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 thought.
"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 to work."
Posted July 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 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.