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Elmlane

Fred's Views


His Master's Voice

Let me say right off that I have purchased a lot of RCA consumer products over the years. My very first TV, over thirty years ago was an RCA. My parents' first TV, almost fifty years ago was an RCA. When my parents bought me a new-fangled portable transistor radio for Christmas, it was an RCA. And I'm not the only one who seems to like RCA. We've been broken into four times in the last twenty years and we've had two RCA TV's and one RCA VCR stolen, along with other "stuff". After the last robbery, we replaced the VCR with another RCA model, but we replaced the TV with a Hitachi model, only because the current RCA model was too tall to fit in our enclosure.

So I think I've earned the right to complain, a little. I actually have two complaints - one about the last RCA VCR we bought and one about RCA's extremely poor web-based customer service.

First, the VCR. For some inexplicable reason, no VCR manufacturer that I know of has enough brains to put in a back-up battery to keep the current settings when (not IF) the power goes off. If I had a dollar for every time we have had to re-program and reset the time on VCR's, microwaves and other products, I wouldn't need banner ads on my site. I would really like to know their rationale for omitting this obviously necessary feature. Instead, they add something like an "energy saver" that will shut down the VCR after two hours even if it is in the midst of recording something! How stupid can these people be?

As you probably guessed, this RCA VCR does not have battery backup and does have the totally annoying and useless "energy saving" feature. The feature is badly conceived, obviously, when it is invoked even while the machine is recording, but otherwise, I'd have no problem provided that the feature was turned "off" by default - or provided the unit had a back-up battery to preserve the settings. Naturally, this VCR has neither. So, unless you remember to check the "energy-saving" setting at regular intervals, you are likely to find the second part of your favorite program didn't get recorded.

This VCR has another problem. It seems to shut itself off (no power - so the settings are lost, again) without warning and without provocation. None of my other gadgets seemed to have lost power, but this VCR does, regularly.

This particular VCR is the worst model we have ever had the misfortune to own. And, with our four break-ins and all, we've owned several: 2 Betas (You know what that is?) and at least five VHS models. My son has owned three models, including one RCA. So I have some experience when I repeat that this is the worst model I have ever owned. Now it's starting to have problems recording and playing back the programs it does manage to attempt to record.

I sent RCA (Thompson Electronics) an e-mail complaining about this VCR. I don't believe I received any reply, but I certainly didn't receive any reply that had anything to do with my problem. That was some time ago. I tried again, just recently.

That VCR came with a fairly decent remote control. (Warning: another rant: Why do remote control manufacturers use "AAA" batteries when most of their units have room enough for "AA"? "AAA" are about twice as expensive!) However, the remote seemed to stop working. Yes, we replaced those infernal "AAA" but it was still not working properly. So, I decided to buy another remote.

I picked up an RCA model that was supposed to control numerous devices including the TV, VCR, stereo system and satellite dish. However, when I got it home, I discovered that none of the numerous possible codes would work my Hitachi TV satisfactorily. One of the most often used features in our home is the "input" button which lets us choose between (honest) two VCR's, the antenna, the old "big dish" satellite system and the new "small dish" system. (We can't actually access all of them just by using the "input" button, but most of them.) Nothing I tried would activate the input feature of the Hitachi. Next, I attempted to set up the small satellite dish. The included documentation had no codes for either brand of Canadian small dish system! This, even though the remote was bought in Canada and had a big "C" in front of the model number, which, I have to assume, means it was intended for sale in Canada. I found a code that would activate most of the features, but nothing would get me access to the "program menu".

Okay, being an "Internet" guy, I decided to visit their web site and see if they had updated their codes. No luck, the web site materials were a carbon copy of the printed manual. Next, I decided to contact them via e-mail. It was difficult to find the right link, but eventually I did and whisked off what I thought was a clearly worded, civil message.

In no time at all, I got an automated reply which was, of course, less than helpful. Okay, I thought, they got the message, I'll give them a day or two to reply. The next day I did get another reply. It, too, appeared to be automated since its contents bore no resemblance to my problem. In effect, I was told to use that antiquated bane of my existence known as a telephone. The whole point of using e-mail, of course, was to avoid the wasted time and hassle of "customer service". I hate using telephones anyway, but I especially hate call-waiting, voice-mail and "customer service" where you are put on hold for hours, it seems.

If a company is going to have a link to submit e-mail to it, it should be prepared to provide reasonable service. I am convinced that e-mail is far more efficient than the telephone for anything more than a short answer to a simple question. Once you get beyond a simple "Yes" or "No", the telephone becomes completely inadequate. With e-mail, you send it at your convenience, you say exactly what you want to say and you're done. The recipient can answer at his/her convenience, can look up any information that may be needed and can even cut and paste "boilerplate" to answer the question. It's true there are some times when problems need to be clarified, but this certainly wasn't one of those times.

Fortunately, I guess, the old remote seemed to get a new life and we're still using it. I don't even know where the new one is, at the moment, but there is a good chance it may be the last RCA product to come into our home - and all because RCA hasn't had the good sense to make effective use of its most valuable tool: e-mail.

Update: We just bought a DVD player for Christmas. We didn't even look at the RCA models. I wonder why!

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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