A slew of modern-day flat-screen TVs stickered with repair tags form a narrow pathway through American Electronics Service, a television and radio repair shop on Dundas St. W.
“Despite our disposable culture, I’m busier than I’ve ever been,” says John Fadel, whose business, first opened by his father in the 1950s, has been a Junction fixture since 1973.
In an era when keeping up with new technologies can seem daunting, television and audio repair shops, once a ubiquitous fixture in most neighbourhoods, have all but disappeared. But some are still thriving thanks to a resurgence of interest in vintage tube radios, vinyl and the maintenance of modern TVs.
“The lifespan of the products are so much shorter now, but that’s what the consumer wanted,” Fadel says. In the 1970s, new electronics came with a three-to-five year warranty. “Incorporated in the cost were service calls to technicians.” When other manufacturers eschewed warranties, lowering them from one year to 90 days in some cases, it soon became an industry standard. “They also used inferior components, so prices came down overall.”
Fadel says he sometimes advises people against fixing certain modern units. “The repair can run you two-thirds of the original cost, and it probably won’t last very long. There’s no quality control anymore,” he adds, noting that many inoperable modern TVs are thrown to the curb. Over the last three years, 4,500 tonnes of electronics have been picked up by the City of Toronto’s waste collection services.
Ted Syperek, who owns Ring Audio on Carlaw Ave., is a little more optimistic about modern technologies and says it’s human nature to want to pay less for electronics.
“We like the new toys, some of which are reasonably well-made for a tenth of what we used to pay. It’s hard to resist.”
In business since 1969 and catering strictly to vintage audio repairs and sales, Syperek, like Fadel, has seen a mainstream revival in the sounds and styles of yesteryear.
“The ’50s and ’60s were cool, and there’s definitely a resonance with the past and a desire for that esthetic right now,” adds Syperek.
In the era of sleek Apple products, Fadel, dwarfed by a wall of Bakelite and streamlined tube radios, maintains that artistry and design have long been a part of technology’s place in the home.
“Back in the 1950s, it wasn’t really about how many stations it carried, it [the TV] was furniture. The television with the French provincial legs matched the couch, the buffet,” he says.
But Fadel does not sugar-coat all of yesterday’s technologies; they, too, had their lemons.
Fadel points to the Philco Predicta, a television whose futuristic swivel-screen design now belongs in a museum, but was a notorious fire hazard because its smaller cabinet did not allow for heat to circulate.
“They would overheat so much that my father received truckloads of them from local hotel chains who abandoned them,” Fadel said.
Waiting outside his father’s old Parkdale store was a young Fadel, sledgehammer in hand, ready to destroy the Ford Pinto of televisions. They are now highly sought on the collectibles market.
Adjusting the turntable speed on a teak-encased radio, Fadel says he isn’t sure if it’s the plethora of old technologies on display in shows like Mad Men or if in this era where the majority of media is consumed digitally, but some people seek something tangible and warm to listen to.
“There’s the rush-rush of our generation, but I’m now getting more tube radios to fix than I ever have. I think maybe we’re seeing a backlash against the type of immediacy that digital provides.”
When it comes to the quality of the audio, Fadel says a tube radio emits distortions and harmonics that just can’t be duplicated nowadays.
“It takes a few seconds for it to warm up, so it also lets you build anticipation. Good things come to those who wait.”
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star on July 10, 2013.