Technology turning the channel on TV repair

Inside a crowded shop on Rossville Boulevard, Bob Wolfe sits in a dusty old blue chair, examining a flat-screen TV that sits atop a makeshift table enveloped in tan carpet.

Dozens of TVs stacked one atop the other, relics though not even a decade old, are packed tightly in the space.

A nearby floor fan's loud hum mingles with the distinct buzz of Wolfe's small power drill as he works in a field barreling toward extinction.

"Back in the old days, we could repair the board, but now they're not repairable," he said. "When we first started, you could change out all the components, and it was usually a cheaper repair."

TIPS FOR CONSUMERS* Stick with trusted brands, as they're more likely to continue to manufacture parts for the TV even after newer models become available.* Expect an average problem-free lifespan of a TV to be three to five years, depending on use.* If a TV repair will cost considerably more than $200, think about buying a new setSource: Mike Melton and Gerald Brown

Wolfe, who went to school for TV repair in 1979, refurbished televisions for Sears until it stopped offering the service. Now that the need for such work has drastically reduced, he splits his time working from home and helping out at Melton's TV Repair shop.

Mike Melton, owner of the shop, is upbeat about the dwindling demand for TV repair, an industry he's worked in for his entire adult life. Though his business has decreased drastically in recent years, he still gets a steady stream of about 20 sets each week.

"Technology is changing so fast," he said. "That's what's doomed a lot of shops."

At one time there were dozens of TV repair shops in the Chattanooga area, now there are only a handful. Melton said not only has customer demand dropped off, but manufacturers are making parts more difficult to come by.

Gone are the days when he could hop in his truck and drive a couple miles to a local parts dealer. Now, if he wants an obscure part, chances are he's not going to find it.

"They're just not manufacturing parts anymore for sets that are 10 years old," he said. "And even the ones that are less than 10 years old, they're ancient. It's been changing so fast, just in the last five years, and most people can't stay with it."

But it's not just technology that's changing. It's also consumer preferences.

In a recent Pew Research Center nationwide survey, just 42 percent of Americans said they considered owning a TV necessary, ranking devices such as microwaves, landline phones and home computers as more important to daily life.

For those who still wear their thumbs out clicking through the channels, Melton says to expect a three- to five-year lifespan on a set before it needs to be repaired or replaced - even the new LCD and plasma TVs. And that's exactly what many local repair shops are seeing most these days.

Gerald Brown, owner of Eastside TV in Dalton, Ga., said LCD and plasma sets are just about the only ones he works on now. He, too, said getting parts for some of the older models is difficult, and suggests consumers stick with popular name brands to ensure their set can be repaired if something goes awry.

"Repair is always going to be less than it would be to go purchase a new TV," he said.

Still, he said he can see fewer repairs in his future, despite a minor increase recently during the recession with cash-strapped consumers looking for any way possible to save money.

Since the price of TVs is so low now, Melton said he has to be especially mindful of the amount he quotes for work. An average repair on an LCD set runs between $100 and $200, with $200 being on the high end, he said.

"If It's priced too high, they will just go buy a new TV," Melton said. "A lot of times there's very little profit in it for us."