September 1967 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
As one who made in-home
service calls for a few years as an electrician, I can attest to the sometimes strange
scenarios which can be experienced. Most of the time the customers were sane and
cordial, but every once in a while a lunatic answered the door. I always went out
of my way to be accommodating and polite. One of the strangest places was a very
expensive home that had essentially been outfitted as an aviary for various breeds
of parrots. The owner insisted I never open a door or window without her being present.
Bird poop was all over everything - furniture, curtains, kitchen stove and sink.
Yuk. I got out of there as quickly as possible. Being in Annapolis, Maryland, near
water (Chesapeake Bay and tributaries), lots of creepy-crawlies were everywhere,
especially under houses. I can't count the number of times I met with nasty spiders,
bees and wasps, multi-legged whatevers, and snakes whilst working deep inside crawl
spaces and attics - with no expedient means of egress. In the 1970s there were no
high power LED flashlights (or cellphones with a "flashlight" app) that lasted for
hours, just D−cell flashlights with a PR−2 incandescent bulb that varied in brightness
from moment to moment. Panic ensued when all of a sudden the light failed and there
was no perceptible light marking a safe exit path. One old guy was a retired physics
instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he lectured me severely for daring to
drill a couple holes in one of his HVAC ducts for attaching cable clamps. Evidently
the potential for air leakage around the screw threads would impact the efficiency
of his system. One lady called the boss and told him to send an electrician who
didn't have long hair to replace me (those were my pre-USAF days, and my hair was
only shoulder length). Once while wiring up a new oven for a pizza joint in the
downtown area, a chef whose first language was Italian offered me a handful of anchovies,
and got insulted when I refused. I never did know what names from the Old Country
he called me. BTW, I colorized these images.
It Can't Be All Bad
By Phil Prindle
As soon as I unlocked the door of my shop I knew it was going to be one of those
days. The phone was ringing already!
"Good morning, Ernie's TV Repair," I greeted the caller as cheerfully as possible.
Early morning isn't my best time of day and I hadn't had my second cup of coffee.
It was Mrs. Stumpp. She lives about five miles out of town, has six kids that are
really terrors and never pays her previous bill until her set breaks down again.
Glumly I assured her that I'd be out as soon as Charlie showed up to watch the
shop. Charlie's my part-time helper, a crackerjack technician but decidedly not
the punctual type.
While waiting for Charlie to make his appearance I checked my answering service
to see what other house calls were in store.
Mrs. Whitaker was one. I'd told her six months ago the picture tube was going.
No doubt by this time it was gone for good. Better take one along just in case.
One call was from the school. They wanted me there before noon because six teachers
were planning to have their classes watch Mr. Dan the Mathemagics Man at 1: 30.
I hoped I'd be magician enough to have the set fixed by then!
And finally a call from a Miss Marner. Hmmmmm, might be interesting. Bachelor
that I am, I'm always willing to check out new material providing it's over twenty-one
and under forty! I decided to leave that call for last - just in case it was a complicated
I had to haul off her old TV for nothing.
Drat that Charlie - where the heck was he this morning?
I had just decided to get some bench work done while I waited for Charlie to
come in, when a customer walked in with a portable phonograph. "Can you fix this?"
she asked. "The turntable goes around but there's no sound!"
"We'll try," I smiled, "We'll try." Then my smile faded. "Where did you get this?"
"Oh, I bought it down at the discount store a couple of years ago. They had a
"Ummmm," I said as I searched for a brand name. Just as I thought. One of those
import jobs where it's impossible to find a circuit diagram and if you're lucky
enough to find the trouble it's almost certain you can't get a replacement part.
"We'll look it over," I told the customer after explaining the possible difficulties.
"We'll call you and let you know what we find."
I'll leave that one for Charlie, I decided, if he ever gets here.
I turned back to the workbench to recheck a color set that had been giving us
trouble for a couple of days. It had trouble in the color-sync stage. We'd checked
the sync-phase detector and the reference oscillator, and had tried to find the
trouble with a scope, but so far no luck. Just as I was really getting somewhere
a client came in with a bunch of tubes to check - one of these do-it-yourselfers
who would no doubt end up by bringing the set in anyway. Especially since all the
tubes checked out okay.
Fortunately, Charlie finally showed up. He'd had a flat on the way. I told him
to keep working on the color set and to check out the phonograph.
Storm clouds were gathering as I hopped into my truck. Looks like rain, I thought,
reminding myself I had better get a new windshield wiper blade - no sense driving
the truck into a ditch to go with the other troubles I'd had today.
I bee-lined for the school, which seemed to be the most urgent call. Mrs. Stumpp
and her six kids would just have to go without TV for another hour.
At the school, a secretary led me to the set where I spent forty-five minutes
checking it and finding nothing wrong. Then the principal appeared.
"We had some vandalism here over the weekend," he said. "Now that I think of
it, the antenna looks bent."
Fifteen minutes later we had located the custodian, who provided a ladder. Sure
enough, some mischievous student with a grudge against the school had not only bent
the antenna but had disconnected the lead-in. I had service restored in five minutes-in
time, I hoped, for the kids to see Mr. Mathemagician,
Grabbing a quick sandwich at the lunch counter on the edge of town, I drove out
to Mrs. Stumpp's house. Sure enough there sat four of her six children staring at
the dark screen. Unfortunately, one of her school-age boys was home with a cold.
He opened the door and greeted me with, "What took ya so long? I missed all the
I ignored his comment and attacked the dilapidated set. The back hung loosely
by one screw. It was necessary to remove a toy airplane, a handful of marbles and
several wads of stale bubblegum before I could get at the tubes. All the while,
the younger children were pummeling each other and shrieking loudly. School-age
boy was fingering something that looked suspiciously like a bean shooter. As I leaned
over the set, "Ping!" He had zeroed in right on the back of my neck. I was muttering
under my breath as I completed my investigation. The two speaker wires dangled loosely.
No doubt one of the kids had pulled them loose while reaching in for the toys he
had hidden there.
"That will do it, Mrs. Stumpp," I said when the wires had been secured. "Umm,
about that last bill I sent...."
"Guess I do owe you sumthin'," she muttered, producing two grimy one-dollar bills
from her apron pocket. "Just send me another bill for today's job will ya?"
It suddenly struck me that at this rate I wasn't going to make any money today.
"But Mrs. Stumpp," I protested, "the last bill was for ten dollars and this house
call will be seven-fifty."
"Two's all I got. And look how long it took ya to get here. I oughta get a reduced
"Yeah, I missed all my cartoons!" interrupted Junior.
I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling her it was worth double time to
drive out to her place and put up with her offspring. I forced a smile. "Well, thank
you, Mrs. Stumpp. Just have your children keep their toys somewhere else and maybe
the set will keep working for a while."
When I came to, I saw a lovely face near mine. "Oh you poor man,"
she squealed. "You're bleeding!"
Breathing a sigh of relief to be finished with that call, I dashed back to town
to check on Mrs. Whitaker's set. The picture tube, as I had suspected, was quite,
"I can have this fixed up good as new in no time," I told her happily. No problems
here, I thought.
"How much is it going to cost?" she demanded. I quoted the price of the tube
and installation charge.
"Will that be one of those modern up-to-date picture tubes?"
"Yes." I was a little puzzled.
"Then that'll fix it so I can get color on it!" I explained as patiently as possible
that changing the picture tube would not make a black-and-white set receive color.
Mrs. Whitaker seemed to be giving the matter great thought.
"Well, in that case," she said finally, "if you'll haul off this old set for
me" I'll just go downtown and get me a new color TV!"
Oh, no, I grumbled inwardly, now she wants me to play junk man. "Why don't you
call the Goodwill or something?" I protested feebly.
"Why bother? You're right here. And I'll be sure to call you when I need someone
to fix the color set."
What doesn't a guy have to do these days to keep a satisfied customer?!
Reluctantly I lugged the set out to the truck. By this time, the sky was really
dark and a few large drops of rain were splattering my windshield, so I stopped
at a service station for a new wiper blade. I spotted a phone and called Charlie
to see if any more calls had come in. There weren't any, but he reported no progress
on the color set. Instead, he'd discovered trouble in the scope and was busy trying
to fix that! I told him to close up at six if I wasn't back, and headed for my last
call. What a day this had been so far!
I had some difficulty finding the address Miss Marner had given. I finally located
it - a cute rose-covered cottage in back of a larger house. Noting there was no
antenna on the smaller house I knocked on the door.
"M-Miss Marner," I stammered as a vision of loveliness opened the door.
"Yes, come in," she invited in a soft, husky voice.
"I-I'm the TV man," I quavered, for Miss Marner was truly a dream after the nightmarish
day I'd had. 36-24-36 if my eyes didn't deceive me.
"Yes, I know," she smiled. "It says 'Ernie's TV' on your shirt. Now," she said,
pointing to a large box on the floor, "I'd like you to put up my antenna. I just
moved here from an apartment and I can't get any reception with rabbit ears."
Suppressing a shudder at the thought of the nasty weather building up outside,
I replied, "Yes, Miss" and proceeded to unwrap the antenna.
"I'll make some coffee," she suggested. "You'll be cold when you come down."
A real doll, I thought. No one else had offered me anything all day.
Since there was no ladder in sight I climbed cautiously up the rose trellis.
The rain was still just a sprinkle, but the rolling of thunder made me work as quickly
as possible. I was just tightening the last guy wire when Crrrack! a flash of lightning
hit the antenna.
I regained consciousness with Miss Marner's lovely face just inches above mine.
I was lying on the wet grass but she was thoughtfully holding an umbrella over us.
"You poor, poor man," she cooed as she prodded me gently to see if I had any
broken bones. I let her poke while I gingerly wriggled my arms and legs and decided
I was okay.
"Ooh, you're bleeding!" she squealed. I reached up to my forehead and felt a
"It's nothing," I said bravely. "But it is cold out here." Miss Marner was shivering
and so was I.
"You just come right in and I'll get you some nice, hot coffee and a Band-Aid
for your head."
For service like this I was happy to install antennas in the rain and even to
shed a few drops of blood! It's been a heck of a day, I thought as Miss Marner assisted
me into her cozy cottage. It's a good thing I called Charlie. I had a feeling I
wouldn't get back to the shop by six!
Posted October 27, 2023