Mon. Dec 11th, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Older CRT TVs were more likely to benefit from a good whack, as they were built differently and prone to malfunctions due to age and older electro-mechanical technology.
  • Hitting a malfunctioning TV could actually fix it temporarily by resetting components and reseating loose connections, but it was not a reliable long-term solution.
  • Modern TVs and equipment are too fragile for percussive maintenance to be effective, so it’s best to seek professional help in diagnosing and fixing the issue.

We’re taught as children that violence isn’t the answer, but when it comes to the televisions of yore, popular culture and possibly someone you knew in real life may have “fixed” a wonky TV by giving it a spirited whack. Was this just superstition, or did smacking the TV actually fix it?

What Kinds Of TVs Could Take a Hit?

Not all TVs are made equal, and if you try to give your OLED flat panel a slap, you’ll likely have a broken TV if it wasn’t broken already. It’s those boxy old CRTs (Cathode Ray Tube) TVs that people used to do “percussive maintenance” with. In particular, it’s older CRT TVs that were most likely to get this treatment. Until flat panel technology made them effectively obsolete, CRTs were around for a long time and the last models to come out benefited from vastly better electronics and better manufacturing methods. So it was less likely they’d malfunction.

Older TVs were built differently and by the very merit of their age (it wasn’t unusual for a home to have a TV that was decades old as the CRT technology was fundamentally unchanged) would be more prone to malfunctions. So if anyone in your childhood was giving a TV a good solid whack trying to get the picture to align properly or some such thing, it likely wasn’t a brand new Sony Trinitron set getting a thunk but a much older model.

Did Hitting Your TV Actually Work?

So did it actually fix the TV to give it a smack? In many cases, yes it was actually an effective way to get a malfunctioning TV to work without a trip to the repair shop. I’ve seen it work and have done it myself numerous times. Now, evidence is not the plural of anecdote, but there are several plausible reasons why percussive maintenance worked on some older TVs and many other older appliances, which we’ll get to in a moment.

It shouldn’t be controversial that hitting your TV could fix it, but that’s not the same thing as saying it was a reliable way to fix things. It works sometimes, depending on why the TV was misbehaving, and in most cases it was only a temporary fix until you could get a technician to replace worn-out parts inside the set.

In fact, that’s likely why if you’re of a certain age you have a memory of a particular set getting the ol’ “percussive maintenance” frequently. Whether it was in your own home or that of a friend or relative, the set that got smacked now and then to be “repaired” likely needed to be professionally repaired or replaced—but instead just got a solid thunk every now and then instead.

Why Did It Work?

Think about what giving a TV a good shake or whack actually does to anything inside. Parts that are seated in slots, such as tubes or daughterboards, might be reset properly back into their correct positions. You might even get rid of some corrosion that builds up between component contacts. CRT TVs had a lot of power flowing through them and generated significant amounts of heat.

The expansion and contraction of components made of various materials can cause mechanical movement enough to create intermittent connections. It wasn’t unusual to hear the case of the television actually cracking and groaning quietly as the heat of the TV operating expanded the joints (or when they contracted after the TV had been off for long enough). A shake or bump could provide enough movement to touch loose connections back together, reseat things, or otherwise get the TV to behave for a while.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the further we go back in TV history, the more mechanical and electromechanical components you’ll find inside them. Think of things like channel selector switches and various potentiometers to control things like volume or tuning. As technology improved, CRT TVs became increasingly integrated, made more use of integrated circuits, and became a much more solid state.

So, the last cutting-edge CRTs probably would not have benefited from a smack upside the head as you’d be more likely to damage something than not. But that same level of force applied to an older set might be just enough to realign things.

Alas, Percussive Maintenance Isn’t Useful Today

While you’re probably not tempted to hit a modern TV that’s giving you some trouble as the extremely thin nature of modern sets makes them appear as fragile as they are, there are still other appliances that might seem like they’d work better after a little knock or two. But really there’s never any real reason to emulate Fonzi’s Magic Touch on your equipment. Instead, get someone who knows what they’re doing to diagnose the real cause of the issue and fix or replace what’s wrong.

A solid smack might, in rare cases with modern equipment, yield a positive outcome but it’s likely temporary and the delicate nature of our gadgets and gizmos today means percussive maintenance just doesn’t have the same appeal.

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By John P.

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