January 1973 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
John T. Fyre, long-time
author of the Mac's Service Shop series of articles in Popular Electronics,
Electronics World, and Radio & television News magazines, had his finger
firmly on the pulse of the commercial electronics industry. The monthly stories of
goings-on with Mac and Barney in the fabled Midwest establishment might seem on the
surface to be random ramblings between owner and employee, respectively; however,
buried strategically within are serious issues of the day. A huge list of past
installments can be found at the bottom of the page.
The transition from vacuum tubes to semiconductors, and from black and white to
color televisions was in full swing by 1973. Accompanying the change in components
was a re-thinking of the most effective and profitable method of manufacturing and
servicing the new equipment. Modularization was thought to be key to future success
even though production costs were slightly higher.
Reliability improvements were already reducing the need for service calls and highly
trained technicians who could troubleshoot failures down to the component level.
Swapping out suspect modules with known-good modules, in Mac's words, results
in "a quickly trained module swapper who knows only 'how' and not 'why.'" Like it or
not, that might prove to be good enough. The
AN/TPX-42 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe)
synthetic radar unit I worked on in the USAF used a modular approach to system
design. It had more than a hundred swappable plug-in modules throughout a full 19"
rack of subsystem drawers. Most modules were fairly small and only held a few dozen
components each. We had a module tester for checking them. If memory serves me correctly, the design was done by
in the late 1960s / early 1970s, so it was fairly new by the time I got to it in 1979.
Mac's Service Shop: Modules and the Technician
By John T. Frye, W9EGV, KHD4167
Mac, Matilda, and Barney had been taking inventory most of the day, but now they were
taking a break. Matilda had fixed hot chocolate, and they were enjoying this with some
home-baked cookies she had brought in that morning. It was snowing hard outside, but
inside the service shop all was cozy warmth and the good companionship of people who
enjoy working together.
"Boss," Barney said, reaching for his fifth cookie, "I'm running into more and more
color sets using snap-in modules. Before long, apparently, most new color sets will have
these. I find I have sort of mixed emotions about this prospect. I wonder what you think
"I've been thinking a lot about this, too," Mac admitted, "and I've been doing some
reading about the different approaches to modular construction by the various TV manufacturers
and of the philosophies behind these approaches. A Business Week article says the plug-in,
plug-out modules were first introduced by Motorola, Inc., in 1967 models. This may be
true as far as color sets are concerned, but we both remember Setchell-Carlson's 'unitized'
B & W sets which used the same basic idea of easily removed circuit sections.
was simply ahead of its time. Tubes were still being used instead of transistors, and
this made the modules large and bulky and required that the contacts to the rest of the
circuit carry heavy currents to tube filaments, etc. The advent of transistors really
made the modular concept feasible, for then the modules could be compact, light in weight,
and of low current requirements.
"At any rate, other manufacturers started putting modules into a few of their sets
as a sort of testing-the-water technique. Now, in the 1973 models, almost everyone has
modular color sets. Magnavox Consumer Electronics Co., for example, offers modules on
almost half of their 1973 solid-state color receivers."
"Don't these sets cost more to manufacture?"
"Yes. When Motorola introduced the Quasar model, it asked for a $100 difference in
price over a conventional color set. Now it puts modules into models ranging from 14"
portables to 25" units, and improved manufacturing technology has cut the price difference
from $25 to $50 a set. GE, RCA, and GTE/Sylvania will not reveal the additional cost
of modular inclusion. They prefer to mix the cost in with higher prices for costlier
cabinets, remote controls, and touch tuning on models that use modules."
Different Philosophies. "What do you mean about there being 'different philosophies'
with regard to the use of modules?" Matilda wanted to know.
"Well, there are a t least three different approaches to the design, assembly, and
servicing of color-TV modules. Motorola puts its components on six to ten relatively
large modules and charges customers $6.50 to $18.50 for a new module, exclusive of labor.
The technician can either fix the old module in his shop or send it to a Motorola factory
and get a trade-in allowance. Motorola then rebuilds the module and mails it back to
a distributor or technician. Motorola says that, without this arrangement, the unit would
cost the customer $25 to $50. We have, of course, the same arrangement in the automobile
industry with regard to fuel pumps, carburetors, generators and starter drives. Admiral
and Panasonic employ a similar approach."
"So does the Heath Company," Barney offered. "For the first 90 days after purchase,
they will repair any module free of charge and return it within two working days. After
that, the repair service is equally fast, but they charge a flat $5 fee for the repair
up to two years. They, of course, deal directly with the customer; so there is no labor
charge for installation."
"Right:'" Mac nodded and then continued: "GE and RCA want to get away from factory-rehandling
costs and are working on the throw-away principle. By employing smaller, cheaper modules
that contain fewer components they hope to trim module costs. RCA, which introduced three
times as many modular sets this year as it did last, retails its modular units for $7
to $31 and does not give a trade-in allowance.
"Zenith uses a few large modules broken down by function. Lower cost components, such
as transistors or integrated circuits, can be pulled out of the module and a new one
snapped in once the trouble is diagnosed. Karl Horn, vice-president for engineering and
research at Zenith, says about nine times out of ten the trouble can be identified by
the technician on the spot, who can then replace the faulty component rather than the
whole module. But having access to a set of modules is a great help in cornering the
trouble. As you know, some kinds of instability can arise in the i-f section, the sync
section, the agc, or in one of the oscillators. Being able to replace whole modules with
those known to be OK certainly facilitates knowing where to look for a bad component.
As William Boss, GTE/Sylvania's marketing vice-president puts it: 'Finding a defective
module should be a lot easier for the repairman than tracing through the 1200 parts of
a TV set to pinpoint what's wrong.'''
"It seems to me a common problem for the technician, distributor, and dealer is the
necessity for stocking a multitude of different modules and the likelihood of being stuck
with obsolete ones as the design is changed from year to year," Barney said. "We've been
down that road with tubes."
Mac nodded agreement. "Motorola ran into that argument from their dealers when they
introduced the Quasar, and they promised that modules would not be changed willy-nilly
every year. Perhaps some kind of arrangement will have to be worked out in which obsolete
modules can be traded in for new ones."
A Threat to Servicing? "I can't help worrying that modules are going to make a big
dent in our service business," Barney confessed. "Maybe we ought to buck them."
"There can be no doubt that color TV sets require less service now than they did at
first," Mac said. "Frank Moch, executive director of NATESA, says annual service calls
on color sets have dropped from four to two since the introduction of transistors. He
predicts modulars will lower this to 1 1/2 calls a year. But knocking modules simply
because they reduce service calls would be the worst kind of sabotage propaganda. In
the long run, it would be about as effective as the French peasant's trying to hold back
the Industrial Revolution by throwing his wooden shoe, or sabot, into the gears of the
hated machine that was replacing him and his fellows. Featherbedding and other make-work
practices represent waste that first seems to cost only others but eventually costs the
featherbedder his job, because those paying his unearned wages, in desperation, find
a way to replace the over-priced employee.
"However, I agree with you that the module poses a serious threat to servicing as
we know it. First, modular sets are going to result in fewer, less-remunerative service
calls. Second, most of those calls can be made by a quickly trained module swapper who
knows only 'how' and not 'why.' On the other hand the module represents progress in the
way of easier-to-service sets that benefit both the manufacturer and the customer. We
must keep in mind that - distasteful as the idea is - service is a necessary evil. Ideally,
from the manufacturer's point of view, a TV set would never need service - although I
am sure the manufacturer would like a provision that the set would self-destruct at the
end of a decent interval! From the customer's point of view, the set should never need
service. Since this is not an ideal world, we are able to wedge ourselves in between
the manufacturer and the owner and secure a grudging patronage from both.
"To my way of thinking, the only way we can keep our income up or even increase it
is for us to increase our productivity. Service calls will take less time; so we increase
the number of calls. For all these years we've been yelling for sets that are easier
to service and now we've got 'em! It behooves us to make the most of having our wish
"Maybe we'll get some help," Barney said hopefully. "I can see right now that if we're
going to be module repairmen instead of TV repairmen we're going to need module testers,
just as we now have tube and transistor testers."
"I'm sure that once the dust settles, things such as that will be coming on the market,"
Mac agreed. "Eventually we may even see some standardization of module connections so
that all will fit into two or three types of universal connectors, just as many different
tubes fit the same socket.
No Time to Panic. Matilda slid off her stool and began gathering up the empty cups.
"As I get it, Mac," she said, "you're saying this is no time to panic. Modules are here
to stay - at least until something else replaces them - and the thing for the service
technician to do is to figure out how he can go with the tide instead of against it.
After all, ten service calls with a gross profit of ten dollars a call is just about
the same as five service calls that bring in twenty dollars a call. The technician will
have to push more doorbells, but he will not have to carry along so much equipment. Lowering
the profit margin but increasing the traffic is what permitted the supermarkets to crowd
out the corner groceries."
"That's the idea, Matilda. Some technicians will try to buck the trend just as they
sneered at ac-dc receivers, pooh-poohed transistors, and finally took down their signs
when color TV hit the market. But electronic servicing has never been a comfortable field
for those who like things to stay the same. We are a tough breed who can roll with the
punches. The fact that the average age of service technicians is over 45 years, according
to what I was recently told, proves it."
"That brings up a final point," Barney said. "Very few young men are coming into the
TV repair field. If they get enough training to be good service technicians, they are
snapped up by other services using electronics before they ever get good and started
in TV repair. The apprenticeship here is too long and the pay is too short to attract
youth. Now, with modular TV sets, it should be possible to train young men to do what
is necessary in a comparatively short period of time. Maybe that, plus the rising income
level that has been mostly brought about by organization, will attract sorely needed
young men into TV repair."
Posted February 14, 2018
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.