - RF CafeBy John T. Frye

Barney dawdled on his way to work with the lagging step of a reluctant schoolboy - and what a glorious morning it was for dawdling! Not the smallest cloud marred the inverted azure bowl of the October sky. The lawns, still green because of early fall rains, sported only an occasional fallen leaf to accent their dewy emerald beauty. Trees along the street showed just the faintest copper sheen to hint at the gorgeous color that would soon be theirs, and the air that brushed Barney's freckled cheek was fresh and cool and sweet.

Somehow, on such a morning, it seemed exactly right that he should find Mac, his employer, chuckling jovially to himself inside the service shop.

"What's so funny?" Barney asked with a grin of anticipation.

"Well, I just had a sharp reminder that you can't be a smart aleck and a good businessman at the same time," Mac confessed. "Remember those two radios that fell off the tailgate of the semi-trailer as the driver was backing into a loading dock and that were crushed beneath the wheels? You'll recall the trucking company brought them over to see if perhaps we could salvage one good set out of the two, but a quick check showed this was hopeless. Anyway, both sets were still lying on the service bench when an early customer brought in his receiver. Since Matilda is on vacation, he came on back to the service department and started giving me the set's symptoms. Right in the middle of his recital his eye lighted on those two clobbered sets, and he asked what happened to them. I couldn't resist the temptation to explain airily that they were just a couple of radios that gave me a hard time and made me lose my temper; and then I waved significantly at the five-pound sledge on the floor beneath the bench. You know, I had a heck of a time persuading that guy to leave his set with me; and I'm still not sure I convinced him I was kidding! From now on, I'll confine my joking to after-business hours."

Barney walked over to the bench, highly pleased that the nearly-infallible Mac was admitting to error, and picked up the book his boss had tossed aside as he started relating his experience with the customer.

" 'Atomic Radiation Detection and Measurement by Harold S. Renne,' " Barney read off the cover. "How come you're going in for this stuff? Isn't it sort of off-trail for a radio and TV technician? "

"Not any more," Mac denied. "Electronics and atomic energy are moving closer together every day, and it takes a real hair-splitter right now to say where one leaves off and the other begins. People expect us to know something about nuclear energy. Almost every day someone pops a question at me that I can't answer about Geiger counters, how the atomic sub works, or what is the effect of atomic radiation. The fact this book is published by Howard W. Sams, who specializes in publishing data for service technicians, proves he considers the subject important to us. And I know the kids who read the comics and the science-fiction magazines consider me a real square because I can't answer their questions about how many roentgens of exposure they're getting from their fluorescent watch dials, etc."

"From the looks of this table of contents you ought to be an authority after you read the book," Barney commented as he went on to read aloud: " 'Atomic Structure, Atomic Radiation and Its Effects, Commercial Geiger Counters, Scintillation Counters, Dosimeters, Home-Built Counters, Civil Defense, Prospecting, Applications of Nuclear Science.' Looks like you get quite a dose of both theory and practice. When you get through with the book, I'd like to read it. Maybe I'll build me a Geiger counter."

"You'll certainly be welcome," Mac promised; "and don't overlook the Manufacturer's Directory, Product Directory, and Bibliography in the back when you start collecting parts or want to pursue the subject still further."

"You know," Barney reflected, "life's really getting difficult for us service technicians. It's not enough that we have to read and study like mad just to keep up with the new developments in the radios and TV sets we work on. Oh no; in addition, we're supposed to keep abreast of the very latest in color TV, nuclear energy, transistors, printed circuits, and goodness knows what all else. And these related fields do not hold still, either. Almost every day sees new developments in them. Color TV sets are undergoing a much-needed simplification process; transistors are coming on the market with power outputs measured in watts instead of milliwatts; entirely new techniques are being developed in printed circuits. Sometimes I wish everything would just stand still for a year or so and let me catch up."

"I know exactly how you feel," Mac said sympathetically; "and there's a lot of difference between knowing some theory of a subject and in knowing that subject: well enough to service equipment connected with it, as we must do. I often think really smart manufacturers would do everything possible to make their new products easy to service. The good-will this would generate with service technicians would be passed along to customers and promote much quicker acceptance of the new device. When new equipment is hard to service or is introduced without sufficient service information preceding it, it is launched under a decided handicap.

"I remember when one car manufacturer introduced his first V-8 motor the mechanics promptly gave it a black eye because it was hard to service and required special tools. They complained you even had to jack up the motor to remove the oil pan! Garagemen knocked this car so consistently and thoroughly that the public was slow to accept it. Another example is the wristwatch. At first jewelers disliked these because of their small and intricate works. The watch repairmen gave their customers the impression that these despised wristwatches were not practical timepieces and that buying one was a poor investment. It is only in the past few years that this prejudice has been largely overcome."·

"What do you think the TV manufacturers could do to make things easier?"

"One simple thing would be to color code or indicate in some other easy-to-see manner the important check points in a chassis, Where to introduce the sweep signal, where to connect the scope for viewing the video i.f. curve, where to connect the scope for discriminator alignment - these, and all other important points that are usually indicated on a diagram as 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' etc., should be plainly marked. It is a great nuisance to have to trace out the circuit and see exactly where 'the junction of R15, R17, and C63' is. Marking this important junction point with a dab of color or a little tag would save the technician valuable time and insure he was connecting his instrument to the proper point.

"How about the new transistor equipment?"

"Well, I certainly am not in favor of soldering these little gadgets into the circuit. If at all possible, the transistors should fit into sockets When this is done, a doubtful transistor can be quickly checked by the old reliable try-a-good-one technique. I fully expect to see tube checkers equipped with sockets for testing transistors in the very near future, but this will not do much good if the transistors are equipped with solder leads instead of socket pins. The transistor people should remember the case of the selenium rectifier. When these were first introduced, they were supposed to have almost n unlimited life, too; but you'll have a hard time selling this story to a present-day technician who replaces a couple of dozen of them a week. In the past few month the selenium rectifier manufacturers have started to remove the growing prejudice against these hard-to-replace units by making them plug-in; but if this had been done in the first place, the prejudice would never have arisen."

"I'll certainly go along with that," Barney agreed; "And if the selenium rectifiers had been made plug-in right from the beginning, this would have kept set designers from buying them in hot spots underneath the chassis where lack of ventilation shortens their life. But what would you do if you were designing such equipment?"

"There's a problem that's very real," Mac remarked. "Both of us already have noticed that the printed circuit sets beginning to pass through the shop show a wide difference in ease of servicing. In being critical, of course, we must remember that one of the chief advantages of the printed circuit lies in the simplification of manufacturing. We can hardly expect a manufacturer to discard a large part of this important advantage just ot make printed circuit sets easier to service. I'm convinced, however, that these sets can e made easier to service without making them difficult or costly to assemble.

"For instance, take the case of a filter capacitor with four or five leads. If these leads come right out the end of the can and pass through separate holes in the printed circuit board and pull the edge of the can tight against that board while they are soldered into place, removing that capacitor is a real chore. All five solder connections must be heated at the same time. While I realize that miniature solder post are coming on the market to do this job, I feel that making it necessary for the technician to buy highly-specialized new equipment to work on these new sets is not going to increase his affection for them."

I'm sorry to hear you say that,"· Barney offered. "I've just been working on my new Hydra Solder Gun. You see it has a half dozen separate flexible tips all connected in parallel. You just bend these around so each one is in contact with a joint you wish to break and pull the trigger. All tips get hot at once - and there you are!"

"I'd like to see you watching all six of those contacts at once," Mac said with a chuckle. "Anyway, that isn't necessary. The other day I had a printed circuit set that needed a new filter capacitor, and replacing it was a breeze. Instead of the leads coming out the end of the filter can, they came out at regular intervals around the side, about a half-inch from the end, and then went straight down through holes in the circuit board. All I had to do was clip these leads off right close to the can and solder them to the leads of the replacement capacitor. The soldering iron never touched the printed circuit board at all. What's more, that type of capacitor was just as easy to install in the factory as was the other type I mentioned; yet look how much easier it was to replace. The kind of thinking behind it should be applied to all printed circuit sets. If this is done, the technician will welcome these new sets and will provide invaluable aid in 'selling' them to the customers; but if his interest and convenience is ignored - well, if the manufacturer could know how often the technician is asked, 'What kind of a radio or TV set should I buy?' that policy would be quickly reframed."

"Yep," Barney agreed; "you might say that all we technicians want is just a little ride on the wheels of progress instead of feeling they are rolling over us."




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 Electronics 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.

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