Television and radio repair in the United States is performed by many service centers operated by the manufacturers of electronic equipment or by appliance, department, electronics, or specialty stores. Only about 25 percent of the firms participating in the industry are independent repair shops; for government classification purposes, only the independents are considered part of this industry.
The radio repair segment of the industry has diminished significantly as technology has changed. However, when the industry emerged in the 1930s, radios were the only consumer electronic equipment requiring servicing. All that changed as broadcasting came into its own and households acquired television receivers. Depending on their area of specialization, establishments classified under the radio and television repair shops category install and service household and citizens' band (CB) antennas; they also repair aircraft radio equipment, automotive radios, intercommunications equipment, stereos, hi-fi equipment, tape recorders, phonographs, compact disc players, digital video disc players, public address systems, stereophonic equipment, electronic organs, home security systems, microwave ovens, slide and motion picture projectors, and video recorders or players.
In 1998, there were an estimated 4,678 establishments in this industry. About half of the establishments were corporate entities and half sole proprietors/partnerships. The establishments were concentrated in the Northeast, Southeast, and Great Lakes regions of the United States. The top seven companies by sales in 1998 were: ABC Appliance Inc., Contec L. P., Electra-Sound Inc., Technicar Inc, Markey's Audio-Visual Inc., Audiovisual Inc., and Electronic Maintenance. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, collectively all firms in the industry brought in $2.8 billion in 1998.
Principles discovered in the nineteenth century were the basis for the wizardry of current audio and video home and mobile electronics. Heinrich Geissler first demonstrated in the 1850s that electricity discharged in a vacuum tube caused small amounts of rare gases in the tube to glow. In 1898, Karl Braun produced the first cathode ray tube that could control the glow caused by the freeing of electrons in a vacuum. In 1907, Lee De Forest, known as the father of radio, developed the first amplifying tube capable of strengthening electronic signals.
A few more years would elapse before new developments would make it possible to combine the basic elements of television transmission into a system. In 1922, teenager Philo Farnsworth developed a practical electronic scanning system. The following year, Vladimir Zworykin developed the iconoscope and kinescope, which are the respective basic elements of the television camera and the television receiver. The first public demonstration of Zworykin's all-electronic television system was in 1929.
Radio also developed from technology discovered in the 1800s and gradually perfected in the twentieth century. The infant radio and television medium did not develop enough to warrant a sales and service industry until regular commercial broadcasting began and people started to purchase receivers. Stations KDKA in Pittsburgh and WWJ in Detroit launched commercial radio broadcasting in 1920. Six stations initiated regular television broadcasting in 1946. Both broadcast industries grew rapidly, but television's growth was phenomenal. The United States had 6 million television sets by 1950 and more than 100 million by 1989. In the 1990s, almost every U.S. household had at least one television, while almost two-thirds had two or more.
The need for repair technicians was low when commercial broadcasting first hit the airwaves. Early radio sets were simple, with only a limited number of things that could fail and cause reception problems, so owners made most of their own repairs. But as new developments and improvements occurred in the broadcasting industry, the receivers became more complicated. Trade and technical institutes were founded to train technicians capable of fixing radio sets. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a number of people seeking new careers or ways to supplement their incomes took correspondence courses in radio repair.
After World War II, trade and technical schools flourished to meet the burgeoning demand for trained television service technicians. Aided by the GI Bill's educational benefits, many ex-servicemen who had been communications or electronics technicians in the armed forces entered the field. The invention of the transistor, stereophonic sound, color television, and other innovations ensured the job security of those in the repair industry who kept current with technology. These innovations meant that only trained technicians with the proper testing equipment and tools could repair the resulting television sets, radios, and other home electronics equipment.
The number and variety of electronic devices for home and business use proliferated throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Miniature and super screen projection televisions, video cameras and videocassette recorders (VCRs), and other new electronics equipment sustained a continuing need for trained technicians to install, maintain, and repair what had become essential household items for most Americans.
Radio and television service technicians diagnose and repair malfunctions in electronic home entertainment equipment, including radios, television sets, stereos, VCRs, video cameras, compact disc players, audio recorders, video games, and related electronic equipment. Outside technicians make service calls on customers, while bench technicians use test equipment and hand tools in a shop setting to fix problems.
Workers in this industry use their knowledge of electrical and electronic circuits to service and install equipment. Most enter the field by graduating from an accredited technical training program and working for at least a year under shop supervision. Junior colleges and correspondence, private, and vocational schools offer training programs. In addition, technicians may learn the field through apprenticeships or on-the-job training. The latter option generally is limited to existing service shop employees who display a basic understanding of electronics. Because of the constantly changing technology of electronics devices, successful service technicians attend short courses given by manufacturers to learn about special areas and current developments.
Some 33,000 electronic home entertainment equipment repairers held jobs in the late 1990s, out of 120,800 employed in electronic repair shops. Of those, about one in seven were self-employed, more than in most other repairer occupations. The level of employment is expected to decline by the year 2006 as continuing improvements in electronic devices and advances in component technology make equipment more reliable and easier to service. Those entering the field will mainly be replacing those service technicians who transfer to other occupations
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