The meaning of the
title of this Mac's Radio Service Shop story, "Whose Ox Is Gored?," is perfectly
obvious to me, having grown up in an era when the saying was commonplace. However,
my guess is that a lot of people have never heard it, and it makes no sense. A search
for the origin of the idiom turned up lots of guesses, but no definite source. Some
say it came from a writing by Martin Luther, others say from the Bible, but all
agree that it basically means the assessment of a situation (usually a wrong having
been done) depends on the individual's point of view. In this case, Mac points out
to Barney how the annoying inattention to detail provided by mechanics during servicing
of his car are not so different from the "little" things Barney himself has let
slip by because he did not believe they were important enough to be of concern.
This appeared in a 1950 issue of Radio & Television News magazine.
Mac's Radio Service Shop: Whose Ox is Gored?
By John T. Frye
The wall calendar of Mac's Radio Service Shop was turned to the month of September,
and the picture it displayed of a shapely young woman in a Bikini swim suit was
appropriately titled "Modern September Morn"; but the bright, hot day itself could
have been lifted right from the middle of August.
Mac and his apprentice, Barney, were both busy at the service bench. Mac was
installing a new horizontal flyback transformer in a TV chassis, and Barney was
stringing a dial cable. No conversation had passed between the two for at least
half an hour - a most unusual circumstance, for Mac often declared that only two
things could still Barney's wagging tongue: food or unconsciousness. In fact, though,
the boy had seemed to be brooding over something all day.
"Hey, Red," Mac said casually as he smoothed out the solder on the high voltage
connections to make sure there were no sharp points to aggravate corona discharge,
"you seem to be a little on the quiet side today. What's eating you? Is that spavined
hot rod of yours missing out on a cylinder or two, or is something wrong in the
"In a way, it's the car," Barney replied. "Yesterday I got it back from the garage
after having it in there for a complete Fall tune up, and I am thoroughly disgusted
with the kind of service I got out of that bunch of jokers."
"Doesn't it run any better?"
"Oh, yes, it runs better. They took care of the major complaints all right; but
what burns me are the little things they let slide. Take for example the hood-release
catch that is binding and hard to work: they never did a thing to it. Then I told
them the windshield wipers were sluggish. They just squirted a little oil on the
outside of the wiper motor and told me they thought it would perform better after
the oil 'works in.' In a pig's eye, it will! I tried that a long time ago. On top
of everything they got smudges of dirt on the upholstery at several places, and
the steering wheel was so covered with grease that the front of the white shirt
I wore last evening looks as though I went dancing with a coal-heaver instead of
"Stop," Mac pleaded. "You're breaking my heart!"
"Well, doggone it, it makes a guy mad. It's the same old story, no matter what
kind of equipment you want serviced. No one is interested in doing a really good
job any more. All the repairmen think about is getting the job out of the shop and
getting the money into their hot little hands. Pride of workmanship is as out-of-date
and as extinct as, as - as the knee-length bathing suit," he finished as his eye
lighted fondly on the calendar.
While they were talking, Barney had finished stringing the new dial cord and
had replaced the set in its cabinet. After running the pointer at first quickly
and then slowly across the dial to make sure there was no slippage, he started making
out the bill. Mac moved over to the little set and began toying with the knobs as
he said thoughtfully:
"Things aren't as bad as you paint them, but they are bad enough. Some of the
blame, I think, goes on the 'easy money' that is floating around.
When people have plenty to spend - especially if they are not used to having
it - they seem to grow less concerned about getting their money's worth than they
are when they have to count their pennies. As a result, the repairman finds that,
for a while, he can actually make more by turning out sloppy work in a hurry than
he can by taking the time to do a good job. While he loses some critical customers
by operating in this fashion, there always seems to be plenty more to take their
places - Say," Mac broke off suddenly, "did you notice that this pointer is off
about an eighth of an inch from where it should be?"
"Yeah, after I had the set all buttoned up in the cabinet I noticed the pointer
was off a little, but I did not think it was enough to warrant removing the chassis
to change it."
"An eighth of an inch means about ten kilocycles in the most-used part of the
band," Mac pointed out. "Better pull the set and set the pointer over. And while
you are at it, get the corners of that dial glass clean. My wife always says that
a window with dirty corners looks worse than a window that has not been washed at
"And oh yes," Mac went on; "I just happened to think of another thing. Remember
that call you made yesterday to service Bud Clement's TV receiver? He called in
this morning to say that the set was working all right but that the picture lacked
about a quarter of an inch of reaching the mask, top and bottom. He said he called
this to your attention as you were leaving but that you told him it would probably
be all right when the line voltage went up. It wasn't, though; so I stopped by at
noon and took care of it."
"Boy, there's a griper for you!" Barney exclaimed. "His sole original complaint
was a dead set. I found a bad rectifier tube and replaced it, and the set took right
off. He never said a thing about the vertical size of the picture being off until
I had one foot out the door. I was already late for supper, and I had a date with
Marge at seven, and I really did think the picture might go back up under the mask
when the 'cooking supper' load was taken off the line."
"Just as the mechanics thought your windshield wipers might be all right after
the oil worked in," Mac said softly.
Barney's eyebrows went up in puzzlement; then his eyes opened wide in a look
of quick comprehension; and finally his face turned brick-red.
"I had that coming," he muttered at last. "Here I was panning the mechanics for
doing sloppy work while I was doing exactly the same thing. You surely have a smooth
way of slipping the needle into a guy, but I get the point: Don't always be looking
for something to gripe about, because the other fellow doesn't like griping any
better than you do."
"Nope, Little Chum, that is not the point I was trying to make at all," Mac denied.
"You remind me of the fellow who, when ordered to stop drinking Martinis, decided
that what the doctor really meant was that he should give up the olives. What I
was trying to make you realize was that a fault that looks as big as a barn door
in someone else shrinks to microscopic proportions when seen in yourself. The identical
situation, looked at from two different points of view, seems like two entirely
separate things. That is why the customer's 'legitimate complaint' becomes an 'unreasonable
squawk' when viewed through the jaundiced eyes of the service technician."
"And you think that rather than stop squawking I ought to concentrate on seeing
to it that my - or our-customers do not get a chance to squawk."
"That's it in a nutshell," Mac applauded.
"Yes, but you said yourself that doing sloppy work pays off better."
"I said it does for a while and during boom times. In the long run - and not
too long at that - shoddy workmanship is recognized for what it is, and then the
business goes to someone else. A sad part of it, too, is that once a fellow has
been accustomed to turning out inferior work it is almost impossible for him to
turn out any other kind. If you try to do your best at all times, your 'best' gets
better and better; but, by the same token, if good-enough-to-get-by is your goal,
your 'good enough' grows worse and worse."
"Okay; you can lay the whip down now," Barney said. "I have learned my lesson.
I solemnly promise on my 'Lone Ranger' badge that, although I know it will mean
harder work, I will do my best on every service job."
"If you do," Mac said, "you will discover a funny thing: Your work will actually
be easier instead of harder. For one thing, it is always easier to do a good job
than to explain why you didn't. In the second place, a man gets a kind of 'lift'
out of a job well done. Ever notice how that contented, chesty feeling you have
after finally licking a stubborn intermittent differs from the tired and worried
way you feel when you give a half-fixed set back to a customer with the hope that
it will be all right but feeling down in your bones that it will be back in a week
"I sure have," Barney said. "When I know I have done a good job on a set, I can
dismiss it from my mind; but when I do a cobbling job, the darned thing haunts me
"It should!" Mac said with a grin.
"And the next time you find yourself resenting a customer's complaint, remember
how you felt about the garage service. As my dad ·used to say, 'It makes a lot of
difference whose ox is gored.'''
Posted June 1, 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.