November 1965 Electronics World
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
Electronics World, published May 1959
- December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
I don't know why, but
from May 1963 through December 1971, John T. Frye's familiar and much loved "Mac's Service Shop" column in Electronics World
magazine abandoned the line drawing header and "Mac's Service Shop" title, and
used instead an image of Mr. Frye's bust with no mention of Mac or his shop. The stories used all
the same familiar characters - Mac, Barney, Matilda - and scenarios. Beginning
with the first issue of Popular Electronics in January of 1972 (formerly Electronics World
until December 1971), "Mac's Service Shop" was back in the title and the line
drawing (new image) was back. I took the liberty of adding "Mac's Radio Service
Shop" to the header image for this November 1965 issue. ...but I digress. The
topic of this episode's discussion is the newfangled cable television
Access Television - CATV). Although a paid subscription service, many people
were willing to shell out hard-earned money in order to receive dependable,
clear TV programs. It did nothing for the country dweller who was putting
20-element directional antennas atop 50-foot towers in order to get acceptable
reception. Not until cable Internet came of age (combined with megafunding by
the government) was the building out of rural networks a profitable venture. There
are still homes less than 50 miles from some cities that still do not have cable
Mac's Service Shop: Two Years of CATV
The installation of CATV in a fringe-reception community has brought a number
of unforeseen problems in its wake.
Barney glanced up from the TV set he was aligning just in time to catch Mac,
his employer, smothering a yawn. "Out doing the Watusi last night?" the youth asked
with a grin.
"Of course not; you know I do nothing more ancient than the Frug or the Jerk.
Actually, though, it was after one this morning when I climbed into bed. We had
a service-dealers meeting at the Ambers last night to discuss CATV-connected problems.
Several fellows from other towns with CATV systems or proposed systems were there,
as were representatives of the local CATV company. Our system, after being in use
for two years, has had time to work out the initial bugs; so we felt we had a legitimate
right to air any gripes we may still have with the cable operation. At the same
time, it was only fair to give the CATV people a chance to answer those complaints."
"Sounds like an interesting confrontation."
"It was. The first question brought up was, 'Has CATV helped sales?' Most dealers
admitted the cable substantially boosted sales, especially of color sets, during
the past two years. Previously you needed a good high-gain antenna seventy to eighty
feet in the air here to pull in a decent color picture a high percentage of the
time. That meant spending almost as much for antenna, tower, and rotator as you
did for the color set. This put a real crimp in color sales, especially among tenants
who were not about to erect an expensive tower on rented property. The advent of
cable really brought these people into the color market and permitted us, in this
ultra-fringe area, to keep pace with the swing to color that is sweeping the rest
of the country.
"Several dealers, on the other hand, questioned whether profit from these increased
set sales offset the loss of revenue formerly secured from the sale and maintenance
of antennas, towers, and rotators. Individual opinion varied, understandably, with
how deeply involved the dealer had been in the antenna business before CATV came
along. One dealer said the cable had actually cost him receiver sales, and he gave
a logical explanation. The set he sells is a quality one designed for the difficult-reception
market. It is noted for its high sensitivity and immunity to noise. Because of these
features, this set has always been very popular here in spite of its higher cost.
Now, on the cable, sensitivity and noise immunity are of little importance. A poor
set in this regard will perform just as well with the strong cable signal as will
the higher priced set, and this dealer has lost much of his selling advantage."
"I'll bet his plight brought big crocodile tears to the eyes of the other dealers,"
"You know it! But this dealer's experience suggests that the spread of CATV may
well shift the accent in TV receiver design away from 'hot' front-ends and wide-range
a.g.c. systems to circuitry showing up to better advantage on the cable - say improved
adjacent-channel rejection or perfection of i.f. and video amplifiers."
"What else was bugging the dealers?"
"They thought the cable company ought to make a special effort to provide consistently
good pictures to all dealers' showrooms. This would be to the advantage of the cable
company as well as the dealer because a good demonstration picture would sell both
the set and the cable. On the other hand, if a good picture could not be shown on
any of the brand-new sets on the dealer's floor, obviously something was wrong with
the cable or the distribution system installed by the cable company; but just try
to explain this to a prospective customer! If dealer X down the street happened
to be getting a better picture from the cable, that is where the customer very likely
would buy his set. Ghosts in color sets were the most common complaint.
"Another gripe was that cable company employees, called on a poor-reception complaint,
would first 'prove' the fault was not in the cable by showing the picture on a portable
receiver; then they would go ahead to 'diagnose' the receiver trouble. The dealers
argued that many cable faults, such as fine cross-hatching, smearing, or ringing,
would not show up nearly as well on the portable as on the large-screen receiver.
And guessing that the receiver had tuner trouble, perhaps right after a new tuner
had been installed, did little to add to customer-dealer relations.
"By far the most common complaint, though, was that dealers had to make too many
'no-charge' calls because of the cable. Some such calls were to identify cable-signal
radiation into the receivers of non-subscribers. Others were to confirm that the
poor reception was caused by trouble on the cable or by service-interrupting work
on the cable. In either case, since no trouble was found in the receiver, the dealer
felt he could not make a charge without alienating the customer; yet estimates of
the cost-per-dealer of these calls ranged from $1500 to $2500 per year."
"Did anyone admit service work on cable-connected sets is easier than work on
sets connected to fringe-area antennas? With cable receivers, you get away from
those maddening borderline poor-reception complaints where it is hard to be sure
if the trouble lies in the set, the antenna, or simply changing conditions."
"Yes, this was admitted, but it was argued that since a set will work after a
fashion on the cable even though sensitivity and other characteristics are way down,
the net result is still a loss of revenue. Before cable, a set in this town had
to be working very near top performance to bring in a suitable picture at all A
weak i.f., r.f., or sync amplifier tube was all that was needed to seriously degrade
reception and generate a service call. On the cable, a receiver can be half-dead
and still perform reasonably well. The local distributor said that the result of
this situation was reflected in a loss of replacement part sales."
"They weren't pulling any punches, were they? What did the cable people have
to say about all this?"
"Quite a bit. They admitted their service was not perfect, but they pleaded they
were still suffering from growing pains. While better than 52% of all the houses
in town are already on the cable, this figure is expected to go over 60% in three
or four months. Adding a stream of new customers to a cable system means constant
readjustment and rebalancing. And during the past year a new TV station and a new
24-hour-a-dav Weather Scan channel has been added for customer convenience.
"As for the complaint about poor pictures at the dealers' showrooms, the spokesman
humorously suggested he might employ the same question the man used when someone
inquired how his wife was: 'Compared to what?' Surely cable pix must not be inferior
to those secured from the old antennas or the dealers would go back to those old
antennas. Seriously, he agreed every effort should be made to furnish the best possible
signal to showrooms and promised that effort would be made.
"Even now, he revealed, the company was engaged in a major, expensive effort
to improve cable service by changing all trunk-line cable to a new and improved
aluminum-jacketed type designed to boost picture quality and reduce signal radiation
- although most of the latter, he hastened to say, was caused by illegal connections
to the cable inside the customers' homes. Ghosts always haunt a cable system since
cable imperfections, abrupt changes in cable temperature, or amplifier defects can
produce these; but the spokesman felt confident the installation of the new cable
would reduce ghosts to a minimum. He pointed out that a cable was capable of near-perfect
picture transmission as proved by the fact that most network programs were relayed
through coaxial cable before being telecast locally,
"Finally, he said every effort was being made by the cable management to discourage
their service people from 'diagnosing' set troubles. Cable technicians are instructed
to find out if reception difficulty is caused by the cable or the receiver. In the
latter case, a suggestion can be made that a technician be called - and nothing
more. Cable customers are encouraged to call the company first in case of trouble.
Furthermore, the bulletin board of the Weather Scan channel is used, whenever possible,
to give advance warning of the area and hours where service interruptions may be
caused by work on the cable,
"Before he sat down, the spokesman pointed out the cable company had a limited
number of technicians to make new installations, answer service calls, carry out
constant preventative maintenance, and put in new cable and equipment. They could
do a better job with more people; but, like every business, they tried to do the
best they could with what they had."
"I think they do pretty well," Barney offered. "I know cable service outages
are fewer and shorter than they used to be, and most of these are caused by power
failure supplied to the amplifiers rather than any trouble with the CATV equipment
itself, What do you think?"
"I agree they are doing a good job, but I feel they must constantly be trying
to do better. CATV is on trial in the eyes of the people. It is not enough that
a cable system furnish a good black-and-white picture. It must be designed and maintained
to furnish excellent color reception. If that takes more expensive cable, better
amplifiers, better head-end equipment, and more and better trained technicians,
so be it. Let the cable company plow back enough of its profits to accomplish this.
They have said, 'Take down your antennas; we have a better way.' They must keep
faith with the people who believed them."
"You're right," Barney agreed. "Practicing pinch-penny tactics now when CATV
is starting to roll is actually giving aid, comfort, and ammunition to the enemy.
By the way, did you see where some CATV systems are starting to use the new teletypewriter
service worked out between Telemation and the AP?"
"No, how does it work?"
"A TV camera simply watches a teletypewriter machine, and the output is fed into
an empty channel on the cable system. Copy will be fed to the machine at the usual
60 words per minute speed, or it can be rolled past the camera at three times that
speed. Any time a CATV subscriber wants the news 'hot off the wire,' all he has
to do is tune to the 'news channel' and read the latest. When the news is breaking
fast, the CATV customer can get the news at the same time the newspapers and newscasters
"Well, considering that most urgent news is bad news, I'm not sure if this is
an advantage or not," Mac said dourly.
Posted December 30, 2022
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 April 1948 in Radio News
magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then
World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final
episode was published in a 1977
Popular Electronics magazine. "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.