January 1969 Electronics World
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
Electronics World, published May 1959
- December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
"Catalog-Carrying Charlie," "Electronic
Hypochondriac," "Stop-the-Presses Guy," "Belittler," "Man with a Relative in the Racket,"
"Suspicious Sam," all pet names for the pain-in-the-posterior type of service shop customers
that Mac and trusty sidekick Barney had to deal with on a regular basis. After giving a humorous
description of each type, the two then come up with a "Ten Commandments" for their customers
that outlines how the customer should approach a service request to help assure the best results.
Even though the closest thing to an electronics repair shop we see today is the cellphone
LCD replacement kiosk in the local shopping mall, you can bet employees still get their fill
of those types of clients. With fewer and fewer people daring to attempt a repair on anything
mechanical or electronic, extended service agreements are the norm with most major purchases,
be they automobiles, microwave ovens, or computers. It is often cheaper and less hassle to
just throw something away nowadays than to have it repaired.
As a side note, I worked with a very sharp
engineer who was a Ham radio operator and electronics tinkerer back in the 1960s. He
completed his electrical engineering degree at University of Pittsburgh in just three
years. He said he was forever having to turn people away who, once they knew he was a tech
guru, would inevitably ask him to repair a radio, TV or other such gizmo. He was a real
jokester, and once told me how the U. Pitt students referred to the campus' famous Cathedral of
Learning as "The Height of Ignorance" - LOL!!! Amazingly, a search just turned up
proof in a 1938 issue of
Mac's Service Shop: How to Be a Good Customer
by John T. Frye
Some customers, by their attitudes, almost seem to ask
the service technician for overcharging and poor service.
Mac," Barney said to his employer, "do you know the name of the joker who first said, 'The
customer is always right'?"
"Can't say as I do, right offhand," the service shop owner replied, "but you sound as though
you don't agree."
"I most certainly don't," the redheaded Irish youth said emphatically, "and I'll bet that
glib-tongued guy would choke on his words if he had to deal with some of the chiseling characters
who come in here."
"I get it! You've just had another run-in with Catalog-Carrying Charlie!" Mac guessed,
"You're so right. He left just before you came back from lunch. He was in here brandishing
that dog-eared wholesale electronic parts catalog of his under my nose and demanding to know
why we charged him $1.40 for a radio tube he could have ordered from the catalog for only
"I hope you told him."
"And how I told him! I said if he had known which tube be needed, and if he could have
been sure that was all that was wrong with his radio, and if he had been willing to pay postage
on the order for the tube plus the charge for his check or money order, and if he had been
willing to wait a week on the tube, and if he had been willing to accept the fact that if
the new tube were bad he'd have to pay postage to return it, he probably could have ordered
the new tube for only slightly more than we charged him."
"What did he say to that?"
"He spluttered a lot, but I didn't let him off the hook that easily. I went on to explain
the difference between the wholesale and the list price of the tube was to pay us for giving
time and place utility to the electronic parts we stock. We're being paid for having those
parts right here waiting on him when he needs them. What's more, we made sure that (a) his
radio really needed that particular tube, and (b) that was all it needed. If his new tube
becomes defective within the warranty period, we replace it immediately at no charge. Since
we must pay rent, lights, heat, water, telephone, insurance, and several other bills if we
are to keep this place open, ready for his convenience when he has trouble with his electronic
equipment, we can't sell parts for what they cost us any more than can any other store."
"I'll bet that sent him off talking to himself."
"It surely did. But Charlie isn't the only pain-in-the-neck customer we have. The Electronic
Hypochondriac is just as bad. You know the type I mean. He's the sort who is constantly looking
for trouble with his electronic gear. He calls us to see if we don't think maybe the bass
response of his hi-fi isn't a bit too boomy, or if the linearity of his TV set isn't a bit
imperfect, or if perhaps the sensitivity of his radio may not be off a trifle. Then he becomes
indignant if we charge him for telling him there's nothing wrong with his equipment but his
"My pet peeve is the Stop-the-Presses Guy," Mac said.
"He's the bird who comes dashing in all in a lather and gives us a terrific song and dance
to the effect he has to have his radio or TV set repaired immediately. It reportedly belongs
to a poor old aunt who is a shut-in and lives only for her programs. Every hour she is without
her radio or television set causes her acute mental anguish and may even shorten her life.
We drop everything and get the set out muy pronto. Then what happens? It sits here for two
or three weeks before the guy drops in very casually to pick it up, lingering only long enough
to gripe a little about our 'hounding' him to get the set!"
"The Belittler rubs me the wrong way just about as much," Barney went on. "He's the one
who tries to beat down the service charge in advance by 'belittling' the difficulty in the
set. He assures you there can't be much wrong. 'Probably just a weak tube or a loose wire,'
he tells you. He reasons there can't be much wrong 'because it was playing perfectly just
before it quit.' I like to remind him that sounds very much like what they say about a fellow
who drops dead of a heart attack."
"You've got a real mean streak in you," Mac said with a grin. "But how about the Man with
a Relative in the Racket? Said relative is usually a nephew who 'is taking up radio' in the
army or maybe a cousin who wires houses and consequently 'knows a lot about electricity and
radio and stuff like that.' At any rate, this relative looked at the defective set and instantly
knew what was wrong with it - which is a pretty neat trick that I wish I could emulate. He
would have fixed it himself if he only had his equipment with him, but he assured our customer
that 'any serviceman worth his salt could fix the set in ten minutes and should not charge
more than a buck or so.' That leaves us with the ticklish and thankless job of proving the
genius relative guessed wrong - which he does, of course, in the great majority of cases."
"Suspicious Sam is probably the hardest to stomach of the whole lot," Barney offered. "He
has read every article ever published on the general subject of 'The TV Serviceman Will Gyp
You' and quotes freely from them at every opportunity. He makes it plain he is on to all our
little crooked ways and schemes and that he is not going to be gypped without a struggle.
He wants all work - even major realignment - done right in his house, and he breathes on the
back of your neck every moment you're working on his set. He demands actual proof that every
component you remove is bad, and he threatens you with the Better Business Bureau if a replacement
part is not an identical twin of the one you removed. His whole attitude is a constant reminder
he fully expects you to try to cheat him; and, quite candidly, were I going to cheat anyone,
he would be the one I'd do it to - just to prove how foolish it is to try to check up on a
technician working at something you know nothing about."
"That brings up a subject about which I've been thinking for some time," Mac remarked.
"Perhaps we've had too many articles on how to be a suspicious customer and not enough on
how to be a good service customer. After all, the brutal fact is that it is no longer a customer's
market; it is a repairman's market today. There are simply not enough available service technicians
to take care of all the radios, TV sets, automobiles, washing machines, and other household
appliances that break down by the thousands every hour. A good service technician can have
all the business he wants and more; so a customer is not doing him a tremendous favor by dumping
an ailing piece of equipment on his bench.
"But if he is a good technician, he still takes pride and satisfaction in doing a good
repair job, especially for a customer he likes and respects. On the other hand, he is not
at all inclined to try to hold a whining, complaining, chiseling customer; and he certainly
will not make a special effort to do a first-class job for one of these. The sooner such a
customer takes his business elsewhere, the happier the service technician will be. Maybe that's
not the way it should be, but that's the way it is; and the service customer must face up
to it if he hopes to get good service."
"Hear, hear!" Barney applauded.
"And since service technicians are also service customers, I've got an idea. Let's see
if we can't cook up a sort of Ten Commandments for our service customers that will also apply
when we have to have our automobiles or washing machines or lawn mowers repaired."
"Not a half-bad idea," Mac agreed. "Let me start with the first commandment: Make sure
you really need a service technician before you call one. Make sure the device is properly
plugged in. Are all switches and knobs in the proper position? Are the antenna leads in place?
Is the station on the air, or are you sure the TV cable system is functioning? If you haven't
used the equipment for a spell, get out the instructions and study them. You know, for example,
how many radios we get that have nothing wrong except the radio-phone switch is in the phono
position, a band change switch is set to a dead short-wave band or the FM position. By sheer
coincidence, of course, such things are especially prone to happen after a visit from grandchildren."
"I think Commandment Two should read: Pick a service technician you think you can trust.
Rely more on the recommendation of friends mid neighbors than you do on advertising claims.
If you know one good technician - be it a garage mechanic, appliance repairman, or what have
you - ask him. One technician is usually a good judge of another, even in a different line
"Number Three: Be ready for the technician when he calls. His time is valuable, and you're
paying for it. Have all pertinent symptoms written down. List any long-standing little annoyances,
such as loose knobs, you want repaired while the technician is working on the set. And have
everything cleared off the top of the TV set before he arrives.
"Number Four: Don't hesitate to ask for an estimate before okaying the repair, and find
out the estimate charge when you call the shop," Barney advised. "A reputable technician will
respect you for doing so."
"Number Five," Mac chimed in, "might go: Don't expect a technician to display much enthusiasm
for taking on foreign-made electronic equipment. It may have been low in cost and work well,
but when it fails it's tough to service because of a lack of adequate service information
and the difficulty of securing replacement parts."
"Here's Number Six," Barney offered:
"Don't try to tell the technician what to do. If you do, he will carry out your suggestions
first and then find what is really wrong with the set and fix it. You'll be paying for things
you didn't need."
"Along that same line, I can suggest three other commandments," Mac said. "Number Seven:
Don't try to rush the technician. Give him time to do a good job.
"Number Eight: Don't insist on watching the technician work or try to help him. Good troubleshooting
requires intense concentration and the application of all the senses. Talking to the technician
or allowing children to annoy him is bound to cost you money."
"Yeah, that reminds me of a sign I saw in a service shop. It read: 'We charge five dollars
an hour; or seven dollars if you watch; or ten dollars if you help."
"There's more truth than poetry there," Mac chuckled. "Anyway, here's Number Nine: Let
the technician know you respect both his ability and his honesty. People - even technicians
- have a funny habit of giving what is expected of them."
"Let me suggest the last one," Barney said. "Number Ten: If you are pleased with the repair
job, call the shop and say so. This will doubtless astonish them no end, but it may very well
react in your favor the next time you have to call them."
"Amen," Mac concluded; "and let's be sure that you and I remember all these when we are
asking for service instead of dishing it out."
Posted August 1, 2017
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.