How do you fit? The death of blueprints

There was a time when, if you had a soldering iron on hand, you could easily open a radio station or repair a TV. You may not get rich, but you can make a good living. And if you have enough business experience to do sales as well, you can do well. These days there are not so many repair shops and it’s no wonder. The price of labor goes up and the price of things like televisions goes down every day. Even worse, today’s TV is not only cheaper than last year’s model, it may also be better. Plus, TVs are full of custom parts that you can’t get your hands on and packed into smaller and smaller boxes.

Case in point, I saw a Black Friday ad for a 40-inch 1080p flat screen monitor with streaming console for $98. This certainly isn’t huge by today’s standards and I’m sure it’s not picture perfect. But for $98? Even a giant, high-quality TV these days can cost a little more than $1,000 and you can get something great for well under $500.

Looking back, a Sears ad showed a lot on a 19-color TV in 1980. The price? $399. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that today that would be about $1,400. So with a ratio of about 3.5 to 1, the service call would be $30 an hour, today, $105. So for an hour of service call with no parts, I can only buy 40 TV. Add even a small part or another hour and I’m getting close to big league TVs.

Have you ever wondered how TV repair technicians know what to do? Well, for one thing, most of the time you don’t have to. The number of striking calls will be something as simple as a frayed line cord or a dirty tuner. The antenna wires destroyed by the creatures were common enough. In tube days, you can easily swap tubes to fix the bulk of actual issues.

Back to the store: Riders and Sams

Many stores send a young guy to check simple things, then bring everything else “back to the shop” where someone who knows what needs to be done does component-level troubleshooting. Amazingly, many televisions and other consumer electronics at one time had in-cabinet schematics for the service person. They were often cramped, though.

Ryder page for Admiral Radio

There were better options. Ryder would get the data from all the consumer electronics they could find, and they would publish it in huge quantities, sometimes as many as 2,000 pages a year in total. Several of these old volumes are available on the Internet.

Another major publisher of service data was Sams Photofacts. These folders will contain detailed information compiled about televisions, radios, major CB transmitters and, in a few cases, computers.

Sams is still around and will continue to sell their stock photos, so they are hard to find online. However, there are some around if you look. You can also often buy used originals just like you would buy a used book. Apparently, a few of the older ones have been copyrighted and there are third parties who will sell copies of them as well. You can sometimes find them in libraries as well.

Photofact volumes were usually very detailed. They will display the disassembly instructions in addition to the schematic, showing the nominal operating waveforms of the gear as well. It wasn’t unusual to see a picture of a PCB with a grid of letters and numbers to help you find parts on a crowded board.

These were similar to car manuals that people often buy for their cars. Most service stores buy and save these in case a particular group brand reappears or the same group ordered at a later time.


Finding parts might have been easier, too. You now have many proprietary chips and assemblies that are hard to come by and may not even be recognizable. Of course, pipes were everywhere. For other parts, service shops often relied on distributors such as ECG, which became NTE. They will take parts with broad applicability and combine them. They have also produced interchange reference books that tell you which parts you can use to replace common consumer electronics parts.

RCA also provided a similar service with RCA SK transistors and Motorola had HEP as their brand name. Generally, these parts were expensive compared to what a hobbyist would pay, but they were readily available and known to fit, so they were often used in service work. NTE is still around and you’ll occasionally find a store with a stock of ECG or SK parts, usually in hang-on plastic bags or blister packs.

Reuse and recycle

There is something attractive about fixing things rather than throwing them away. It should be good for the pocket and is definitely good for the environment. However, the sad state of affairs today is that many things are manufactured to be beyond repair. Even if there are parts and schematics, unless you can do it yourself as many of us do, paying someone to do the repair is probably pointless. Times have changed. Unless, of course, you can find a Repair Café.

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