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‘I’m like the guy who used to make wagon wheels’

One of the last of his kind, local TV repairman hangs up his tool belt

POSTED: January 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.
When Jack Hoffman joined the Air Force in 1958, he was assigned to a unit which maintained electronic navigation equipment. It was an ironic assignment for a young man who grew up in a rural Rabun County home where electricity was not available.

For the past half-century, he has worked on a wide array of electronic devices, from antennas to Christmas tree angels.

Next week, after 22 years of owning his own business, he will hang up his soldering iron, Ohmmeter and oscilloscope. Jack's Electronics will shut its doors on Dec. 31.

Hoffman's career has spanned an evolution of electronics. When he began, most equipment was analog and glowed with the use of tubes.

Unfortunately, it's technology that is forcing Hoffman to close.

"Automation has put us out of business," Hoffman said. "They build electronics in countries where they don't pay much for labor. So, they can build it for nothing."

Hoffman said service manuals for newer products are hard to get. He said that often he can trouble shoot a problem with a television, but by the time he finds the problem, the labor is more than the customer is willing to pay.

Hoffman said that diagnosis of problems was easier in the old days.

"When TVs had 12 channels, a picture and sound, you could pretty much tell what was wrong with it when a guy brought it in," said Hoffman. "These new things are run by computers. They've got a chip in there about as big as my finger that runs the whole thing."

He once was an authorized service agent for a number of major brands and said that he had an instance when a company paid to replace a picture tube of a television.
"The part cost more than a new television," he said.

The warranty service business eventually came to an end.

"I was doing TV repairs for less than I was doing them in the 1950s," he said.

Customers are also facing the upcoming 2009 deadline when broadcasters will only transmit in digital format, rendering analog televisions obsolete.

Hoffman, 58, has had an assortment of goods come through his shop on Cleveland Highway, which opened in 1986.

"The first repair I took in was a Teddy Ruxpin," Hoffman said. Teddy Ruxpin was a stuffed bear with a cassette which provided his voice and data to make the bear's eyes and mouth move.

The shop is now a museum of by-gone electronics and is stacked from floor to ceiling with amplifiers, televisions, turntables and other electronic devices that are now relics of the past. Some were left by customers who never claimed them. Hoffman plans to put some of the merchandise in storage after he closes.

He often makes repairs to items that have sentimental value. He is awaiting parts for a tube-type radio that belongs to a schoolteacher.

Among his most unusual repairs was a tree-top Christmas angel that would no longer illuminate. Hoffman said the angel was wired with aluminum wiring, which has been found to be a fire hazard. He rewired the angel with new wire and lights.

"I've tried to fix whatever folks bring in," he said.

After his discharge from the Air Force in 1962, Hoffman worked for Don Cooley at Electronic Sales Co., which specialized in Citizens Band radios.

An overnight burglary at the company's store moved the company into the burglar alarm business, and it still sells and installs them today. The company also entered the mobile telephone business in an era when the thought of a phone which could fit in your purse or pocket was as futuristic as flying cars.

"The first mobile phones cost about $3,500," said Hoffman. He explained the first units required a large transmitter and receiver in the trunk and an antenna mounted on the car body.

"It's amazing what they're doing with cell phones now,"

Hoffman's business partner, wife Imogene, has worked with him for the past 22 years. She said it became impossible to deal directly with manufacturers, who began using distributors for parts.

When Hoffman went into business for himself, a VCR cost several hundred dollars. Now, a VCR, which is quickly being replaced by newer technology, costs less than $50.

Hoffman said while he is closing his business, he is still trying to figure out what to do with the next chapter of his life.

"I'm sort of like the guy who used to make wagon wheels," he said.




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