Monday, July 26, 2010


     These hot days in the Northeast, recalling some boling summers of decades ago, also bring to mind a routine that a fellow I knew followed seasonally. He was a radio/TV repairman whose self-made career began with early 1920s radio through the great period of that medium in the 1930s-1940s, into the emerging, life-changing TV birth years of the 1950s and toward the beginning of color, though he would not repair the last innovation.

By then, in the early 1960s, John Romaine had settled into a pattern comfortable enough, reliable enough, no-surprises-enough that he didn’t want to tackle new technology. He had his longtime, reliable customers, many of whose families he knew as well as his own, growing up in a small village north of New York City.

Once, he and a partner had a radio/small appliance store, which later sold televisions, including, in 1948, a 22-inch model. That was when the typical screen was 7 or nine inches. RCA, his prime supplier, had come out with a set that projected an image onto a mirror without too much distortion, a forerunner of the projection Tvs of today.

The changing way of American life – the decline of the typical small town in favor of suburban shopping strips and malls – plus a growing number of competitors in what became a huge suburb helped shutter Ro-Field Appliances on Main Street. It was then that John brought his repair business home, making a living out of that. Downstairs in his older house, on a tree-lined street just a mile or so from Spring Valley, he set up shop under a basement window. He stood on a wooden platform to resist shock as he touched high voltage areas, especially in TVs. A large soldering iron was at the ready - to sweat in a resistor or a capacitor. An observer would always find it amazing that an ailing TV or radio could suddenly come to life with the replacement of just one or two tiny parts.

The man would then put the receiver back in its polished cabinet, unless he had removed it in the customer’s home, and then manage his way out of the basement and into a green  Ford station wagon, which could be seen all over Spring Valley and Hillcrest, where John lived. 

That trek out of the basement made over and over was seasonal. In summer, when the breezes might be obtained, the man took to his garage, where he had a second shop much like the one downstairs. Here he was among the birds and cooler mornings and evenings to do his work, leaving the heat of the day to pass.

It is doubtful today if repairs to highly sophisticated electronics could be made in basement and garage shops or that a well-liked neighbor whose family went way back and knew other families that went way back would be driving around picking up, repairing and delivering your TV.

John Romaine did this all year round, whether from basement or garage, and his reputation for quality work and a friendly manner were as reliable as the guaranteed change of seasons.

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