Ironically (for me, anyway), this
"Serviceman's Experiences" feature from a 1942 issue of Radio News
magazine was the next on my to−do list of stories right after "An Inside
Story About Metal Tubes" which appeared in a 1935 edition of Radio−Craft magazine.
Two entire issues were dedicated to the subject. Vacuum tubes with metal casings
were relatively new in 1935 and would, according to prognosticators of the day,
quickly supplant the normal glass enclosure, but history shows they never did;
glass tubes were still in the majority up until the time they were finally
nearly totally phased out by semiconductor devices in the early 1970s. In this
article, the dialog opens with servicemen complaining about needing to remove
metal tubes from their sockets in order to see the part number markings, but
that is not the moral presented in the saga. Rather, the takeaway here for
service businesses is to be sure to leave a customer satisfied that you care
about your reputation and your customer's needs more than making a profit. Many
episodes of Mac's Service Shop emphasize the same thing. I'm not sure how far
you should go, though, in a world filled with people who gladly exploit your
willingness to please them.
By Lee Sheldon
"You know what they ought to do?" I asked my partner one day last week. "They
should manufacture metal tubes so that servicemen wouldn't have to take them from
the sockets to find out what type they were."
Al turned from the workbench and looked at me with his routine triple threat
- set jaw, pursed lips, lowered lids - and replied: "Yeh - and they should invent
an umbrella for use during brainstorms!"
"No kidding," I insisted, choosing to ignore his coarse manner and unappreciative
attitude, which I have become used to. "It could be done very easily. If each type
were a different size, a serviceman could, by ringing any of them with a mallet,
know which was which. A 6N7,for instance, would probably give off the pitch of middle
C, and a 6H6 might possibly be tuned to B flat, That way, no one would burn his
Al suddenly raised his eyebrows and gave me a phony smile.
"You're suggesting," he said, "that every repairman carry a tuning-fork. Just
think - 88 types could be identified simply by walking into the customer's house
with a piano!"
I had him there. "No one needs a piano," I pointed out. "Servicemen aren't supposed
to be tone deaf. Honestly, now - don't you think the idea has merit?"
"If you mean those old aluminum cans - I gave them to the Boy Scouts!"
"More madcap than
ascap," he snarled.
"Why do you always discourage me?" I asked, plaintively. "Don't you know the
art would never progress unless we made suggestions? The whole history of radio
"Look," he interrupted, tapping my chest with a pair of diagonals, "whenever
business gets slow, you fill in your time with a bunch of impertinent words. Instead
of scouting around for new work, you stall with abstractions. There are two things
an 'outside' man should do during his spare time: first, find new work; second,
create good will."
"It doesn't work," I told him. "Those forced draft jobs never pay for themselves.
When I ask a man if he needs work on his set, he holds the psychological advantage.
It's better to wait for him to ask us to do the work, at a time he has the money
handy. Otherwise, he just tells me not to bother with the repair "if it costs more
than two dollars."
"That's where your salesmanship comes in," Al replied. "I'll bet that right now,
if you asked the first three persons you met if they wanted work done on their sets,
at least one of them would say 'yes,' and that you would have an opportunity to
make good will. But you won't - you're too scared!"
"That's a challenge," I declared, "and I'll do it just to prove you're wrong!"
I picked up my toolbag and started for the truck.
"Hooray - I've got him rolling," Al said, in impolite third person, "the only
serviceman in history determined to make a failure of his next call!"
Naturally, I was piqued, so I stopped off at Pete's restaurant to simmer down
a bit. Halfway through my coffee, I noticed the man sitting next to me at the counter.
He was eating a doughnut very slowly. I appraised him, as one would the subject
of a test case in Physiology II: clothes, a bit loud, but expensive; wavy hair,
no hat; good-looking, with a pleasant manner; vulnerability, fair. I swung around
on my stool and cleared my throat.
"Have you," I inquired, "a radio in need of repair?"
"I have," he replied, halting his doughnut in mid-air.
"Do you want me to fix it for you?" I asked. Although I felt the danger of a
successful contact, I meant to keep the test fair.
"I should be delighted," he said. "When?" I asked, feeling a strange destiny
shaping my ends, despite my rough-hewing.
"Soon as I straighten out this doughnut," he said .
Well, before I realized what had happened, I was in his apartment. Smythe - the
customer - was flopped across an easy chair, and I was examining his a.c.-d.c. midget.
At the same time I, was searching my mind for a way to spoil the job legitimately.
"This thing needs a new rectifier tube and an electrolytic condenser," I finally
announced, "but it isn't worth fixing - it's a piece of junk!"
"I think a great deal of that set," he replied, mildly, "for it is a present
from a very dear friend in the Theater. I am, unfortunately, an actor - one who
hasn't worked for more than a month. Because of this circumstance, I both need the
set and find myself unable to pay for its repair."
"I thought so!" I told him, sniffing.
Smythe looked at me squarely. "You needn't rub it in," he said. "I wouldn't have
had the nerve to ask anyone to look at the set without being able to pay him, but
since you suggested it, I couldn't resist. I do feel greatly encouraged by music
while I'm waiting for a call, but I wanted you to know I was broke before you got
too far into the job."
"You mean," I asked, hopefully, "that if I can't handle it for two dollars, I
should leave it alone?"
He thought for a moment. "I can pay you two dollars," he agreed, as some of his
stage presence left him. At any rate, he was honest.
"Tell you what I'll do," I offered. "I'll run back to the shop and hunt in our
junkbox for a used tube and a cheap condenser. Of course, we won't guarantee the
work, and the condenser will sorta hang out the back of the box-but you'll have
Smythe dropped back into his chair despondently. "Go ahead," he ordered, without
looking up, "do whatever you can for two dollars."
When I came back into the shop and told Al what had happened, he put in a new
tube and the best condenser in stock I tried to explain that we'd lose money, but
he paid no attention.
"C'mon," he said, reaching for his coat, "I'll go back with you and show you
something you don't know."
Smythe, without moving from his chair, yelled for us to enter.
"Good afternoon," Al said cheerfully, plugging the set in and unrolling the short
antenna. The music came up, and it sounded fine.
"It's a nifty little set," he continued briskly, "and it deserves the best of
attention. We did our regular job on it - no second-rate stuff. Like it?"
Smythe put his feet on the floor. "Yes, I do," he replied, puzzled, "but didn't
this fellow tell you that -"
"I know all about it," Al said reassuringly. '''Tell me - where did you do your
"Road show - broke up in Arkansas," Smythe said.
"Well, that's the way it goes," Al said, philosophically, "but all of us get
a run of tough luck once in a while. Did you read in the paper about the players
in Honky Snack, Pennsylvania, last week, who received such a cold reception they
threw tomatoes at the audience?"
Smythe chuckled. "I never thought I'd enjoy being a 'straight man' to a radio
mechanic!" he remarked.
"Up until now," Al said, glancing at me, "you've never met the right mechanics!"
He walked toward the door, pulling me with him. "Leave 'em laughing!" he said, and
"Just a minute, there," Smythe said, "how much do I owe you?"
"Don't worry about it," Al replied, and I looked at him in amazement. "When you
get fixed with your next assignment, send a fiver down to the shop. Meanwhile -
enjoy the music!" He closed the door, and shoved me ahead of him down the hall.
Boy, I was so mad I could have -
"Wait!" shouted Smythe, bursting from his room. Al paused on the top step, and
Smythe put two dollar bills into his hand. Then he took off his wrist-watch, and
offered it to Al. "Security," he said, kind of embarrassed, "for the other three."
But Al waved the watch away.
I cut loose on him as soon as we stepped into the truck.
"Of all the damned foolishness!" I yelled. "No signed receipt, no profit, no
Al patted my knee. "No customer, regardless of what he tells you, ever wants
a makeshift repair. He wants the best one in the world - the only kind we have to
offer. If we'd have carried out your patchwork job, we'd have lost prestige and
good will. This way, while it's true we've used up some spare time at no immediate
profit, we have done a customer a favor he'll never forget. And remember that he's
got some spare time of his own to fill in-I'll bet he sends more than one customer
our way before he gets his next job. Don't worry too much about that three-dollar
Posted March 7, 2022