L&M's Photo - Graphics & Crafts Website

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A personal account about world of TV repairs circa 1960 -1980.

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When TV cabinets were made of wood.

PCL 85 - PCF 80 - PCC84 - PCC189 - PCF 86 - PL 36 - PY 82. These are all old TV valve types. For those of us who started repairing (UK) TVs back in the early to mid 1960s, the letters and numbers will bring back fond memories ...and does anyone remember the ion trap? Ah! those were the days.

TV models. Here are some VHF 405 line ones that were 'cutting edge' technology at the time: Murphy - R.G.D - McMichael - Dynatron - Raymond F.90 (Arrgh!) - Baird 480 series - Sobell model series 192,3,4,5,6 and 7. (the Sobell 192 was the first TV I ever worked on).

VHF Aerials. Some areas were not particularly well covered by VHF television signals. Even so, Aerial erectors were expected to get the customer a viewable 'snow-free' picture. Aerial erecting teams consisted of two members. The 'Rigger' and the 'Riggers Mate' They would often struggle for hours trying to find a good spot for the aerial where a decent signal could be obtained. A few feet in either direction could make all the difference. It was nice to live in a 'leafy' area but large trees can really affect TV signals.

The procedure for optimising signal was that the rigger up on the roof would swing the aerial about in the general direction of the transmitter. The riggers mate's role was to watch the TV picture and shout up at the rigger when the best results were obtained. They used to wear the carpet out running between the TV and garden in order to look at the picture then shout up at the rigger (Oh! for a bit of today's communications). The rigger had normally moved it a bit by the time the shout came so it was a 'hit and miss' type of operation that could take half a day in areas of weak signal. The best spot for the aerial usually turned out to be on the ridge of the roof halfway between the chimney stack and the gable end, where there was no possibility of a fixing ("It's no good, you'll just have to stand there and hold it forever!!").

It was pointless getting technical and using a compass to locate the direction of the transmitter. Various factors came into play to negate that approach. Nearby obstacles caused 'ghosts' almost as strong as the signal coming from the direction of the transmitter. In a location near us is a huge gasometer (still there but no longer used). The height went up and down depending on how much gas was pumped into it. This was is the largest gasometer in the South of England. It's a preserved structure would you believe! Just what is supposed to be worth preserving about a larger than average, quite rusty, gasometer for heavens sake! Anyway, there were good days and bad days for television reception in that area. It depended on how high the gas dome was at the time. In desperation, the riggers even tried pointing the aerial pointing at the dome. That never really worked though.

An astounding discovery! This is nothing to do with the above but an enterprising rigger found that, in many cases, the main type of aerial that our company used worked better when pointing in totally the opposite direction to where the signal was coming from. From then on you could drive around and see a significant number of aerials all pointing the wrong way!

A Double Delta works wonders. For really weak signal areas there were 'double delta' arrays. These were large aerials that kept the riggers busy every time the weather got windy. With the coming of UHF signals things got better. Although there are weak signal problems now it's nothing like the trouble experienced with the old VHF system.

The transition from VHF to UHF. When UHF transmissions started in UK it was necessary for TVs to be able to handle both the new 625 line UHF standard as well as the 405 line VHF one. To this end, conversion kits were available for some 405 line models. Later, TVs would be built for the job. An early TV, designed from the bottom up for both systems, was the Sobell/G.E.C 1018 and 2018 (same chassis, different cabinets). These were termed 'Dual standard' TVs. A multi-contact slide switch (known as a 'system switch') switched between the UHF 625 line and the VHF 405 line systems. It was a great source of trouble and no doubt accounted for a large boost in the sales of switch cleaner. Sometimes the contacts actually burned out due to arcing as they switched between one system and the other. One by one the other TV stations started transmitting 625 line UHF but it was a number of years before 405 line VHF transmissions were switched off.

Colour TV brought out dual standard television models like the Baird 700 and 701 - Sobell / G.E.C 705 designed to receive BBC2 625 line UHF colour transmissions. The standard adopted was the German PAL system. In England we have a brand of dog food called PAL. The advertisements for the doggie delight informed us that PAL stood for: Prolongs Active Life. A joke was made about it so many times that we all got sick of it. However, many engineers who hadn't been on training courses but just 'picked the job up', didn't know what the letters stood for. Well, we all knew that the letters actually meant Puff A Little because of the weight of the TVs. What the letters really stand for Phase Alternating Line. The PAL colour signal incorporates a feature called swinging burst, which naturally got called 'swinging bust' with much childish giggling.

BBC2 was the only channel in glorious colour. It got watched just for the sheer novelty of it being in colour, even if the program was awful. BBC1 and ITV continued to be black and white on the old 405 line VHF system for some time after colour transmissions started.

Of course it'll work! Initially our company would only install colour TVs where 600 microvolts of signal could be obtained. It was felt that signals below this level this would not produce a reasonable colour picture. Well, business is business and, in the end, that criteria came down. In the end it was a case of anyone who could afford the price of a colour TV had one. It was up to the engineers to eke the last drop of performance from it by using the many internal adjustments that colour TVs had in those days. To our great exasperation, some of the more 'exacting' customers had almost daily visits from engineers. Most of our area didn't meet the original 600 microvolt requirement. Eventually a signal repeater was erected about 20 miles away. Many customers got a new aerial (the old one was a different signal group so couldn't be used) and pointed it towards the new signal source. It worked for many but there were still places where signal coverage was less than ideal.

Customer relations. It can be gathered from reading the above that the most important factor in creating happy viewing was presenting the TV tuner with a good signal. Customers who were fortunate enough to live in houses where signal was good only called us out for genuine faults. Those suffering from 'snowy' weak signal pictures repeatedly called on us to do something about it. Unfortunately there was mostly little that could be done. It was more a case of, often pointless, tweaking of the internal adjustments and controls and much talking that was required.

Engineers needed a good, almost bedside, manner (in the doctor sense) to keep customers happy. Many engineers who were technically very good could upset customers because of poor diplomatic skills. Those who were able to talk about gardens, pets or D.I.Y. projects as well as technical problems on the TV were often asked for by name. Even though a house visit might bring no improvement to picture quality, it was keeping the customer for the Company that was of paramount importance. Being able to turn a slightly hostile situation into a friendly one was as equally important as being able to mend TV's. In a purely business sense it was more so.

..More to come...

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