Prior to news of the
A-bombs dropped at the end of World War II, most people had no idea what nuclear
anything was. My guess is school textbooks made scant mention of it mainly because
what was known of the science was kept under wraps at the Department of War (DoW,
now the Department of Defense, DoD). The Department of Energy (DoE), which currently
administers nuclear policy and oversight, did not formally exist as a separate entity
until 1977. Per their website, "The Department of Energy has one of the richest
and most diverse histories in the Federal Government. Although only in existence
since 1977, the DoE traces its lineage
to the Manhattan Project effort to develop the atomic bomb during World War II,
and to the various energy-related programs that previously had been dispersed throughout
various Federal agencies." In 1955 when this episode of "Mac's Service Shop" appeared
in Radio & Television News magazine, one of the popular items for electronics
hobbyists was Geiger counters (along with
metal detectors). As you would expect,
even the "professional" models were bulky and heavy, and had relatively low sensitivity
compared to today's models. Many construction articles and product reviews about
Geiger counters (and metal detectors) were published in electronics magazines in
the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. I have not posted any of them figuring no one would
be interested. After the era of constant global nuclear war threats had waned, interest
in radiation detection petered off as well. The need to be able to measure latent
nuclear contamination level to determine whether it was safe to emerge from
the backyard shelter effectively disappeared with adoption of the
Destruction (MAD) philosophy. BTW, there is a house here near Erie, PA, that
still has its backyard bunker.
Mac's Service Shop: The Technician and Progress
By John T. Frye
Barney dawdled on his way to work with the lagging step of a reluctant schoolboy
- and what a glorious morning it was for dawdling! Not the smallest cloud marred
the inverted azure bowl of the October sky. The lawns, still green because of early
fall rains, sported only an occasional fallen leaf to accent their dewy emerald
beauty. Trees along the street showed just the faintest copper sheen to hint at
the gorgeous color that would soon be theirs, and the air that brushed Barney's
freckled cheek was fresh and cool and sweet.
Somehow, on such a morning, it seemed exactly right that he should find Mac,
his employer, chuckling jovially to himself inside the service shop.
"What's so funny?" Barney asked with a grin of anticipation.
"Well, I just had a sharp reminder that you can't be a smart aleck and a good
businessman at the same time," Mac confessed. "Remember those two radios that fell
off the tailgate of the semi-trailer as the driver was backing into a loading dock
and that were crushed beneath the wheels? You'll recall the trucking company brought
them over to see if perhaps we could salvage one good set out of the two, but a
quick check showed this was hopeless. Anyway, both sets were still lying on the
service bench when an early customer brought in his receiver. Since Matilda is on
vacation, he came on back to the service department and started giving me the set's
symptoms. Right in the middle of his recital his eye lighted on those two clobbered
sets, and he asked what happened to them. I couldn't resist the temptation to explain
airily that they were just a couple of radios that gave me a hard time and made
me lose my temper; and then I waved significantly at the five-pound sledge on the
floor beneath the bench. You know, I had a heck of a time persuading that guy to
leave his set with me; and I'm still not sure I convinced him I was kidding! From
now on, I'll confine my joking to after-business hours."
Barney walked over to the bench, highly pleased that the nearly-infallible Mac
was admitting to error, and picked up the book his boss had tossed aside as he started
relating his experience with the customer.
" 'Atomic Radiation Detection
and Measurement by Harold S. Renne,' " Barney read off the cover. "How come
you're going in for this stuff? Isn't it sort of off-trail for a radio and TV technician?
"Not any more," Mac denied. "Electronics and atomic energy are moving closer
together every day, and it takes a real hair-splitter right now to say where one
leaves off and the other begins. People expect us to know something about nuclear
energy. Almost every day someone pops a question at me that I can't answer about
Geiger counters, how the atomic sub works, or what is the effect of atomic radiation.
The fact this book is published by Howard W. Sams, who specializes in publishing
data for service technicians, proves he considers the subject important to us. And
I know the kids who read the comics and the science-fiction magazines consider me
a real square because I can't answer their questions about how many roentgens of
exposure they're getting from their fluorescent watch dials, etc."
"From the looks of this table of contents you ought to be an authority after
you read the book," Barney commented as he went on to read aloud: " 'Atomic Structure,
Atomic Radiation and Its Effects, Commercial Geiger Counters, Scintillation Counters,
Dosimeters, Home-Built Counters, Civil Defense, Prospecting, Applications of Nuclear
Science.' Looks like you get quite a dose of both theory and practice. When you
get through with the book, I'd like to read it. Maybe I'll build me a Geiger counter."
"You'll certainly be welcome," Mac promised; "and don't overlook the Manufacturer's
Directory, Product Directory, and Bibliography in the back when you start collecting
parts or want to pursue the subject still further."
"You know," Barney reflected, "life's really getting difficult for us service
technicians. It's not enough that we have to read and study like mad just to keep
up with the new developments in the radios and TV sets we work on. Oh no; in addition,
we're supposed to keep abreast of the very latest in color TV, nuclear energy, transistors,
printed circuits, and goodness knows what all else. And these related fields do
not hold still, either. Almost every day sees new developments in them. Color TV
sets are undergoing a much-needed simplification process; transistors are coming
on the market with power outputs measured in watts instead of milliwatts; entirely
new techniques are being developed in printed circuits. Sometimes I wish everything
would just stand still for a year or so and let me catch up."
"I know exactly how you feel," Mac said sympathetically; "and there's a lot of
difference between knowing some theory of a subject and in knowing that subject:
well enough to service equipment connected with it, as we must do. I often think
really smart manufacturers would do everything possible to make their new products
easy to service. The good-will this would generate with service technicians would
be passed along to customers and promote much quicker acceptance of the new device.
When new equipment is hard to service or is introduced without sufficient service
information preceding it, it is launched under a decided handicap.
"I remember when one car manufacturer introduced his first V-8 motor the mechanics
promptly gave it a black eye because it was hard to service and required special
tools. They complained you even had to jack up the motor to remove the oil pan!
Garagemen knocked this car so consistently and thoroughly that the public was slow
to accept it. Another example is the wristwatch. At first jewelers disliked these
because of their small and intricate works. The watch repairmen gave their customers
the impression that these despised wristwatches were not practical timepieces and
that buying one was a poor investment. It is only in the past few years that this
prejudice has been largely overcome."·
"What do you think the TV manufacturers could do to make things easier?"
"One simple thing would be to color code or indicate in some other easy-to-see
manner the important check points in a chassis, Where to introduce the sweep signal,
where to connect the scope for viewing the video i.f. curve, where to connect the
scope for discriminator alignment - these, and all other important points that are
usually indicated on a diagram as 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' etc., should be plainly marked.
It is a great nuisance to have to trace out the circuit and see exactly where 'the
junction of R15, R17, and C63' is. Marking this
important junction point with a dab of color or a little tag would save the technician
valuable time and insure he was connecting his instrument to the proper point.
"How about the new transistor equipment?"
"Well, I certainly am not in favor of soldering these little gadgets into the
circuit. If at all possible, the transistors should fit into sockets When this is
done, a doubtful transistor can be quickly checked by the old reliable try-a-good-one
technique. I fully expect to see tube checkers equipped with sockets for testing
transistors in the very near future, but this will not do much good if the transistors
are equipped with solder leads instead of socket pins. The transistor people should
remember the case of the selenium rectifier. When these were first introduced, they
were supposed to have almost n unlimited life, too; but you'll have a hard time
selling this story to a present-day technician who replaces a couple of dozen of
them a week. In the past few month the selenium rectifier manufacturers have started
to remove the growing prejudice against these hard-to-replace units by making them
plug-in; but if this had been done in the first place, the prejudice would never
"I'll certainly go along with that," Barney agreed; "And if the selenium rectifiers
had been made plug-in right from the beginning, this would have kept set designers
from buying them in hot spots underneath the chassis where lack of ventilation shortens
their life. But what would you do if you were designing such equipment?"
"There's a problem that's very real," Mac remarked. "Both of us already have
noticed that the printed circuit sets beginning to pass through the shop show a
wide difference in ease of servicing. In being critical, of course, we must remember
that one of the chief advantages of the printed circuit lies in the simplification
of manufacturing. We can hardly expect a manufacturer to discard a large part of
this important advantage just ot make printed circuit sets easier to service. I'm
convinced, however, that these sets can e made easier to service without making
them difficult or costly to assemble.
"For instance, take the case of a filter capacitor with four or five leads. If
these leads come right out the end of the can and pass through separate holes in
the printed circuit board and pull the edge of the can tight against that board
while they are soldered into place, removing that capacitor is a real chore. All
five solder connections must be heated at the same time. While I realize that miniature
solder post are coming on the market to do this job, I feel that making it necessary
for the technician to buy highly-specialized new equipment to work on these new
sets is not going to increase his affection for them."
I'm sorry to hear you say that,"· Barney offered. "I've just been working on
my new Hydra Solder Gun. You see it has a half dozen separate flexible tips all
connected in parallel. You just bend these around so each one is in contact with
a joint you wish to break and pull the trigger. All tips get hot at once - and there
"I'd like to see you watching all six of those contacts at once," Mac said with
a chuckle. "Anyway, that isn't necessary. The other day I had a printed circuit
set that needed a new filter capacitor, and replacing it was a breeze. Instead of
the leads coming out the end of the filter can, they came out at regular intervals
around the side, about a half-inch from the end, and then went straight down through
holes in the circuit board. All I had to do was clip these leads off right close
to the can and solder them to the leads of the replacement capacitor. The soldering
iron never touched the printed circuit board at all. What's more, that type of capacitor
was just as easy to install in the factory as was the other type I mentioned; yet
look how much easier it was to replace. The kind of thinking behind it should be
applied to all printed circuit sets. If this is done, the technician will welcome
these new sets and will provide invaluable aid in 'selling' them to the customers;
but if his interest and convenience is ignored - well, if the manufacturer could
know how often the technician is asked, 'What kind of a radio or TV set should I
buy?' that policy would be quickly reframed."
"Yep," Barney agreed; "you might say that all we technicians want is just a little
ride on the wheels of progress instead of feeling they are rolling over us."
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
Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. "Lessons" are
taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.