MASON CITY — In 1938, North Iowans were listening on their radios to President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, to Orson Welles’ broadcast of “War of the Worlds” and to the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
Radio was an essential item to have in the household in those days — and in North Iowa, the place to purchase a radio or have it repaired was at Herb & George, which opened for business that year.
Herb & George changed locations several times over the years, and transitioned into the television and satellite business to keep up with the times.
But the times finally caught up with them.
Last month, owner Daryl Miller decided it to call it a day after 77 years. He closed the business and sold the building that had become a landmark at 12th Street and North Federal Avenue.
The big box stores crippled the little guy in television sales and there hasn’t been the need for a TV repairman like there was 40 or 50 years ago, said Miller.
“We live in a throw-away society today,” he said. “When it breaks, you don’t repair it. You throw it away.”
Herb Kuhlmeier and George Miller, Daryl’s father, opened the store in 1938 at 9 Second St. S.W. as a radio repair shop. It moved a few times after that and had been at its present site since 1969.
Miller began working for his father when he was 14 years old, eventually taking over ownership and staying with it for the next 69 years. He learned the electronics end of the business through taking correspondence courses and watching co-workers, he said.
“In the early days, it was mostly tube stuff,” said Miller, 83, recalling how the business drew steady customers needing simple repairs on their radios and TVs.
When the big-box stores became popular, it was difficult for the little independent stores to compete.
“They’d be selling 42-inch, $1,400 televisions for $300 or $400. We can’t compete with that,” said Miller. “First it was Kmart and then Best Buy really hurt us.”
The big sellers in the old days were RCA, Zenith and Toshiba, said Miller. “And when a repair was needed, people would bring the set in or we would go to their home. We made house calls.
“In recent years, we were doing warranty work for several different companies but we still had a few people coming in with repair work,” he said.
“At first the satellite business was good. That’s what paid the bills for a long while, but it reached a saturation point,” said Miller.
He said he enjoyed his career of nearly 70 years but puts his retirement in perspective these days as he sits in his living room and watches TV.
“It was just time,” he said.