Growing up, my Dad worked on fixing televisions. This happened whenever things got slow at TWA with being a navigator. Obviously a navigator is a better job money-wise but sometimes things would get dodgy. During the energy crisis of 1973, many pilots and air crews were laid off. Dad never seemed to be high up enough on the list to avoid being laid off. At least he had another job to fall back on.
The order of things in my memories is a bit mixed up but in the end it really doesn’t matter. My earliest memory of understanding that Dad could fix TVs happened in around 1969-1970. He had just bought a special testing kit and tested it on a TV in our garage. The device would generate color patterns and he used a special mirror to see the colors while he was in the back of the TV. I remember it being a bit like stands used to hold music but with a mirror instead. It was mesmerizing to watch the color changes and also very new since it was early in the adoption of color TV.
At some later time, he actually worked in a TV repair shop in McHenry, Illinois. He seemed happy but he was always happier to be flying somewhere in his 727s. He worked for a couple that owned the shop and also sold TVs. The early 70s were still a time of being really excited about TVs. People used to spend fortunes (as they do today on huge TVs) and many TVs were actually considered to be as important as nice furniture. Some of the cabinets used from that era were as good as any other crafted wood furniture.
We had several TVs in the house. Later on, Mom and Dad had their own TV built into the wall of their bedroom. It was quite a novelty. We really were a TV family. I used to watch baseball on a TV that really only I used next to the fireplace upstairs. It was a black and white but I didn’t care. I became a Cubs fan since we lived near Chicago. I remember using a marker on the glass screen of the TV to mark where the strike zone was. It was surprising how much that camera never moved.
Just after the energy crisis and when we moved to Woodstock, Dad setup a shop in the shed on our property. The shed was two stories and fairly big. He custom built a work area upstairs with a fully enclosed space with work benches and tube lights. It seemed like a pretty impressive thing to have at home. In this area, he had lots of tools and bench space. Somehow he managed to always fill the bench area with TVs and parts. I used to go visit him from time to time when he was up there. Sometimes he’d get so involved that you might not see him in the house all day.
He called his business Muir TV and he did get a fair number of people asking for his help. Many TVs end up being too expensive to fix so Dad used to keep those around for parts. This seems to be a common practice. He would do service at houses and in practice he proved not to be a great businessman. He would tell me that people would often have TVs that didn’t work simply because they had unplugged them by accident. He wouldn’t charge any money even though he would have to travel there to find this out. In fact, he always undercharged his customers. I remember looking through his receipts and most of them were marked as N/C (No charge).
The TV repair business changed for the worse when the tubes were changed to transistors and integrated circuits. The internals were worth less and less and it became more efficient to buy a new TV instead of fixing an old one. The repair business suffers this problem across the board. Fixing things often costs more than getting a new better version.
The vacuum tubes were really cleverly designed. It was possible to replace one from its socket without much effort. This is rarely true for a transistor or integrated circuit.
Another strike against repair was the increased circuitry complexity in TVs. The technology was just getting too advanced for the TV repair people to catch up. Dad has told me many times that it just doesn’t make sense to fix high tech low cost devices. It is clear that we live in a world of planned obsolescence.
Dad actually was in the process of moving his business to a real Woodstock location. He had rented a building just out of town with good traffic. It had been a printing business and we acquired much of the stock left behind. For years later we were still using the stationery. Anyways, the business never got started and if I remember it was because he had left Woodstock to move to Albuquerque. The timing of this is not clear but Dad never committed to opening the store. I’m unclear whether or not he could have pulled it off. He was way too generous with his time and skills.
His interest in technology was what led to me studying computers. We would visit him in Albuquerque and he had a Radio Shack Model I. He would let us play with it and showed us how the programs worked. He had trouble grasping the details and had bought a book on a microprocessor. He had tried to understand the book but had trouble.
I picked it up and was instantly fascinated. I had no idea that was how they worked and somehow it made sense. It was the beginning of my curiosity with computers. Later on I would study on Radio Shack Model IIIs and not long after that I was reverse engineering the operating system and making small changes (changing graphics and text). In 1983 at the University of Arizona I helped maintain a full lab of these machines. It was great timing.
Anyways, back to Muir TV. Dad was always an early adopter of technology. For awhile there, he lost touch from about 1985 to a few years ago. Now, he is trying to catch up again. I was just talking to him this weekend and he was telling me things about LCD, LED, and Plasma TVs that I didn’t know. He certainly has an affinity for this kind of thing.
The last Muir TV story I’ll share is about how Dad almost died fixing a TV once. The old TVs could be quite deceptive in how they are dangerous. TVs that are turned off and unplugged for a week or more can still cause trouble. Dad told me once he was working on such a TV when he was shocked through his two arms and his heart. No one was there to help. He couldn’t move his arms since the muscles were locked from the electricity. It was only the act of gravity that pulled the TV downwards off the bench and off his arms. The TV was destroyed but Dad was very glad to have survived. Dad explained that capacitors inside TVs can store a charge of thousands of volts and can hold this charge for weeks. It was common practice at that time to discharge the capacitors before doing work. Dad made sure after that it would not happen again. True story.