TV, Dad and Me

by Harry T. Roman


Growing up, I learned my way around Newark in a most unlikely way. It had to do with television.

It was the early 1950s and Dad was apprenticing part time to learn how to repair televisions. He had his heart set on starting up a small repair service. Since Dad and I did most repairs around the house together, it seemed only natural that I became the "sorcerer's apprentice". We set up shop in the basement and went to work.

Mom or I would take the customer phone calls as they came in. I did my homework and playing after school. Since Dad was usually home from his day job by about 4:30, we had an early dinner at 5:00; and from 6:00 to about 9:00 we were making our rounds. Between repair stops, Dad would challenge me to give him directions to the next service call. Friends still marvel today when I zoom around Newark taking short cuts and little known streets. One time during a water main break in Newark and a huge traffic jam, I impressed my wife with my ability to bypass the problem and still get us both to work with little delay.

After a few years, we became known in local TV repair circles as the father and son team. I checked tubes and cleaned the TV screen and tuner while Dad was busy diagnosing the trouble. Sometimes we couldn't repair the TV in a customer's home, so we took it to our basement shop for a more intensive repair, and returned the set a few days later. We even put up TV antennas on roofs, wired remote speakers for radio and Hi-Fi systems, set-up intercom systems, fixed radios, and on several occasions even ran electrical wiring. Our little business was booming.

Dad realized I had an aptitude for electricity and soon I was experimenting on my own in the basement. Dad began to talk to me about a possible career in electronics or electrical engineering. He always thought I might go to the Newark College of Engineering; and he was right as usual. I grew up to be an electrical engineer and graduated from the college in 1970. Sometimes now I even teach a course or two there, and conduct research on the campus.

I wonder how many kids today work alongside their fathers, or have the advantage of being taught firsthand. Seems like parents are so busy today, that the up close-and personal touch often gets lost. Things stay with me from those early encounters with customers. All those TV repair calls made me less shy and able to speak to people with confidence.

Dad's gone now, but I have that old repair kit in my basement. Every now and then I open it and use a few of the tools in my own basement workshop. I seriously thought about donating it to The Smithsonian as memorabilia of the birth of the television age. But sometimes when I open it and smell those aromas of the past, I swear I can smell and feel my Dad’s presence. How could I ever part with that?

Not too long ago, I met someone from the old Newark neighborhood, someone I had not seen in 40+ years. We were kids when we last saw each other, but she remembered me. She immediately asked, "Wasn’t your dad, Harry the TV Repairman? I remember him fixing our set." Between the welling tears, I managed to choke out a "Yes". People still remember.

I’d sure like to drive that old Pontiac down Bloomfield Avenue one more time. I never saw a car with that color again. I still have Dad’s registration slip for it.

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