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Mac's Service Shop: Not Always Right
March 1956 Radio & Television News Article

March 1956 Radio & TV News
March 1956 Radio & TV 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.

Unless you have a tape player that you want to modify for plugging in external speakers, the most interesting part of this "Not Always Right" episode of Mac's Radio Service Shop will be how Mac handles a belligerent customer. As was the topic of many articles in the days when electronics repair shops could be found in every town, this joker accused Mac of liking to pad bills with time charged for using his expertise and expensive test equipment. He proved the old adage about the customer always being right usually did not apply to those who tried to tell the repairman how to do his job. Of course if the person could have done the repair himself, he probably would have. It reminds me of the signs that used to hang in auto repair shops that went something like this, "Repair rates: $30 per hour, $40 per hour with you watching, or $50 per hour with you helping."

Mac's Service Shop: Not Always Right

Mac's Service Shop: Not Always Right, March 1956 Radio & Televsion News - RF CafeBy John T. Frye

"That portable record-player looks pretty new to be in the shop for repair already," Barney remarked as he watched Mac carefully place a blanket underneath the fine leather case of the instrument to prevent its being scratched by stray bits of solder on the service bench before he started removing the motorboard carrying the three-speed mechanism.

"It's a brand new birthday gift that's not even been presented yet," Mac said.

"Just proves they don't build 'em like they used to, huh?"

"Not necessarily. Nothing's the matter with this player. I'm simply going to do a little conversion job on it to add to its usefulness."

"What kind of a conversion job?" demanded Barney, who had all the curiosity of an old maid blue jay.

"I'm going to install a midget closed-type 2-circuit phono jack in a corner of this motorboard. The leads from the pickup go to this jack so that when the jack is empty they connect to the input of the player amplifier in the normal manner. However, when a phono plug is inserted into the jack, the 'hot' lead from the crystal cartridge is disconnected from the input of the amplifier and goes instead to the tip of the phono plug, and the 'ground' lead of the cartridge connects to the sleeve of that plug."

"I don't get it."

"It's quite simple. Next I make up a patch cord from about five feet of microphone cable with a phono plug on one end and a phono tip plug on the other. When the phono plug of this cord is inserted into the jack of the record player and the phono tip plug is inserted into the 'phone' jack of a radio or TV set, the portable player can be heard through the amplifier and speaker of the set. At the same time, the amplifier and speaker of the record player itself is silenced."

"So what?"

"So advantage can be taken of the larger speaker and more powerful amplifier normally found in radios or TV sets in listening to records played on the portable record player. Many radios and TV sets are equipped with phono jacks, and the records sound far better when played through them. What's more, there are a lot of older radio-phonograph combinations sitting around practically unused because the TV set has usurped their place in the living room and their single-speed turntables will not play the popular 45 and 33 rpm records. Quite often, though, these sets have audio systems capable of quite good reproduction when a modern pickup is fed into them. With most of these combinations, you have only to pull out the plug on the end of the shielded lead corning from the 78 rpm turntable and insert the patch cord from the portable player. This gives these fine old sets an entirely new lease on life.

"At the same time, whenever you wish to use the player for purely personal listening wherein neither audio power nor high fidelity is essential, all you have to do is remove the patch cord and the player is ready to go. There are no awkward dangling cords, and nothing has been done to detract from the appearance of the record player. I've performed this operation on several portables lately, and the owners are very happy with the result. In fact, the owner of this player heard about the conversion from another customer and wanted it performed on this fine little phonograph before he presented it to his daughter."

"Sounds like a real cool idea, man," Barney approved. "You can have your music for dancing through the rumpus room radio and still take it with you!"

"There's only one thing to watch. A few of the portable players may use a 'hot' chassis with one lead from the cartridge connected to it. In that case, the lead should be transferred from the chassis to the frame of the phono jack, and a 0.05 μfd., 600 volt capacitor should be connected between the jack frame and the chassis. This prevents danger of serious shock or of shorting out the line voltage when connecting the record player to a grounded radio chassis."

"Oh, oh!" Barney exclaimed in a low voice. "Don't look now, but here comes that old grouch, Elmer Hinkle. Let's take to the hills!"

Barney's attitude was not without reason. Elmer Hinkle was a typical grouch, tight as a roll of Scotch tape and suspicious of everyone. He marched straight on back to the service department, carrying a small radio in the crook of his skinny arm. On his face was an agonized distortion of normal features that he fondly believed was an ingratiating smile.

"Mac, my friend," he began briskly, "I had a little argument with some of the boys over at the garage, and I'd like to know if I was right."

"What about, Elmer?" Mac asked warily.

"I was saying you told me very little of your charges was for what you actually did. You said the work involved was simply snipping wires and doing a little soldering. What you charged for was the use of your instruments, your experience, and your know-how in locating the trouble with a set. Was I right?"

"Why yes, Elmer; I guess you were. I did say something like that."

"Good!" Elmer exclaimed as he permitted his facial muscles to relax into their normal sour expression. "That's what I wanted to hear, and you're not going to wiggle out of it. You there, boy; you're a witness."

"'Witness to what?" Barney demanded belligerently.

"Witness to the fact he can't charge me more than fifty cents for fixing this radio," Elmer said triumphantly. "He don't need to use his instruments or his experience or his boasted knowhow because I've already found out what is wrong with my set. All I want him to do is solder in this new distributor that my nephew got for me," he said as he pulled a cartridge-type filter capacitor from his coat pocket and brandished it under Mac's nose.

"How do you know it needs a new 'distributor,' as you call it?" Mac asked as he placed the little receiver on the service bench and plugged it in.

"My nephew, who learned all about radio in the Navy, told me it did," Elmer boasted; "and he's forgot more about radio than you'll ever know."

"I hear nothing wrong with it," Mac said, trying hard to keep his temper, although Barney could see that the back of his neck was turning red.

"Wait a few minutes and you'll hear it hum like a bumblebee," Elmer said; "but I'm warning you I'm not going to pay for any of your phony diagnosing. I already know what's wrong. Just go ahead and do like I told you."

Sure enough, as the set continued to operate a noticeable hum appeared and quickly grew worse.

"I don't think -" Mac began.

"You're darned tootin you don't!" Elmer interrupted. "That's what you want to charge me for. Quit stalling put in that new distributor."

Mac's lips drew into a thin line, and quickly removed the set from its cabinet. In a couple of minutes he snipped off the leads of the old capacitor and had soldered the new one in place. He slid the set back into its cabinet and turned it on. In a few minutes it was humming just as loudly as before.

"You tricked me! You put that thing in wrong on purpose!" Elmer shrieked.

"Now, Elmer, stop that screeching and listen to me," Mac said sternly. "I never cheated a customer in my life, and I'm not starting with you, although you surely have got it coming. I tried to tell you I didn't think the original capacitor was bad, but you wouldn't listen. Now you stand there without opening your yap while I find out what is wrong with this set. So help me, if I hear another word out of you, I'll double your bill."

Under this dire threat, Elmer kept silent; but it was only by means of a very visible effort. Mac slid the chassis out of the cabinet again and used the rubber tube puller to remove the hot 50C5 tube. From the tube stock a new tube was obtained and placed in the socket. The set was turned on and once more slid into the cabinet so that the baffle would accentuate any low-frequency hum that might be present. After several minutes, it remained hum-free, even when Elmer placed a suspicious ear right against the speaker opening.

"You satisfied that's the trouble?" Mac demanded of Elmer, who still was keeping his lips tightly sealed.

"I reckon I am," Elmer said grudgingly; "but just wait 'til I get hold of that know-it-all nephew of mine. He charged me a whole two dollars for that distributor I didn't need. A fine radio man he is!"

"Don't be too hard on him," Mac said. "He's probably plenty smart about radio equipment used in the Navy. I know the training those boys get is first class. This case, though, could trip up almost anyone not experienced in radio receiver servicing. The clue was the fact the hum was not there at first but came on fairly gradually. Open filter capacitors seldom act like that. This case was caused by a cathode-to-heater leakage that increased as the output tube warmed up. Only experience, of which you think so little, let me suspect this."

"Well," Elmer snarled, "what do I owe you?"

Mac thought a little and then said, "Elmer, I'm just going to charge you for the tube and my regular minimum charge for a service job that would not normally require removing the chassis. You do not deserve this break, but I hope the experience has taught you a lesson. The next time, have faith in me or take your work to someone you do trust. Here's your bill. Pay Miss Perkins out front."

Elmer snatched the bill from Mac's hand, looked at it, and then started for the door. As he reached it, though, he stopped and turned around. He swallowed hard a couple of times and then blurted out, "I've been an old fool!" Without another word he bolted through the door.

"Say, that was better than a soap opera," Barney exclaimed. "I guess Elmer proves that in radio servicing the customer is not always right."

"That saying came from the retail selling business," Mac agreed; "and it most certainly does not apply to any kind of servicing. After all, there is no reason to suppose that the customer knows anything about the equipment he brings you to repair. If he did, he would probably repair it himself. A funny thing is, though, that few of the men customers like to admit this ignorance. They like to have you believe that if they just had the tools and the time, they could repair their radio and TV sets themselves.

"The good technician does not destroy this fiction, but neither does he buy it. He listens politely to the customer's opinions, but then he relies on his own knowledge and experience to determine what is wrong and to correct it. He does not take refuge behind that business of the customer always being right to justify putting in parts not needed or performing unnecessary services, any more than a doctor would take out a sound appendix simply because the patient is convinced his gall bladder pains are from appendicitis."

"Yep," Barney agreed, "I guess it is part of our job to protect customers from their own ignorance!"

 

 

Posted October 13, 2020


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 Electronics 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.

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