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Mac's Radio Service Shop: TV and the Little Guy
April 1951 Radio & Television News

April 1951 Radio & Television News
April 1951 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

"Unfortunately, good technical ability and good business ability do not always grow naturally on the same tree." That line by "Mac," (Mac McGregor) is all too true for lot of us, and I definitely include myself as part of 'us.' I have often paraphrased the line by Dr. McCoy on Star Trek as, "Dammit, Jim, I'm an engineer, not a salesman." Part of the reason RF Cafe has pretty much remained at the same level of income over the years is due to my unwillingness to make performance guarantees to anyone in return for pay - other than to not do anything intentional that will harm them. My advertisers choose to do so based on RF Cafe's reputation for unbiased (mostly) presentation of information and abstention from the form of political correctness that sacrifices efforts of hard working people to spare the fragile feelings of slothful ad/or insidious and/or jealous actors. More than one accomplished businessman has advised me that being more aggressive would pay big dividends. OK, I'll try that approach: Buy my newly released RF Stencils for Visio v3 - which includes more than 750 objects - and save yourself untold hour of building your own shapes for presentations. While you're at it, contact your Advertising department and have someone there get in on the remarkably low cost now before I raise prices due to a flood of inquiries.

Mac's Radio Service Shop: TV and the Little Guy

By John T. Frye

Mac's Radio Service Shop: TV and the Little Guy, April 1951 Radio & Television News - RF CafeThe topic of large TV service operations vs. the small is a controversial one. In the past we have presented the case for the large operation (see "Is the One Man TV Shop Doomed?" in the February 1950 issue and "TV Servicing is Big Business" in the March 1950 issue).

With this article we present the other side of the story with John T. Frye going to bat for the small operator.

We do not believe that there is any cut-and-dried answer to this question at the present. Only time will tell which type of operation can make the grade most successfully.

Barney, the "electronic assistant" as he liked to call himself of Mac's Radio Service Shop, stepped inside the front door of the establishment and then stopped dead in his tracks and began to sniff the air like a retired fireman getting a whiff of shingle smoke.

"Oh-oh, Miss Perkins," he exclaimed accusingly to the office girl, "you've been splurging on a new perfume again. No, don't tell me what it is. Let me guess. I'm pretty good at this sort of thing: Hm-m-m-m," he said with his eyes tightly closed and his freckled face screwed up in a look of intense concentration, "it could be either My Secret Sin or Mantrap, but I seem to be getting just a soupçon of Night of Love -"

"I hate to throw your 'soupçon' out of joint," Matilda interrupted with a giggle, "but you're not even warm. If you will stop making that noise like a punctured bellows and open your eyes, you will see that what you are smelling is First April Hyacinths, and they are right here in a vase on my desk."

"Yeah, M'sieu Jacques," Mac yelled from the service room, "quit waving that anteater proboscis of yours around and come on back here and put your nose to the grindstone where it belongs."

"Okay, okay!" Barney said amiably as he strolled back into the service department, "but I have a little matter I want to talk over with you before we start to work."

"Very well, Junior," Mac said as he shot an amused look at the youth, "but don't think you're fooling anybody. I'm hep to this business of your getting me started on a long-winded lecture just to stave off going to work; but what is the gimmick this time?"

"Oh no, Boss," Barney denied with a pained expression. "You've got me all wrong. This thing really has me worried. Remember those magazines you told me to take home and read? Well, just before coming to work I finished an article in one of the publications intended for large service shop owners. This writer said television was finally spelling out the end of the 'screwdriver mechanics.'"

At first I thought the writer simply meant poorly-trained and sloppy technicians, but as I read on I found him calling these same people 'individual technicians' and 'one-man alley operators.' To him, apparently, a screwdriver mechanic and the operator of a one-man shop were the same person, and he was convinced that these characters were going to be about as common on the American scene as wild bison."

Mac lighted his pipe before he answered. "This is serious," he said with with a grin that belied his words. "Did the prophet of doom give any reasons for his pessimism?"

"Well, for one thing, he said the little-shop operator did not have either the equipment or the technical knowledge needed for TV servicing."

Mac's eyes swept fondly across the gleaming array of instruments on the back of his bench as he drawled, "It will take a stronger argument than that to make me toss in the sponge. You've got to remember that no amount of equipment will make a mechanic good, but a good mechanic can make a surprising amount of equipment - especially during these days of high-quality, low-cost service instrument kits and of many magazine articles that tell how to build broadband scope amplifiers, sweep generators, marker generators, vacuum tube voltmeters, and so on.

"In spite of what some of the calamity howlers would like you to believe, even if you buy factory-made instruments, you do not need enough money to make a down payment on a yacht to buy all of the equipment you require to do a bang up job of television servicing. The fellow who has, in addition to the usual radio shop equipment, a v.t.v.m., a good sweep generator, a scope with good gain and frequency response, and a dependable marker generator is equipped to tackle any TV service job, providing, of course, that he knows how to get the most out of these instruments; and a fellow who has either built these instruments or who has selected them after a great deal of catalogue-thumbing and comparing in an effort to make his limited funds go as far as possible, is very likely to be able to do just that."

"Yeah, but this writer says the small operator is short on know-how, too."

"That is a generality and is about as worthless as most generalities," Mac said with an impatient gesture. "Some lone-wolf technicians are technically unprepared to do TV work, but I know some mighty, mighty dumb ones who work for the big concerns, too. Come to think of it, where do these big outfits get their technicians? Most of them are recruited from the ranks of the independent technicians - especially those technicians who fail in making a go of their own shops. Wonder what magical quality it is that transforms these former 'screwdriver mechanics' into 'carefully trained technicians' just as soon as they are put on the payroll of a large concern!"

"For your money, then, a small operator is likely to be just as good a technician as a fellow working for a big shop."

"Affirmative! In the first place, a man has to have both initiative and self-confidence to strike out for himself, and these two qualities are the foundation for a good TV technician. When you don't have anyone else to whom you can pass the buck, you just have to buckle down and work out your own problems, and that is precisely how a good technician is made. Then, too, the man who is his own entire technical force has to be familiar with every phase of television from the antenna installation right down to the picture tube and the speaker. He is not so likely to be a narrow specialist as is the case with large company technicians.  

"Most important of all, though, the little guy has every possible incentive for doing the best work he is capable of doing. He knows that his whole business and all the time and money he has put into it depends upon the quality of the work he turns out. If the ability to work hard and carefully is in him at all, that knowledge will bring it out. Doing sloppy work and loafing on the job is about as smart for the one-man operator as cheating at soli-taire."

"Do you-think a technician can make as much money working for himself as he can working for a large shop?"

"That is impossible to answer because it depends upon so many variables, of which one of the most important is: how good a business man is the individual technician? Unfortunately, good technical ability and good business ability do not always grow naturally on the same tree, and that accounts for a great deal of the trouble encountered by the small service shops. This weakness has been recognized, though, and more and more space is being given in the trade publications to educating the technician along business as well as technical lines.

"But there is another important fact that no Big Time Operator will probably ever quite understand: money taken in is not the full measure of the independent technician's pay. A mind that is filled with inventories, man-hours, depreciation, ten-day discounts, etc., can never quite grasp the deep satisfaction that a first-class mechanic receives from doing a fine job of repairing a broken or defective mechanism or circuit in his own way, on his own time, and with his own tools. There is something creative about that kind of work that makes it altogether different from doing the same thing for an employer's pay. A funny thing about an average American is that he prefers being the whole works of a small machine to being a small cog in a big machine. As long as this is so, we shall have independent technicians; and I hope I never see the day when it isn't so."

"Don't you think we ought to have large service shops?"

"Certainly we should have them. Large shops are needed, especially in cities, to take care of the immense amount of work that must be done and done fast. I have no quarrel with big shops, but I insist that there is plenty of room and plenty of work in this country for both the large and small shops. What I hate is this attempt on the part of a few large organizations - and it is by no means all of them - to try to 'smear' the independent operator with blanket charges of inefficiency and dishonesty.

"The auto service industry has been going through this same thing for years. Every time a new car design comes out, there are a few who cry that this advance will mean the end of the 'alley garages'; but these small garages are still with us and will probably be doing business when cars are equipped with atomic engines. The mechanic who works on my car and truck runs one of these little shops, and I will stack Homer's mechanical ability, thoroughness, honesty, and essential up-to-date equipment up against that found in any garage you can name. He is good enough that his customers patiently wait two or three weeks just to get their cars into his shop and have him work on it personally.

"I think that what grinds the large operators the most is that the independent technician usually charges less for his service than they do. They consider this 'price cutting' and say that such a practice sabotages the advancement of the whole service business. But that really isn't the case. The little guy is simply using one of his few advantages, low overhead, to offer more attractive rates to his customers. The big outfit can buy replacement parts cheaper because of the size of their orders, and they can smother him with their large advertising. budgets, but on top of that they still want to set his charges for him!

"These outfits would do well to practice a fundamental business rule that the independents learned long ago: Don't knock your competitor - even your little competitor. Every time a radioman raises the Pharisee cry that other radiomen are crooks and stupid blunderers, he arouses doubts and suspicions in the minds of the people concerning all technicians."



Posted September 12, 2016

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ 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 Electronics 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.

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