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Serviceman's Experiences, April 1941
April 1941 Radio News Article

April 1941 Radio News
April 1941 Radio 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.

Whether or not this is a true story does not matter- it is both instructive and funny, especially if you catch the import of the closing statement. Electronics magazines from the era of repairable entertainment electronics devices like radios, television, and phonographs often carried stories of the woes experienced by servicemen. Tales of in-home work were the most interesting, especially when the homeowner tried to bilk the poor technician out of paying or accusing him of purposely inflating the bill with unneeded parts and service charges. This 1941 issue of Radio News magazine is a good example of how frustrating the business could be.

Serviceman's Experiences

Serviceman's Experiences, April 1941 Radio News - RF Cafeby Lee Sheldon, Chicago, Illinois

Don't inject yourself into your customer's arguments!

We had been getting plenty of calls lately, but for some reason, I had been muffing them. The customers, as far as I could tell, were the same sort we had always had, and the sets had the same things wrong with them; but when I gave a price - blooey! - about fifty per-cent of them wouldn't let me take the sets to the shop.

Al pointed out that such calls were not only a waste of time, but also were actually harmful to our reputation; every incompleted contact we made, whether money changed hands or not, resulted in hard feelings, and was evidence of something wrong with our professional machinery.

I countered by telling him there were bound to be periods of void in anyone's career. Willie Hoppe, for instance, after running six points in a three-cushion match, followed his minor miracle by eight innings during which he scored nothing - but he was Champion, none the less. Authors experience barren periods, during which no matter how hard the Muse is mauled - they produce nothing. In the lull, they are often forced to fill in with some real work. Even the sun is sometimes eclipsed.

Although I had Bronx-cheered Al's ideas of my defection, I was privately worried. As I drove to Johnson's house to repair their Atwater Kent, I determined to get the job, no matter what means I had to employ.

Two women - Mrs. Johnson and her sister-in-law - showed me to the living room and sat in opposite corners while I examined the set. I noticed with satisfaction that all the tubes were lit, and as I was unbolting the chassis, Mrs. Johnson asked, "What's wrong with it?"

"I don't know yet," I replied, stalling for time. I wanted to know just how the ground lay before I committed myself.

In about three minutes Mrs. Johnson turned to the other woman and asked, coldly, "Well, Eileen - why don't you ask him?"

Eileen cleared her throat nervously and spoke to me. I welcomed the interruption because it gave me time to think.

"Does it hurt," she asked, nervously, "to plug a vacuum cleaner into the same outlet the set is connected to?"

So that was it! The rig had broken down while she was cleaning the room, and the other was blaming her for the trouble! Well, I thought to myself, here's where I cinch the job by throwing a scare into them.

"It's not good practice," I replied, "although the set is not always damaged as a result. Tell me - was the set playing while you used the cleaner?"

I stared at her intently, and she dropped her head.

"Yes," she admitted.

"Oh-oh I" I said. "Well, that's too bad. It's a sad state of affairs when a dealer can't warn you about such things when you buy a set!"

Eileen swallowed a couple of times, but did not raise her head. I turned to Mrs. Johnson, who was sitting there, burning quietly.

"Filter condensers are probably shot," I told her. "Cost you around seven fifty."

"I certainly won't pay for it," she said, daggering Eileen with her eyes.

"Isn't it your set?" I asked, sensing trouble.

"Of course it is," she replied, "but why should I pay when she caused the damage ?"

Eileen spoke as if she was about to cry.

"I'm sorry," she said, "but I haven't got seven dollars and fifty cents - you know I haven't, Mary."

"I know I've stood about as much of your foolishness in this house as I am able," Mrs. Johnson snapped. "Just you wait until I tell Henry about this tonight!"

Neither paid any attention to me. I stood by, waiting for them to get their dirty linen in off the line.

"Now, Mary," Eileen pleaded, with a breaking voice, "you know I try very hard to fit into the family as usefully as possible. It's only till I get a job that I must live with you-"

"Only?" screamed Mrs. Johnson, jumping up from her chair. "Eighteen months," she said to me, "and she calls it only!" She strode to the door. "If I've got anything to say in this house, you'll be out of it by tomorrow night. I'm going to tell Henry about that trip to Chinatown, too!" she added, slamming the door.

Eileen pushed her face into a handkerchief and cried with everything she had.

How the hell did I get into a thing like this? I wondered. Eileen was broke, so there was no use to try to do business with her - even if I waited until after the storm; and Mrs. Johnson - who, judging from the upstairs sounds, was rearranging the bedroom furniture with her foot - was a poor prospect, at best. I replaced the chassis and left the house without even finding out what happened in Chinatown.

Al, of course, knew exactly where I'd made my mistake, and wasn't a bit bashful about telling me so.

"Listen, Dracula," he said, using that annoying tone he affects when he begins to shake a finger at me, "you shouldn't have started the argument by blaming anyone for the breakdown. When a serviceman enters a house, he is somewhat like a doctor-"

"Comparisons are odorous," I interrupted.

"If the doctors can stand them, so can you," he continued. "Both servicemen and doctors are called into homes to restore happiness and health - not to make people miserable. Those who pay your living trust in your ability to help; and - since they do, is it unreasonable that you should respect their feelings? Why are you staring at me like that?"

"I've never noticed it before," I replied, "but your ears stand out at right angles to your head when you get mad. Have you-"

"It was entirely your fault you lost that job," my partner persisted. "Instead of pretending a customer is at fault, it would be better to stretch your ethics a bit and play down the customer who really was to blame. Don't forget you're in his house to help, no harass!"

When Al gets going on a train of thought, he's like a locomotive; I can't stop him, but sometimes I am able to switch him so that he runs out of steam on another line. I knew he was wrong, but I got him talking about something else before the argument got really serious. I knew that, sooner or later, I'd come across a job that would prove me right beyond fear of contradiction.

The following evening I worked on a set that I decided to use in proving my point. The job was a General Electric super-het; its owner and his wife sat reading their papers as I examined it.

The original fault was a gassy '80, as was obvious from its color. To make sure nothing else was wrong in the voltage supply, I replaced it with a good one - with the volume control turned way down, so the music wouldn't blare out - and everything was okay.

The beautiful part of the job was that someone had obviously been fooling with the set after the '80 went west. The trimmers were all bent, and the threads had been stripped by whoever tried to get fancy with a screwdriver. There was a nice long rip in the speaker cone - fresh, and man-made; and I wrung my hands and smiled an evil smile (mentally, of course) as I stood up to break the sad news. Someone in the family had a guilty conscience, and - believe me - they were going to pay for it!

Just when I was about to break the news, a 14-year-old boy came in. When he saw me, he stopped, looked frightened, and sat on the edge of a straight-backed chair. There was my victim!

Knowing I held all the cards, I cleared my throat and announced confidently

"Mr. Haley, your set is in a deplorable condition. It will cost thirteen dollars to repair it!"

The man lowered his paper and looked at his wife. She gave him some sort of signal, and he replied:

"Sorry, but we can't afford it. What makes it so expensive?"

Well, he was asking for it. I glanced at the boy; he was actually pale. A person couldn't help feeling sorry for him, thinking of what his parents would do after I'd sold him down the river.

"The original -" I replied, glancing at the boy again, who was so filled with fright it began to spill from his eyes.

"The - er - that is, it needs an overhaul," I stammered. "Yes, that's it - an overhaul. Some small tuning condensers have worn out; a couple of tubes should be replaced; and the speaker cone has - uh - warped sorta."

"Do such things occur by themselves?" the woman asked, looking at the boy suspiciously.

"Surely," I lied. "All old sets should be overhauled. It stands to reason, like." I felt the job slipping further away.

"Mother!" the boy interrupted, "If you and Dad each pay five dollars, I'll chip in three from the money I'm saving for my bike. I think we should have the set repaired - we'd miss it a lot if we didn't!"

"Well, I'll be damned!" the man said, admiringly, and glanced at his wife.

The boy held the front door open while I carried the set out to the truck.

"Thank you, my boy," I said, with the warmth that comes only from a completed contract.

"Thank you, sir," he replied happily.

"When you come back, I'll take you over to my uncle's house - something's wrong with his set, too. I know, because I was visiting there yesterday."

He winked, and began a beautiful friendship. I'm giving him a set of tools for his birthday.

 

 

Posted December 7, 2020

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