It's Friday afternoon as I post this installment of Mac's
Radio Service Shop from a 1952 edition of Radio &
Television News magazine - the perfect way to burn off
the last few minutes of your work week while waiting for the
shift-ending whistle to blow. John T. Frye authored many
of these stories that used main characters Mac McGregor, proprietor
of Mac's Radio Service Shop and sidekick technician Barney to
set up a situation and dialog whereby the highly experienced
Mac imparts sage advice to Barney regarding things electronics
in nature. Topics range from safely troubleshooting a high voltage
power supply to tracking down noisy capacitors and how to treat
customers equitably. Today's lesson is on the employment of
'repurposed' (a term not yet invented
in 1952) implements for use other than their original
intended uses. One item mentioned it a set of
picks, which is something I've used for both electronics and
model building for decades. Another is Spintite wrenches, which,
if you are not familiar, are nut drivers.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Something Borrowed
By John T. Frye
What a day!" Barney exclaimed as he stamped into the service
shop brushing the snowflakes from his wool jacket. "If it keeps
on snowing like this all day, a man is going to have to have
a dog-team to get home tonight -s-a-a-a-y," he broke off as
he stepped into the service department, "what have you been
up to over the weekend? I can't tell if I'm in a radio store
or a barber shop! Where did you get all that mirror behind the
"Like it?" Mac, Barney's employer, asked with a self-satisfied
grin. "A little barber shop over on Seventeenth Street just
closed up, and I bought the big mirror very cheap because of
a couple of small flaws in it. After I had these cut out, I
still had left two mirrors six feet long and two-and-a-half
feet wide. That is just right to give us a continuous mirror
behind the whole length of the service bench."
"I'll say I like it," Barney exclaimed as he leaned forward
for a closer admiring inspection of his reflection. "It will
be a real pleasure to do servicing with a handsome devil like
that working opposite me all day long."
"All right, Narcissus; but that was not quite the idea,"
Mac drawled. "I simply grew tired of squinting into a small
mirror and trying to get a good view of a TV screen while I
was making adjustments on the set. No matter how hard I tried,
I never seemed to be able to tilt the mirror so that I could
see the exact corner of the tube I wanted to see. Now we've
really got that whipped."
"Yeah, and that mirror will be the old mustard for working
on record-changers," Barney pointed out. "When the changer is
sitting on a stand on the bench, a guy will be able to see what
is going on on both sides of the mechanism at the same time;
and believe me with a lot of changers these days, you almost
have to be able to do just that."
"There's still another good feature I've found out," Mac
added. "You know how tools and screws and parts dearly love
to hide by snuggling up against the far side of a chassis on
which you are working, don't you? Well, they won't be able to
do that on .this bench. With that mirror to let you see the
surface of the bench from dozens of angles, not even a knob
set-screw can hide. It is almost as good as having an extra
eye on the end of a stick that you can poke around behind the
"That's a gruesome way of putting it," Barney commented.
"That's not the only haul I made at the defunct barber shop,"
Mac said over his shoulder as he disappeared into the storeroom.
"Take a look at this," he said as he reappeared pushing what
looked like the granddaddy of all flower stands. "The guy had
a dilapidated old barber chair that he said I could have if
I wanted it; so I brought it along, discarded the chair part
of it, mounted this thirty-inch-square platform solidly on the
old chair-supporting bracket, and then put those four heavy-duty
casters underneath the base."
"Fine, but what's it for?"
"For holding a TV chassis while you're working on it," Max
explained. "That weighted base makes it almost impossible to
push over; the platform can be pumped up or let down through
a range of several inches so that it will be just the right
height for comfortable working; and the set can be easily twirled
around to any position. Instead of having to drag a heavy chassis
all over the workbench, we simply roll this dolly up to whatever
instrument we want to use. When we need to make adjustments
both above and below the chassis in rapid sequence, the set
is placed on its side on the platform and then any part of it
is easily and comfortably accessible simply by turning the platform."
"Let me try it," Barney begged as he sat down on the platform
and whirled himself around. "I always did want to do this with
a barber chair but never got the chance. Wh-e-e-e! This is fun!
Did you steal any other ideas from the barber shop?"
"No, but I've been snooping around some other 'service' concerns
in search of tools or ideas that I could borrow for doing radio
and TV service, and I've come up with several that are well
worth adopting. Take this jeweler's loupe, for example," Mac
said as he screwed the black magnifying eyepiece into his eye-socket
and peered owlishly through it at his assistant. "It really
is the thing for finding a broken coil end, for discovering
a tiny chipped place on a jeweled pickup needle, or for examining
a TV tuner mechanism for dirt and corrosion. This one focuses
at a distance of about five inches from the eye, which my jeweler
told me would be the best for all around work; but they come
in various powers. I think that we shall need an eye-aid of
this sort more and more in the future. The Signal Corps admits
that much of its present effort is directed toward miniaturization
of equipment. Judging from the few samples of this effort we
have seen in magazines, the eye is going to need all the help
it can get to see trouble in the midget components and printed
circuits that will go into civilian sets in the not-too-distant
"And here is another little sight-aid I picked up from the
doctors and dentists," he went on as he self-consciously slipped
on a head-reflector and carefully adjusted the mirror so that
it shined directly into Barney's blinking eyes. "One thing a
technician never has enough of is hands, and when all ten of
your fingers are busy in a dark corner of the chassis this handy
little gadget will light up that corner just as well as you
could do with a third hand holding a flashlight."
"Yes, Doctor," Barney mockingly agreed.
Mac slipped off the reflector and picked up three shiny little
steel rods. "You probably have seen something like these before,"
he said to Barney. "They are the instruments the dentist uses
to break loose the calcium deposits from teeth, and they are
"I'll say they are," Barney agreed with feeling. "I've had
a dentist lift me right out of the chair with one of those nasty
"Their toughness and small size makes them ideal for working
over loose tube socket contacts, bending switch contacts back
in place, and performing other jobs of mechanical manipulation
in very restricted quarters. When working on live receivers,
it is a good idea to slip a length of spaghetti over the shanks
so that you will not short out anything."
"And don't forget to mumble 'This may hurt a little' before
you start using them on a set," Barney advised. "But how about
the automobile mechanics? Did they watch you too closely for
you to steal any of their stuff ?"
"'Borrow' is the word," Mac corrected with a pained expression;
"and I did get some tools and ideas at the garage. Notice these
three additions to our pliers department; that big, loose-jawed
pair is known as water-pump pliers, and they are just the stuff
for grabbing hold of a can-type electrolytic and holding it
solidly while you unscrew the big mounting nut. For that matter,
they are also fine for starting those nuts or for acting as
a wrench on any outsize nuts for which we do not ordinarily
have an end-wrench. The pliers with the short powerful jaws
are called battery pliers, and they are fine for any job where
you need some extra leverage. The tiny little pliers are ignition
pliers, and they have a dozen uses around the shop. For example,
they can be used for loosening or tightening the nuts that hold
speaker spiders; for loosening speaker mounting nuts when the
bolts are so long that our Spintite wrenches will not reach
them, or for doing any job where you need to grip something
firmly in a space where there is no room for ordinary pliers."
Before continuing, Mac opened a box sitting beneath the bench
and revealed a brightly-painted little bench-grinder. "I was
shamed into buying this," he said with a grin. "The other night
Homer Frank, my favorite garage mechanic, was loafing here while
I turned out a few sets. He got to prowling around in the tools
and nearly had a fit when he saw our collection of drills, punches,
chisels, and screwdrivers, which he insisted was the sorriest
lot he had ever seen outside of a toy tool chest! Then he did
have a fit when he wanted to sharpen them and I told him we
had no electric grinder.
"Homer declared that tools ought not be sold to a man who
was too tight to buy equipment to maintain them. He said the
emery wheel in his garage got more of a workout than any other
power tool in the shop. He pointed out that if we had a grinder
here we could keep our chisels sharp, our punches punching,
our screwdriver bits square, and our bits so they would cut.
He kept insisting that he could punch a hole quicker using a
nail for a drill than I could using some of the bits we have
in our collection. After listening to about twenty minutes of
that kind of talk I promised to buy a grinder just to shut him
up; but I've got a sneaking suspicion he was right to a certain
"Well, it certainly does me a lot of good to know that you
were on the receiving end of a currying for once," Barney commented.
"My only regret is that I was not here to listen to him pour
"Never mind that," Mac told him.
"The point I want you to keep in mind is that we can speed
up our own work a lot if we will keep our eyes open for tools
and techniques employed in other lines of service work that
can be used to advantage in our shop."
"Hm-m-m-m," Barney said, thoughtfully stroking his chin,
"you have something there; and I'm going to look into another
form of repair and maintenance shop this very noon-hour."
"And where would that be?" Mac asked suspiciously.
"At that beauty shop on the next corner," Barney explained.
"There's the cutest little redhead working in there who has
been giving me the eye every day when I go to lunch; so today
I'll just drop in and casually ask-"
Before he could finish the sentence Mac grabbed up the cardboard
box in which the grinder had been and crushed it down over the
Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe
This series of instructive stories was the brainchild of no other than John T.
Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in
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.
Posted January 8, 2016