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Serviceman's Experiences
August 1938 Radio News Article

August 1938 Radio News
August 1938 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.

Since there does not seem to be service-related trade magazines - at least for electronics - anymore, most people have never gotten first-hand experiences of the kinds of travails endured by servicemen as imposed by customers. Radio News, Radio-Electronics, Popular Electronics, Radio-Craft, and other such magazines regularly carried articles and sometimes regular monthly columns with content contributed by guys in the repair shop and in homes. Some were actual scenarios and others were fictional based on typical experiences. The most entertaining were told in story form, and were undoubtedly embellished a bit in order to increase the drama factor. This Serviceman's Experiences feature ran in Radio News for a few years. I have to admit to not quite getting the "Leg Department" comment, unless it means he was treated as a gofer (i.e., go for this and go for that, using his legs). Optional theories are welcome; maybe that used to be a common term.

Serviceman's Experiences

Serviceman's Experiences, August 1938 Radio News - RF CafeBy Lee Sheldon, Chicago, Illinois

"Don't argue with your customers; give them what they want!" is the maxim which the author discovers and applies. The results are most encouraging.

"The 'phone is ringing," said Al, turning from the workbench. "Don't you care?"

That's one of the things I don't like about my partner. He is too sarcastic, and never appreciates my methods. When we started in business together, he agreed to work inside the store, and I agreed to work outside. From then on -

"Stop acting coy with the customers," he said, with that annoying tone, "and find out who is calling. We used to get repair jobs before you took to sitting at the desk with your eyes out of focus. Answer the call!"

From then on he called me the Leg Department. All he has to do is sit in our nice quiet store, waiting for me to bring-

"Grab that 'phone!"

I know a storm warning when I hear one. I picked up the receiver.

"Good afternoon," I Crosby'd.

"Salutary Sales & Service. Mr. Sheldon speaking. May I serve you?"

"Pool-tables," muttered Al, from the background.

"So sorry," said someone on the 'phone. "I was dialing a radio store." He hung up.

I knew without looking that Al was gathering acid for one of his common remarks. The 'phone rang again. I answered the call very quickly, as I always do.

"Radio store."

"I had trouble getting you," said the same voice. "This is Mr. Field, 4445 Webster Avenue."

"Yes, Mr. Field. What model set have you?"

"Never mind. Come up at three. Bring some gold radio wire."

"Gold wire?"

"Well-haven't you any?"

"Certainly, Mr. Field. We have the most complete stock of -"

"Then bring it with you. Three o'clock."

He hung up again.

"What," asked Al, who is very mercenary, "did you get out of those two calls?"

"Fellow wants some gold wire at three o'clock."

"Fortunately, we're still in business.

That's lucky, considering you've been in the shop for more than an hour."

"Maybe the fellow is nuts. I don't think the call is worth answering. Why does he want gold wire?"

"To put silver threads among. Now, be on time and sell him anything he wants."

"But, what am I going to take along for -"

"But nothing! Don't be fussy in times like these, or Brown will throw us out on our 'buts'." Brown is our financial background.

"Mr. Brown doesn't expect me to answer the calls of lunatics," I said, firmly. "There is no use wasting gas, and I refuse to go."

Mr. Field led me through his apartment to a large room, arranged as a studio. When I saw a cello leaning in the corner, I recognized him as the eccentric soloist who was paid more than he was worth for a weekly 15-minute broadcast of classical music. His rate, at an allegro beat, came to about four dollars per catgut cycle, which was more than he got for sawing wood in the old country.

"They can't understand how that big orchestra fits into that small cabinet!

"Did you bring it?" he asked abruptly. "Of course. I have a reel of it down in the truck, but I didn't want to cut any off before I knew how much you needed. Very valuable, you know, since we went off the gold standard. What's it for?"

"Put the floor lamp by the piano, and the table lamps over here. The radio goes against the south wall. Rewire the music stand. Nothing but gold matches the new decoration. How long will it take?"

Shades of Hertz! He wanted bronze-colored lampcord!

"About an hour. It will cost -" I estimated quickly: wire, $2; staples, 10 cents; labor, $3. Plus $2.75 because I think I can get it. Total - $7.85.

Our wholesaler was only a few blocks away; the wind was with us, and Theodora - our delivery truck - went wild and made it in fifteen minutes.

While I was working, I turned on the radio. The heavy console contained an Atwater-Kent 41, two pounds of dust, and a coiled pipe magnetic speaker. I pulled the -71A output tube from the socket, and saw it had brass prongs, which dated it about the same as a brass radiator on a Ford.

Its quality was difficult to describe. Perhaps a man reciting poetry and hanging himself while a load of pea coal was being delivered would come close. How, I wondered, could a man who had spent his life studying music tolerate such distortion? What a difference two new audio tubes and an a.c. dynamic would make!

When I had finished, he paid me and waved the receipt aside.

"Thank you," I said, warming up to the repair job. "No doubt you keep your radio for sentimental reasons, but do you know it also can be made into a source of pleasing music? It needs attention very badly, and I can make it really sing."

"You know nothing of your business, young man!" He crouched and walked slowly toward me. "Do you mean to stand there and tell me you ever heard a set with quality as good as mine?"

I was not standing there, but backing away toward the door.

"Nothing comes through below 600 cycles," I insisted, "and the highs are badly distorted. I'm sure you would appreciate the difference new parts would make - it would give the set a chance to operate like its designers intended."

"The upper register is beautiful.

Do not argue. The bass is perfect. I can forgive ignorance, but not insolence !"

His collar was getting smaller, and I thought it best to leave.

I got no sympathy from Al when I came back to the shop. He just sighed, and sat down at the desk in the manner of a person resigning himself to old age.

"Some day," he sermoned, "you will go out of here trying to get repair work intelligently, instead of saying silly things under the impression you are heaven's gift to the tone-deaf customer."

"Look, Al," I pleaded, "do you have any idea what a 12-year-old output tube sounds like when it tries to jam a program through a stone-age speaker? Can't you see I was trying to help him, and get a repair job?"

It is easy to tell when Al gets narrow-minded, because he disagrees with me. "No," he said, "I can't. I will say, though, that if your effort was cash receipts, none of our store history would be written in red ink.

"You don't seem to realize that tone quality is entirely a matter of emotional appeal. Like love and religion, quality appeals to the heart, not the head. When emotion comes in the door, logic scrams.

"Three factors influence the choice of a set. Two of them, shape of furniture and price, are based on logic, and are derived from tangibles such as the size of the purchaser's living-room and pocketbook. The third, and most important, is timbre, and is base on emotion. One person buys a high-pitched set, the other, a low; each thinks the other is crazy, but both have chosen the sets which give them the best emotional reactions."

"My biggest emotional reaction comes from hearing the wail of a distant locomotive whistle late at night," I pried in. "According to you, then, I should feed my aesthetic being engine toots. Imagine sitting down after supper to listen to the C. B. & Q. Nocturne, by the Boys of Section Eight!"

"Why not? If we didn't have different responses to music and quality, there would be only one set in the world, and everybody would own one. There wouldn't be any manual means of voluntary distortion, such as tone control, either.

"In your case, where musical education stopped at the coin slot of a gin-mill player piano, the higher forms of the musical art do not cause the response they would in someone else.

"Do you remember Raymond Knight's Cuckoo Hour? One Saturday, as a gag, he rendered Mendelssohn's Spring Song with steamboat whistles. Naturally, it was ludicrous, because it sounded like East River on a foggy night. I happened to listen to it with a group of sea-going men, and it had them dreamy-eyed before it ended. Those funny noises meant something entirely different to them because of their emotional conditioning."

"I see now why you won't imitate four Hawaiians," I said, "but what's all this got to do with my losing a repair job?"

"Plenty. Don't try to foist your preferences on a customer in order to get work. Your standards of quality come from a technical knowledge of the set; his from his emotional conditioning, of which you know nothing.

"Instead, appeal to the customer's partiality for his set. Agree with him that the quality is wonderful, and tell him what he needs to keep it that way. He will recognize you as a person of refined tastes, and you will have paved the way to his pocketbook.

"In any event, don't be arbitrary, because his judgment of his own set is the only appraisal that means anything."

"By the way, Al, what's the thing that gives you the greatest emotional wallop?"

"The bell on the till," he answered, changing to his usual coarse manner, "and I hope to hear it oftener, when I nurse you into business maturity. Let's close up."

I thought of Al that night when I turned my set on. If he knew so much about tone quality, what made him pick out the high-pitched model he has in his home? My radio has perfect quality; being a radio man, I was able to pick the one with the best tone with no trouble. My ears might be big, but they're musical, and I chose the one set with full-bodied, low pitch.

Now and then a picture drops off the wall while I'm playing it, but that's only because the plastering is cheap.



Posted February 22, 2021

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