TV Repairman

House Calls: Don’t Worry - The TV Repairman is On His Way!

Author: Peggy Epstein

You would think, after paying $199.95 (less trade-in) on a 1953 Deluxe Zenith Buckingham model TV with its giant 21” screen, its new Super Automatic Station Selector, its sensational K-53 chassis, and its built in “Picturemagnet” Antenna, you’d be all set. After all, the average salary in 1953 was around $4,000. That means you would have spent five percent of one year’s income on your television set. Today that would translate to a two thousand dollar TV!

But you weren’t all set—because the average 1950’s television set needed some kind of repairs around twice a year.

In our case, a few months after our beautiful new Zenith TV was delivered, we turned it on one day and all we could see was constantly moving zigzag lighting down the center of the screen--and no matter how many knobs you turned (contrast, fine tuning, etc.) the zigzag didn’t go away.

My dad took a bunch of tubes—they were kind of like light bulbs--out of the back of the TV and ran them down to the drugstore. In the back, by the pharmacy, there was a tube tester people would use to see if they could just maybe buy a replacement tube instead of calling the dreaded TV repairman. House calls were pricy.

Most 1950’s TV’s were enormous; it’s not like you could just pick up one of those huge console models, stick it in the car, and take it to be repaired. That’s how the TV repair business got started: with a little information, a truck with the phone number pained on the side, and a few basic supplies, you were in business.

It was a fairly lucrative business. Even in 1953, a typical edition of the Chicago Tribune listed a half dozen ads for “TV repairman wanted.”  A typical salary for this position was two dollars an hour.

As it turned out, my dad did so well at replacing tubes that word got around, and an old friend of his who had just started a new business called. A-1 TV Service was owned by my father's friend Sam who my father said “just happened to get lucky when he came up with the idea that all these people buying television sets would need somebody to come out and fix them when they went ‘kaplooey’.” My dad had worked with radios in the Army, so Sam thought my dad would be a natural at it.

I remember pretty clearly the night Sam came over to try to get Dad work for him. The conversation went something like this:

Sam had carried a bunch of boxes into the dining room and piled them on the table.

“The people who sell TV's tell their customers that it's ok to monkey with their sets to try and adjust them,” Sam said. “They tell them that there's no way you can hurt a television set unless you throw your shoe through the screen or something.”

“No kidding,” my father said.

"But as soon as you start talking about the horizontal oscillator, they're gonna give it up. They'll know they're in over their heads," Sam said.

"So just what is a horizontal oscillator," my father asked.

"Ok, you see here," he said, pulling our TV away from the wall. You look for this perforated black metal box. Inside here you're gonna find a 6SN7-CT. I brought you a dozen or so of those babies."

He pointed to a cardboard carton filled with glass tubes in little sleeves.

“You check to make sure it's in tight, and then you turn the set on and see if the tube is lit,” said Sam. “If it isn't, or even if it's kinda glowing purple, then you gotta replace it with a new one."

Sam, I’ve monkeyed around with replacing some tubes, sure, but I really don't know anything about fixing TV's," my father had protested.

"Nothing to it,” Sam said. “See, I made this little chart--like a troubleshooter. You look over here to see what's wrong; you look across to see what you do to fix it.”

"Take for instance there's no sound," he said. "Happens. Happens more than you'd think. So what do you do? See, tells you right here."

My father read aloud, "Look on the same side of the chassis as the channel selector switch and look for a row of tubes. It will probably be a burned out 6AU6, and it could be several of them; they're all in a row."

"See there? And look," Sam said, pointing to the chart. 'There's sub-categories. Like 'Ringing sound.' Tap each of the tubes with a pencil; that's how you'll find your ringer; that'll be the one that needs to be replaced.”

My father reluctantly took the job. He got a big tool kit he called a tube caddy with stuff inside like a plastic tool alignment kit, a soldering gun and solder, wire cutters and wire strippers, and lots of other tools. We got to play with it sometimes. My father had brought home an old Sears Silvertone TV cabinet without the insides. Sometimes we stuck our heads inside and pretended we were on TV, but what we mostly liked to do was play TV repairman.

It turned out that my father was pretty good at it, and he got to be pretty popular in the neighborhood because he fixed every TV on the block for free.

Peggy Epstein is a retired English teacher and a free-lance writer. Her book "Great Ideas for Grandkids" was published last year by McGraw-Hill. Her articles have appeared in the Kansas City Star, College Bound, Footsteps, Grit, Teaching Tolerance, and others.




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