There's not a much better way to finish up a hard week at the office than reading a new episode of John T. Frye's "Mac's Radio Service Shop." Mac McGregor and his trusty sidekick technician Barney tackle nearly every issue associated with an electronics sales and service establishment back in the heyday of radios and televisions. You might recognize the title of "Pride and Prejudice" as being borrowed from Jane Austin's classic, which, to summarize, deals with, well, pride and prejudice based on one's social status, and how it results in lost opportunities. To be honest, I have not read the book (Melanie's the designated book reader in our household) but I did see the movie version starring Keira Knightly. Anywho, you'll need to read the second half of the story to get to the actual pride and prejudice part. As for the first part, it might be difficult to imagine what all the fuss is over tape recorder usage (or non-usage as is the case here), but remember that in 1955 it meant a case with vacuum tubes and requisite heavy transformers.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Pride and Prejudice
By John T. Frye
"Hey, Mac," Barney called to his employer; "how's about my taking the tape recorder home with me this evening to perform a little experiment?"
"What kind of an experiment?" Mac asked cautiously.
"Nothing that will hurt your precious recorder," Barney promised, "I have long had a yen to know exactly how I sound when I'm talking over my ham rig. There's no way of finding out without a recorder. You can't talk and at the same time listen to yourself satisfactorily in a pair of phones plugged into a monitor. My idea is to plug our signal-tracing r.f. probe into the microphone jack of the recorder, ground the shielding lead, and let the hot probe tip pick up modulated r.f. from my transmitter. The crystal diode in the probe will demodulate this signal and feed the audio component into the recorder. All I have to do is call a snappy CQ and then play back the tape and hear how I sound. It's the only way I'll ever know precisely how my voice sounds when I am speaking over my transmitter."
"Well, I've been listening to your voice for a long time," Mac said mocking Barney's accentuation, "and believe me it's no treat. However, from a purely technical point of view, I see nothing wrong with the idea. I suggest you put the recorder a little distance away from the transmitter so that r.f. will not get into some of the audio circuits and overload them. That can easily happen to any audio equipment placed in a strong r.f. field. However, you'll have to wait until tomorrow, because the recorder is not here. I took it home a couple of days ago to do a little experimenting of my own."
"What kind of experimenting?" Barney demanded. He always considered it a personal affront if Mac did anything in the electronic line without first briefing him in great detail.
"I've been building a kind of special bass-reflex cabinet to use with the recorders at the high school," Mac explained. "The superintendent asked me to help him with a problem he has. They have a couple of dandy recorders over there, but the teachers simply do not make use of them. When he tried to find out why, they told him that it was too much bother to lug the heavy recorders around, set them up, pack them away again, etc. What's more, some of the teachers in the music and speech department objected to the loss in fidelity that was occasioned by the small speakers used in the portable tape recorders."
"Sounds to me as though you're solving the fidelity problem with a large speaker in a bass-reflex cabinet, but at the same time you're aggravating the problem of the recorders being too heavy to carry around," Barney observed. "I can just see a frail school teacher using one hand to carry the tape recorder and trying to lug that bulky speaker cabinet along with the other."
"You're forgetting I said this was a special type of cabinet," Mac chided with a teasing grin. "It is built so the large flat top is perfect for holding any ordinary tape recorder in proper operating position. On the bottom of the cabinet are four rubber-tired wheels of the kind found on tea carts. Two of these swivel; the other, two are fixed parallel to the wide dimension. of the cabinet."
"I get it!" Barney interrupted. "A recorder is ordinarily left right on top of this rolling cabinet with the large speaker plugged into the 'External Speaker' jack of the recorder. That means the people listening will hear all that is on the tape instead of just part of it as they have been doing with the smaller speaker. What's more, the whole business can be easily wheeled from room to room without disturbing the magnetic tape recorder in any way."
"You've got the idea. The superintendent was over last evening, and after pushing the cabinet all over the basement and listening to me play a high-fidelity pre-recorded tape through that cabinet-mounted speaker, he was most enthusiastic. In fact, he insisted I start immediately building another exactly-similar unit."
"Say! I think you've got something there," Barney said excitedly. "We both know many people who buy tape recorders and use them a lot for the first few months, but then they park them away in a clothes-closet to collect dust. When asked why they don't use the machines more, they usually say it is just too much bother to get the recorder out, set it up, and then pack it away each time. If they had one of these rolling cabinets of yours, they could keep the recorder right out where it would be ready for use at a moment's notice. It could sit alongside the TV set for recording the many fine programs often heard there. If something interesting came on the radio-phonograph combination, or if you wanted to make a tape recording of a record, the recorder could be wheeled over to it and the program taped. When Mom heard a good recipe starting on her kitchen set, she could have the recorder taking it down in a matter of seconds."
"You're right, of course," Mac agreed. "Having the recorder always ready for instant action any place in the house would double its usefulness - and its use. At the same time, don't overlook the fact that employing that high-fidelity speaker in a proper cabinet will greatly increase the pleasure of listening to the tapes being played back. In the beginning, the small speakers it is necessary to use in portable recorders were fairly adequate for reproducing the limited range of frequencies that could be put on tape; but in the past few years tremendous strides have been made in tape recording techniques. Only a fine speaker in a good cabinet can do full justice to the quality of recording and playback put out by even popular-priced machines these days. Some manufacturers have improved the quality of reproduction by using two, or even three speakers in the recorder cabinet. While this definitely sounds better than a single speaker, it is not the complete answer.
"Few enlightened people will contend that two or three small speakers mounted inside the recorder case that is already pretty well occupied with the tape-transport mechanism and amplifier will equal the reproduction possible with a high-fidelity speaker or speakers mounted in a proper baffle. And when you add speakers, you add weight, which is always a serious matter with equipment supposed to be portable. By using an auxiliary speaker system when you want high quality reproduction, you can keep the recorder proper light and compact - as it must be for maximum versatility.
"Being the tape recorder fan that I am," Mac continued earnestly, "it worries me to know that many of these wonderful little machines are sitting virtually unused, just as you describe. I felt so sure that a combination quality-speaker-and-mobile-recorder-stand such as the one I've built would go a long way toward putting these recorders back into use that I actually wrote to a couple of speaker manufacturers and tried to persuade them to build these units and put them on the market. With their facilities, they could design a cabinet that would be a beautiful piece of furniture and still be a strong, mobile stand and correctly designed baffle."
"What did they say? Were they all bursting with enthusiasm? Are you headed for your first million?"
"They were afraid to tackle the project. Naturally, a few problems exist. For one thing, the voice-coil impedances of recorder speakers vary all the way from three to eight ohms. The voice coil impedance of the speaker used in the cabinet would have to be a compromise value to work with all recorders, or a matching transformer would have to be used. For that matter, though, some of these rolling speaker cabinets could contain additional space for compact high-fidelity amplifiers; and then the speaker could be used with TV sets, radios, record-players, and tape recorders for high-fidelity reproduction. However, this would result in a much more expensive unit; and right now I am mainly interested in something that will break down the prejudice keeping tape recorders from getting the constant use they deserve. They are worth the effort.
"And speaking of prejudice," Mac went on smoothly, "that reminds me of something else a little closer to our everyday work. I'm beginning to worry about a prejudice concerning TV service that is taking root in the public mind. What especially concerns me is that I'm afraid we service technicians have planted this prejudice and are still nourishing it; yet I'm sure when it attains its full growth - and it's growing like a weed - we'll be sorry we ever let such an unfavorable idea get started."
"You know I don't love a mystery," Barney complained. "Give! Tell Uncle Barney all about it."
"The idea is shaping up like this in the minds of the majority of customers: a good TV service technician can and will perform all service work right in the customer's home. If he suggests taking the set to the shop, he immediately stands revealed as (a) a bumbling and untrained worker who is afraid to let the customer know how long it takes him to locate the trouble, or (b) an unethical chiseler who only wants to get the set out of the house so he can run up a fantastic bill by replacing parts not defective, steal good parts, etc., etc.
"As service technicians, we know that in the words of the song, this 'ain't necessarily so.' A number of TV troubles render making repairs in the home highly impractical or unnecessarily expensive. Take a set that needs alignment. No technician who has proper respect for his equipment is going to lug his expensive and delicate scope, sweep generator, marker generator, probes, etc., into the customer's home and try to align the set on the floor or on a makeshift workbench without proper grounding facilities. If the customer insists on the set's staying in the house, all the technician can do is 'touch up' - a misnomer if there ever was one - the trimmers by looking at the picture. We both know what kind of an alignment job that produces.
"Or suppose the set has an intermittent condition that only shows on a long and unpredictable cycle. The customer would scream like a panther if you charged him for the time spent sitting around waiting for the set to cut out; yet not charging for this time at your regular rate means you are cutting your own throat. With the chassis on the intermittent bench in the shop, the technician could watch for it to cut out while he went right ahead with his other work. This way the customer's bill could actually be much lower; yet the technician would not be losing valuable time and money."
"How do you mean we technicians started this stupid fallacy?"
"In the beginning, when TV service was new, we tried to show how smart we were by repairing as many sets as possible in the home. We prided ourselves on being able to go in with only a v.o.m. and a tube caddy and having the set going in a few minutes. When all sets were comparatively new and tube failures constituted seventy-five per-cent of the trouble you could do this. You can still take care of a very high percentage of TV trouble right in the house, and most technicians greatly prefer to make the repair at the residence if they can do it right and in a reasonable length of time. They should not, however, be afraid to recommend that the set be taken to the shop when the symptoms and common sense dictate this step.
"Once more," Mac concluded, "we can learn from the medical profession that has already taught technicians so much. Doctors no longer treat a patient in the home until he is in extremis before taking him to a hospital. Whenever his condition is puzzling, when the doctor feels extensive tests should be made, or when close observation is needed, they send the patient to the hospital. There he can benefit from the use of elaborate non-portable test equipment, can receive x-ray, diathermy, and similar treatment impossible in the home, and can be closely watched all the time. In the time required to make three or four house calls, a doctor can visit twenty patients in a hospital. Were it not for this more efficient use of the doctor's time, medical expenses would be even higher than they are; and doctors would be still harder to get hold of.
"The man who insists that all work on his TV set must be performed on his living room floor might do well to think about this a bit. Let him look around until he finds a service technician he thinks he can trust, and then let him trust that technician and follow his advice just as he follows the advice of his family physician. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he will get better, less-expensive service by doing so."
Posted April 19, 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.