November 1945 Radio-Craft
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Licensing of electronic equipment
servicemen was extensively debated among state regulatory boards from the end of
World War II through the time that transistorized circuits began replacing
high voltage vacuum tubes in televisions, radios, and appliances in homes and businesses.
Of course high voltage cathode ray tubes (CRTs) still dominated televisions (and
later computers) for a few more decades, but other than with a few states like Wisconsin,
adoption of licensing requirements never happened. Specifically, "Electronic equipment
is any device or devices which are directly or indirectly connected with or containing
a vacuum tube having two or more internal elements for the purpose of effecting
amplification or rectification, visual indicators, cathode ray tubes or in any way
modifying or changing an electrical current in any manner or changing electrical
energy to another form of energy, including aerials and other devices used in connection
therewith." Proponents argued that safety to both the serviceman and the customer,
and assuring honest business practices would justify the laws. However, opponents
held that unlike plumbing and electrical contractors whose work is an embedded and
essential part of structures, appliances and radios were essentially temporary external
devices. They also pointed out how licensing of the aforementioned trades had not
eliminated committing of fraud and shabby practice in all cases. Madison, Wisconsin,
was one of the first cities to require licensing and is used as an example in this
1945 Radio-Craft article. Its program specified that the examination shall
be both theoretical and practical with both oral and written questions and shall
require a demonstration of skill through actual repairing. It also stipulated reasons
for revocation of licenses for the following reasons: (a) Habitual drunkenness or
the use of narcotics; (b) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (c) adjudication
of insanity; (d) fraud in obtaining license; (e) if the licensee has defrauded any
person for whom he has rendered or has been requested to render service.
See also "Radio Industry Unfair?"
in the May 1946 issue.
Licensing Problems and the Serviceman
H. W. Scheele first started working with electricity 23 years
ago, repairing appliances and rewinding motors and transformers. Starting to build
and repair radios as a spare-time hobby, he decided that he needed more fundamental
knowledge and chose an electrical and radio engineering course. Gaining more practical
experience after graduation by working at the service bench, he then obtained a
position drafting and designing electronic and electric apparatus. His keen interest
in the amateurs' and servicemen's problems has its origin in his own experience.
At present convalescing from a disabling illness, his activities are limited. He
is 39 years old.
By H.W. Scheele
Considerable interest and comment has been expressed on the subject of licenses
for radio and electronic servicemen. It is the intention of this article to discuss
and summarize the various aspects, advantages, and disadvantages of licensing in
its relation to radio and electronics.
It is generally agreed that some public control must be exercised to enforce
health measures or to insure safety to life and property for large numbers of people.
Safety measures are usually to help prevent major catastrophes such as fires.
Several professions and trades have been registered or licensed to varying degrees
in various towns, cities, and states. Except in a few cases, practically all present
groups are licensed for the main purpose of controlling health standards or safety
to life and property. The automotive vehicle driver is probably the largest group
under this heading. Other groups are physicians, nurses, pharmacists, lawyers, engineers,
Groups which have been or are licensed, or are presently contemplating licensing,
for purposes not especially involving public health and safety include; radio servicemen,
painters, horologists, photographers, and others. Numerous similarities, such as
amateurs, irresponsible individuals, and other claims, practically all the same
ones as made by proponents for licensing of radio servicemen, may be noted to exist
between radio servicemen and the others listed.
AM, FM, and television reception, in the common forms with which most servicemen
are concerned, usually have been considered primarily a form of entertainment. This
gives rise to classifying the radio servicemen with the groups just mentioned. Radio
and electronics used for safety to life and property will be discussed later.
It is true that the public is in contact with these groups but the monetary values
involved are relatively small and the danger to human health and life from an error
in diagnosis and repair is either nonexistent or, at least, no greater than the
danger from other household apparatus and appliances such as electric flatirons,
toasters, gas ranges, washing machines, and others.
In some cases serious accidents and fires have been attributed to defective radios,
oil burners, and refrigerators but it is doubtful if these accidents and fires have
been as much the fault of the servicemen than the fault of the user. It would be
interesting to determine whether or not licensing servicemen would reduce such hazards
as long as the average domestic user must decide whether and when checkups and repairs
should be made.
Some hold that where electrical codes are involved and enforced the electrical
inspector has the power to inspect and require removal or repair of definite hazards.
The owner is usually held responsible even though licensing has been established.
(For a minimum standard, most codes use the National Electrical Code as a basis
and thereby also include radio and electronic equipment, and aerials and grounds.)
Baltimore was considering an ordinance very similar to the Madison Ordinance (to
be described later) to license radio and electronic servicemen but shelved it because
existing ordinances regulating electrical work were considered to give all protection
necessary. Some states - Oregon, New York, California - have had proposals under
consideration also for the purpose of licensing radio and electronic servicemen.
These proposals have been temporarily shelved or rejected for various reasons.
In so far as safety applications of radio and electronic devices are concerned
on machines, airplanes, ships, in police cars, ambulances, and many other places
the public has come to depend on them and it is necessary that these devices be
serviced by competent repairmen. To this end some regulations, like those for ship
radio operators, broadcast station operators, and others, have been placed in effect
and qualified men are selected.
Undoubtedly, properly examined and licensed servicemen would be qualified to
service many of the foregoing applications and would receive public approval and
support if good examining standards were established. If such is the case then a
question arises as to whether or not all servicemen should be licensed before being
permitted to service any and all kinds of radio or electronic apparatus and devices.
Three Sets of Options
On this question servicemen may be classified in three groups: Those who favor
compulsory licensing for all; those middleeof-the-roaders who prefer voluntary hlicensing;
and those who oppose all licensing.
In general, most radio and electronic servicemen proponents of compulsory licensing
do not seem so much concerned about safety to life and property as about the "screwdriver
mechanic" his competition, cut rates, poor impression given the public, and the
many other claims about him. Others in favor of licensing believe that more uniform
prices could be established; competition could be controlled; manufacturers and
public would be benefited, the serviceman could be held responsible.
One example of this type of licensing is known to be in effect at present. Therefore,
it may be interesting to many to present a brief outline of the essential points
of the Madison, Wis., ordinance, enacted over four years ago, and entitled, "Licensing
of Radio and Electronic Servicemen." Important portions are printed at the end of
At the outset the ordinance stipulates no one shall do any servicing or installing
of radio and electronic equipment unless he has first obtained a license. Provision
is also made for apprentices. The term "radio and electronic equipment" includes
any device using a vacuum tube having two or more elements for changing the form
of electrical energy. The term also includes aerials and related devices.
Examinations are conducted twice a year by a Board of six members including:
The city chief radio technician; the city electrical inspector; two appointed radio
servicemen employers; and two appointed radio servicemen employees.
The ordinance specifies that the examination shall be both theoretical and practical
with both oral and written questions and shall require a demonstration of skill
through actual repairing.
If the applicant fails to pass the test, his $10 examination fee is not returned
but for that fee he will be allowed one more examination at the next examination
period. If he passes, the fee forms his first year's payment. Annual renewals and
apprentice fees are $5.
Licenses may be revoked for the following reasons: (1) Habitual drunkenness or
narcotics; (2) conviction of moral turpitude crime; (3) insanity; (4) fraud in obtaining
license; (5) for defrauding any person for whom he has rendered or has been requested
to render service.
The electrical inspector has supervision over enforcement. If he judges there
is a distinct hazard to life and property as set forth in the State Electrical Code
(similar to National Electrical Code but with modifications) he may condemn or order
such work repaired in a written notice to the owner of the equipment.
No license is requested for sales demonstrations, to test, remove, or install
tubes; or by an owner to work on his own equipment.
Separate permits are required for loudspeaker, television, and multiple aerial
installations, and extra license fees are required for sound cars and trucks. All
are subject to inspection and approval by the electrical inspector.
Any violator of the ordinance (serviceman, owner, or other) is punishable by
A study of the terms of the ordinance would indicate that every radio and electronic
device with associated equipment is included.
Effects of the Ordinance
The specified method of examination seems fair and all inclusive, but some argument
may arise as to its composition and administration. Servicemen comprise a majority
of the Board. It is entirely possible for the members to be so minded to make the
examinations sufficiently difficult (unusual problems, etc.) so that many or all
would be competitors could be eliminated. Reports from Madison indicate this condition
does not prevail at present. Although the electrical inspector has enforcement under
his control it appears that only the owner of the equipment can be held responsible
for correction of judged hazards.
As long as the serviceman does not defraud the customer, does not violate the
other four previously mentioned reasons, and renews his license regularly there
seems to be no other reason for revocation of license and only competition would
be the serviceman's real incentive to keep abreast of progress.
Although only a relatively small percentage of replies have been received from
inquiries sent to Madison servicemen, dealers, and wholesalers, comments received
thus far have been generally favorable to their licensing system. Concern was expressed
over the soldier working out of his home, apparently unlicensed (Madison has Armed
Forces training facilities nearby) but it was believed this condition would correct
itself after the war.
Some opinions from Madison tend to be more critical of their ordinance and its
method of operation.
One serviceman stated that licensing is not accomplishing much real benefit to
the servicemen or public because little or no control is exercised over the quality
of the serviceman's work. The public patronizes those servicemen doing the best
work at reasonable prices.
(It is to be noted here that the ordinance does not provide for control over
quality of workmanship. It is believed this would be extremely difficult to control
as personal opinions vary widely on the many factors involved and the weight to
be placed on each. Where is the line to be drawn on such factors as testing, cleaning,
soldering, touching up cabinets, etc. ?)
Another interesting point brought to light concerns those Madison dealers who
buy up radio and electronic equipment for purposes of servicing and selling it.
Under such conditions the ordinance in no way controls their activities whether
desirable or otherwise. Owners are not prohibited from working on their own equipment
or selling it.
Mention was also made that the licensing system was new and could be improved
as time goes on, hut it is claimed to have already eliminated a lot of out of town
fly-by-night companies dealing in inferior communication equipment and service.
It has also tended to eliminate servicing by unqualified personnel. General public
opinion is not known to have been weighed on the merits of licensing.
Next comes the sizable group of servicemen who may be classed as middle-of-the-roaders.
They would prefer voluntary licensing and to have the public view the license as
a symbol and proof of skill, competence, knowledge, good business methods, and good
business relations, or combinations of them. Licenses could be issued in various
classes which would make them indicative of the type of servicing for which the
holder is best fitted. A some what similar system is used in Canada.
Some possible advantages of this method are that : (1) the public is allowed
to decide as to the benefits of licensing, (2) amateur repairmen may pursue their
interests according to their abilities, and (3) governmental units may acknowledge
the licensee's qualifications permitting him .to service electronic devices used
for public health and safety. This latter point may be accomplished in a manner
similar to the way the National Electrical Code has been adopted as a basis for
most electrical work.
Success of voluntary licensing would depend on examinations, licenses, and administration.
It has been proposed that a fair and desirable method of examining and licensing
could be formulated by cooperative interested groups such as the FCC, IRE, RMA,
ARRL, Underwriters' Laboratories, radio servicemen representatives, and others with
perhaps one of the group taking over the duties of sponsor and administrator. In
this respect some lessons may be learned from the methods used in the National Electrical
The above is but one of many suggested methods of accomplishing the results.
However, it would have the advantage of including representatives of all parties
concerned and it could be adopted nationwide. Other suggestions have been mentioned
such as: Formation of private associations; allow the FCC to handle it; form cooperatives;
and so forth.
The "Free Enterprisers"
Lastly comes the group of servicemen who oppose all forms of licensing. They
believe in self-made business men and in competition, and claim that an efficient
up-to-date serviceman at the head of an orderly and well designed shop and using
good business methods has no need for license protection. They believe in freedom
for enterprise and freedom for the worker, which conditions have been conducive
to some of the greatest advances in the sciences and arts.
They point out the inherent weaknesses in licensing such as disadvantages of
the apprenticeship system; possible graft and favoritism in examinations; many become
frightened at examinations when their future is at stake; no guarantee of better
work; it may be only a revenue raising measure; it may be used for political purposes.
Many believe that if establishment of responsibility is needed it should be accomplished
by treating all businesses alike. This has been and could be accomplished by requiring
all dealers, sellers, repairmen, in various lines to obtain an operating permit
and post a bond of sufficient value to cover possible defrauding of customers.
The charge is also made that one license begets another and that it will be only
a matter of time before licenses will be required for servicing many other items.
In this connection it might be mentioned one city recently had under consideration
the licensing of oil burner servicemen. Another, Toledo, Ohio, finally rejected
an ordinance to license men installing and servicing both domestic and commercial
In favor of the opposition is also the possibility of failure in licensing. For
example, several years ago one state enacted á compulsory type painters' license
law with objectives very similar to those advanced by advocates for licensing of
radio and electronic servicemen. After the law went into effect opposition began
to rise, not only from the public but from many painters and amateur painters. After
a short life the law was repealed.
Opponents of licensing also have the support of many amateur radiomen and operators
and perhaps public opinion also. Recent information (Sylvania Survey) indicates
a high percentage of the public is satisfied not only with the work of their radio
serviceman but also believe he is charging them a reasonable price.
The points advanced against licensing are directed mainly against the compulsory
type and licensing which may be used for restraining competition, eliminating amateur
repairmen, and fixing prices. The points would be practically ineffective against
voluntary licensing which could be used solely to indicate the qualifications of
Many other angles and points of view, not apparent here and now, may have a bearing
on the subject. For instance, consideration should be given the fact that many former
servicemen are now in the Armed Forces. What will be their reactions now and when
they return later? The writer would therefore welcome comments from readers on all
phases of the subject of licensing.
"19.20 Licensing of Radio and Electronic Servicemen. (1) License to do Radio
and Electronic Servicing. No person either individually, as a member of a firm or
as an employee of any person, shall do any servicing or installing of radio or electronic
equipment unless the person or persons or the employees who do the servicing and
installing of said equipment have first obtained a license as required by and in
the manner provided in this ordinance. Nothing herein shall prevent an apprentice
indentured in the manner provided by chapter 106, Wisconsin Statutes, and paying
the fee hereinafter provided therefore from doing radio or electronic servicing
or installation while in the employ of and under the direct supervision of a radio
serviceman licensed as such under the terms of this ordinance. Nothing herein shall
prevent any person, or his employees, from building, designing, installing or repairing
equipment owned by such person. Electronic equipment is any device or devices which
are directly or indirectly connected with or containing a vacuum tube having two
or more internal elements for the purpose of effecting amplification or rectification,
visual indicators, cathode ray tubes or in any way modifying or changing an electrical
current in any manner or changing electrical energy to another form of energy, including
aerials and other devices used in connection therewith.
(2) Board of Examiners of Radio Servicemen. Examinations. The Board of Examiners
of Radio Servicemen shall consist of six members, four of whom shall be appointed
by the Mayor on the third Tuesday in April of each year or within ten days thereafter,
and confirmed by the Common Council. The chief radio technician of the City of Madison
shall be ex officio the fifth member of said board and the electrical inspector
of the City of Madison shall be ex officio the sixth member of said board. Of the
four appointed members two shall be licensed radio servicemen who are employers
and two shall be licensed radio servicemen who are employees...
(3) Licensee. How obtained. Any person desiring a license as a radio serviceman
shall make application therefore to the Board of Examiners of Radio Servicemen who
shall then examine each applicant, at such place as it shall designate. as to his
qualifications and competency to work at the profession of radio and electronic
serviceman. The examination shall be both theoretical and practical in character
and shall embrace both oral and written questions sufficiently strict to test the
qualifications of the applicant. The examination shall also require a demonstration
of skill through the actual repairing of electronic equipment. The said board shall,
upon being satisfied as to the competency and good moral character of the applicant
and upon payment by the applicant of the license fee as herein provided, issue to
such applicant a license authorizing him to engage in radio and electronic servicing
and installation. If the applicant fails in his examination the application fee
will not be refunded but he will be permitted to take another examination at the
next stated examination period.
(4) License Fee. The fee for a new applicant for a radio serviceman's license
shill be the examination fee of ten dollars. Renewal fee for each succeeding year
shall be five dollars. There shall be paid for each apprentice indentured to or
working for a licensed radio serviceman a fee of five dollars each year. All fees
shall be due and payable on the first day of May in each year and shall be paid
to the City Treasurer...
(6) Revocation of License. License may be revoked by the Board of Examiners of
Radio Servicemen for any of the following reasons: (a) Habitual drunkenness or the
use of narcotics; (b) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (c) adjudication
of insanity; (d) fraud in obtaining license; (e) if the licensee has defrauded any
person for whom he has rendered or has been requested to render service. The licensee
shall have to appear before the Board of Examiners of Radio Servicemen to answer
the charges made and present testimony in his own defense...
(7) Supervision by Electrical Inspector. The Electrical Inspector shall have
general supervision over the enforcement of this ordinance. He shall inspect the
installation of radios, public address systems, aerial and ground systems, or any
electronic device or, apparatus in any public or commercial building. He shall have
the right to enter any radio or electronic repair shop during reasonable hours to
inspect repair work. He shall have the right to inspect, condemn and order removed
any installation or equipment that may entail a distinct hazard to life and property
as set forth in the Wisconsin State Electrical Code. and to order such work repaired
or changed within fifteen days or any longer period specified by the Electrical
Inspector in his written notice to the owner of said equipment.
(8) Exceptions. No license shall be required to test radio tubes or for sales
demonstrations or for removing or installing radio tubes. No license shall be required
of an owner to install his own aerial or repair his own radio or electronic equipment,
provided that no exposed terminals or any wiring outside of the radio set carrying
a potential in the excess of thirty volts is installed.
(9) Permits for Loudspeaker and Television Installations. License for Sound Cars
or Trucks. There shall be no permanent installation of public address systems or
permanent installations of radio and radio signaling systems using microphones,
tubes, amplifiers and speakers or any electronic equipment in public or commercial
buildings without first obtaining a permit and depositing a permit fee of one dollar...
Temporary installations of public address systems may be made by servicemen without
Payment of a fee provided notice is given to the electrical inspector prior to the
commencement of such installation....
*See also article "Should Servicemen
Be Licensed?" by Hugo Gernsback, December 1947, p17, Radio-Craft.
Posted June 30, 2020