All types of sales and services
get accused of ineptness of skill which requires more time than necessary, overcharging
for parts and/or labor, underhandedness in faking problems and selling unnecessary
replacement parts, improper customer interfacing, sloppiness in appearance and/or
work environment, failure to arrive on time for appointments, etc. Some of the most
often cited these days are auto mechanics, cellphone repairers, home improvement
contractors, lawn care, and builders. Up until about a decade ago when cellphone
repair began to dominate over computer repair, the latter was a big source of complaints.
In the 1950s and 60s, it was TV and radio repairmen who took a lot of abuse not
just from their customers, but from large, organized electronic service conglomerates
and were abetted by mostly ignorant media outlets looking for a good story (even
if they had to make one up - same as they do today). Many cases of media fraud have
been documented in the bad-guy sales and service arenas, with one of the most well-known
being NBC Dateline's staged
blowing up of the GMC pickup truck using model rocket engines
to ignite the fuel tank (c1992). That's not to say there were not legitimate cases
of scandal, such as the equally publicized case of
Sears Auto Center mechanics falsifying repair labor and parts
after being put on commission for their work rather than straight salary (also c1992).
Obviously, small, independent electronics repair shops survived the bad press well
into the 1990s since most towns still had such establishments. Sadly, not many exist
anymore. If I had been of age in the 1950s to own and operate an electronics repair
shop, I definitely would have done so.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: What's Right with the Service Business
By John T. Frye
Impatiently Barney threw the pamphlet he was reading on the floor and turned
to Mac, his employer:
"Mac, I'm beginning to wonder if I want to be a serviceman - or 'service technician'
as I'm supposed to say - after all. Everything I read lately seems to tell what's
wrong with the service business and the men in it. The independent serviceman especially
is represented as a sort of business moron who not only fails to make any money
for himself but - and this is a much more serious crime - prevents Big Time Operators
from reaping the harvest they should.
"When I started with you, my first aim was to become a really good radio and
TV man; then secondly, I hoped some day to start up a little shop of my own. Now
it develops, according to a lot of this literature we get, there is no place for
the one-man shop in the future of radio and TV servicing. The fellows who write
this stuff say, or insinuate, the small shop owner can't buy the necessary equipment,
can't secure the specialized training, and can't command the price that should be
had for repairing sets. How about that? Is the future of the independent service-man
- if you'll excuse the expression - as black as all that?"
Before answering, Mac settled himself comfortably on the broad service bench
and lighted his pipe. This was an encouraging omen to Barney, for Mac seldom smoked
at work. When he did light up his beat-up old briar, this invariably meant he was
preparing to sound off, at some length, on a subject to which he had given considerable
"In a single word: No!" Mac began emphatically. "I've noticed, too, a strong
calamity-howling tendency in some quarters regarding the future of the service business
in general and the lot of the independent serviceman in particular. A lot of this
beefing seems to be given off by a few who are trying to scare servicemen into joining
their particular organizations.
"Now don't get me wrong. I haven't a thing against service organizations as such.
In fact, I'm a great believer in the motto In Union There Is Strength; and I am
confident that many of these service organizations are fine ones that provide their
members with many worthwhile and valuable benefits. But these good organizations
do not proselyte through fear, and they do not encourage one branch of the service
business at the expense of another. They work for the good of all servicemen and
do not arbitrarily try to rearrange the whole service shop pattern and the lives
of the owners. To put it bluntly, they encourage growth with fertilizer rather than
with the pruning knife.
"Personally, I'm proud to call myself an independent serviceman. Both of those
words have a clear, true meaning for me. 'Independent' has been a pretty good word
in the old U.S.A. for a long, long time, and it is going to take an awful lot of
doing to give it a nasty connotation. Independent men built this country; and, for
the most part, independent servicemen have done the majority of radio and TV servicing
up to date. I'll not be at all surprised if they continue doing a large share of
this business in the future.
"And I can see nothing wrong with the name 'serviceman.' I know there are some
who hold that giving ourselves an impressive title, such as 'electronic technician'
would increase our prestige and command respect, but I rather doubt it. You don't
win respect that easily. Undertakers tried for years to make people call them 'morticians'
or 'funeral directors'; but nine out of ten people still call them 'undertakers';
yet their over-all volume of business seems to hold up well. Foot specialists refer
to each other as 'podiatrists,' but their customers think of them as 'foot doctors'
and keep right on taking their sore tootsies to them for treatment. 'Efficiency
expert' is a very important-sounding title, but this has not prevented the name
from becoming the butt of countless jokes. It's not what you call yourself that
matters; it's what your customers think of you. Being a technician is a lot more
important than calling yourself one.
"Serviceman to me means just what it says. As the panel of What's My Line would
have it, I 'deal in services.' Standing shoulder to shoulder with people like the
physician and the garage mechanic, I perform an essential service for people that
they cannot do for themselves.
"And that brings us to What's Right with the Service Business. Since I have been
in it for well over a quarter of a century, I sort of feel that I have as much right
to pop off on this subject as some of the guys who think they are 'old-timers' because
they can remember away back to when we did not have solder guns. When I, and a lot
more like me started repairing radios, we did our soldering with a regular tinner's
iron heated in the burner of a gas stove.
"I'm not going to contend that many radio and TV servicemen have to pay surtax
rates on their income; but neither do I know of any worth their salt who have starved
to death or who cannot afford a decent car and a comfortable home. If they have
attended to business and have kept up with developments in their field - as any
good mechanic does as a matter of course - they are not afraid of what the future
holds in store. In fact, things look brighter for them right now than it has at
any time since they started in business.
"But if you are my kind of a serviceman, a lot of your income is of a sort that
cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I firmly believe a top-notch serviceman
is no more attracted into this field by the lure of rich monetary rewards than a
fine doctor takes up his life's work solely to make money or a scientist chooses
his calling just to pile up a big bank account. A good serviceman loves his work
and gets a tremendous personal satisfaction out of restoring a piece of well-designed
electronic equipment to first-class operating condition. This won't make sense to
those who tell us we should be sharp businessmen first and good technicians second;
but you know what I mean, and so does any other good mechanic or good technician
or good whatever you want to call him.
"Let me put it another way: when I return a repaired radio to a shut-in and see
the smile that lights up his face as he turns on the switch and this little electronic
'escape-hatch' from his sickroom swings wide open again, I feel good and warm and
powerful - more so than I'd feel if someone deposited a thousand dollars in my bank
account. And when we return a TV set to a home and the kids swarm all over us in
their eagerness to know if they can really see their favorite shoot-em-up programs
again, and as I listen to their shouts of glee when they find out they can, I get
this feeling all over again. Maybe this makes me sentimental, old-fashioned, and
unbusiness-like, but it's nice to know that people need and depend on your knowledge
and skill to insure their happiness. There's a lot of pretty satisfactory compensation
in being able to serve your fellow men."
"How about the magazine articles and newspaper 'exposés' that have tried to brand
the servicemen as cheats and crooks?" Barney asked. "Do you think they indicate
the way most people feel about servicemen?"
"By no means. There will always be some people who through jealousy or just plain
cussedness are suspicious of anyone they feel may know more than they do or work
harder. These people think all doctors are quacks, all ministers are hypocrites,
all lawyers are crooked, and all radio and TV servicemen charge outrageous prices
for stealing tubes and parts and messing up sets. It is futile to argue with these
ignorant people, for no one can change the mind of a fool. Fortunately, they are
in a very small minority, probably bearing about the same ratio to the general public
that crooked servicemen bear to the total number in this field. Recently several
manufacturers have gone to bat for us and have used their advertising pages in various
popular magazines to tell our true story to the public. We certainly appreciate
this, for it helps a lot to counteract the vicious and unfounded attacks made on
the service industry. I'm pretty confident folks in this town do not consider me
a crook and a thief. If so, they must like being cheated, for they keep coming back
for more. I'm still working for customers who started bringing me their sets the
first year I was in business."
"Any more good things about servicing you can think of?" Barney asked, glancing
casually at the clock.
"Lots of them. For one thing, working conditions here are much better than in
many other fields. Contrast our job with that of the auto mechanic who must work
on his back in dirt and grease, or with that of the doctor who is likely to be called
any hour of the day or night, or with the monotonous work of the assembly line worker
who keeps performing the same task over and over again until his brain is numbed
with the repetition. A friend of mine who gave up a good job as an electronic engineer
with a large corporation to start his own radio and TV service business told me
recently that doing service work was a lot more challenging and made a much greater
demand on all the electronic knowledge he acquired in college than did his engineering
job of installing microwave relay lines down in South America. He is more than satisfied
with his income, his working conditions, and his prospects for the future. He says
he cannot understand why more trained engineers do not go directly into servicing.
"Finally, a thing that is much more significant to me than to you at this point
is the fact that a serviceman can, if he chooses, have a good long work life. Since
physical strength and agility play unimportant parts in servicing, increasing years
do not force you to retire, as is the case in many other lines of work. You know
my friend, Bill, here in town. Well, I know for certain that he's pushing seventy
awful hard, if he's not actually over that hurdle; but he is right in there slinging
solder with the best of them.
"Someone has said that nothing is work unless you would rather be doing something
else, and in that case a good serviceman does not do any work at all, for he would
not trade jobs with anyone from the President of the United States on down, That
doesn't mean he won't growl and gripe about his work, especially when he has had
a long run of 'dogs' parading across his service bench; but you separate him from
that bench for a few days and he will actually be aching to get hold of a solder
gun again. When a lot of fellows feel like that about their job, there can't be
too much wrong with it.
"And now," Mac finished with a slow grin as he knocked the ashes from his pipe
on the heel of his shoe, "if I've killed enough time to suit you, suppose we go
Posted September 4, 2023
(updated from original
post on 7/8/2019)
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.