When I first started working at Heathkit, our store was watched over by an regional manager, we'll call him Bill. For whatever reasons (I may know some, probably not all), our store was not Bill's favorite. Ok, our sales sucked, at least early on...but still, it often seemed we could do nothing right in his eyes. Bill's visits to our store were NOT something we looked forward to.

An example... Corporate had sent us a platform to put our computer products on to give them a bit bit of a lift over the rest of the sales floor -- just about one normal step up. Well, my boss was a bit nervous about this, worried that someone would back off the platform and fall, and sue the company, so he went out and bought some cheap railing to put around the edge of the platform. They wouldn't stop someone determined to fall, but they'd tap you as you are backing up to let you know you should stop.

So, Bill stops by our store one day, and while walking around the floor, he walks to the computer platform, puts a finger on the rail, and wiggles it back and forth. Marvin, our salesperson, said to him, "You don't seem too impressed". Bill's only response was, "No", followed by his raising his foot and kicking a chunk of the railing right off the platform. He then went out to his car, grabbed a set of coveralls, changed into them and proceeded to tear down and rebuild the entire display as he wanted it.

However, as computers became a larger part of our business, our store did better, and Bill seemed to hate our gutts...well, less.

One later visit, Bill, the store manager, and I were standing around the counter reminiscing about the Old Days of Heathkit. The store manager's father had worked for Heathkit most of his career, and the manager had a number of years with the company already, plus the experience of his father. Bill had many years with the company, and while I was probably only 18 or 19 years old at the time, but I had been following the company for at least seven years before that, and I knew our product line, both current and past.

Somewhere along the line, I mentioned having recently come across an old electronics magazine and saw an ad for the Heathkit GR-900 TV, with its "Varactor UHF Tuner".

Geeky interlude: Varactors are a curious little part that made the first generation of electronic (instead of mechanical) tuners possible. Up to that point, tuners were very mechanical devices, and to remotely change channels, you would have to have a motor turning the tuner. The GR900 was one of, if not the first, TVs to use a varactor tuner. It used the tuner for UHF only; its VHF tuner was conventional (for the day) mechanical, and the remote control triggered a set of motors behind the tuner controls and the volume controls. The reason for the varactor UHF was that otherwise, it was very difficult to remotely tune UHF channels, since they were usually tuned with a continually adjusted mechanical tuner, the varactor system let it have a few pre-set UHF channels that could be remotely tuned.
Bill looked at me, and said, quite matter-of-factly (and maybe with a bit of "you stupid kid" in his voice), "The GR900 had a mechanical tuner".

Now, if I had only glanced at this ad, he probably would have convinced me I was wrong...confusing it with another set. BUT, I KNEW these sets. I helped haul them in and out of people's cars when they brought them in for repair. I helped repair them. Heck, I worked as a TV tech for a couple weeks there. I knew I was right.

"A mechanical VHF tuner, but a varactor UHF tuner", I said.

Bill said, "No".

What I didn't know is Bill had started with Heathkit as... A TV Technician. He knew the product line. He knew THIS product. And a snot-nosed kid had just told him he was wrong.

Bill ran into the back to grab one of our old catalogs (we kept old catalogs for I wish I had saved those when the store closed!). I ran to the service area to grab a service manual for a GR900. We both quickly returned to the counter with our reference material, about to prove the other wrong.

My boss later told me, he was CONVINCED he was watching me get fired. You just don't tell Bill he's wrong. And you don't try to prove it.

He found his goal sooner than I did; the page for the GR900 in the old catalog, then our finest TV, very possibly the best 25" TV made anywhere in the world, at the time. He pointed to the (VHF) tuner, and said, "See? Obviously a mechanical". I looked...and looked down...and pointed to the phrase, "with a varactor UHF tuner" in the product highlights.

Bill paused for a moment...and threw the catalog about half-way across the store.

Not only did I not get fired, I think I had earned his respect.

His relations with our store steadily improved, and sometime later, he took another job with the company. A few years after that, I ended up bumping into him in Chicago, where neither of us expected the other to be. I recognized him, but really didn't expect that he'd remember, much less recognize me. But no. Before I had a chance to to say "hi" and re-introduce myself, he saw me he yelled out my name, and ran up to shake my hand in warm greetings. Apparently, he remembered me.

Copyright 2014, Nick Holland
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