Don Langner’s interest in electricity began when he was a teenager growing up on a farm in Outagamie County.
“I was probably 15. I took a correspondence course,” he said. “They sent me books, some equipment. That was the beginning.”
After he graduated from New London High School, Langner had one semester of training in basic electricity at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Then, knowing he was going to be drafted, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
“I got most of my education in electronics in the service,” he said.
Langner served in the Air Force for four years and then returned to the Dale area.
During his time in the Air Force, he dreamed about someday having his own business.
“One of my friends in New London knew of a shop in Weyauwega,” Langner said.
It was the Charm Gift Shop, and Howard Goetsch was the owner.
“They had gifts, a hair salon, a jewelry shop,” Langner said.
Langner went to Weyauwega, and Goetsch offered him space in the basement of his downtown building.
In addition to selling gifts and jewelry, Goetsch sold televisions.
“Part of the deal is I would take care of his warranty repairs,” Langner said.
That was in October of 1954. Sixty years later, Langner is still doing some repairs.
“I just kept doing what I was doing all those years. I really never retired,” he said.
While the 84 year old discontinued his business last spring, he still receives phone calls from time to time.
“My name is in the Yellow Pages yet,” he said.
He offers advice about putting up antennas and continues to get record players for repair, “because some people who have old records want to play them,” Langner said.
The last few months, Langner has not had much work, saying most of what he does today are side jobs for friends.
It was Truman Harrigan, who owned Harrigan Furniture and Funeral Home, in Weyauwega.
“He sold TV sets, too, and wanted me to do his service,” Langner said.
Langner was already doing such work for Goetsch.
“Both stores sold TV sets, and they were competitive,” Langner said. “I had to move out of the Charm Gift Shop.”
Langner moved his business into his home and worked out it for several years.
In the late 1950s, he bought Maggie’s Cafe at 200 E. Main St. and moved his business there.
“That is when I started selling black and white TV sets and radios,” Langner said.
At Don’s Radio & TV, people also bought large stereos and record players.
“They had really nice sound. There’s a few people who use them yet,” he said.
When Langner started his business in 1954, Green Bay’s Channel 2 had been on the air for about a year.
“It was really new,” he said.
In 1961, Langner sold his first color TV set in Weyauwega.
It was to the late Dr. Lloyd Maasch.
At that time, there were two programs in color
Red Skelton for half an hour on Tuesday night and Arthur Godfrey for an hour on Wednesday night, Langner said.
“That’s all the color there was,” Langner said.
Over the course of the past 60 years, he saw numerous changes in the industry.
When he started servicing TV sets, he changed tubes.
“When we were back fixing sets with tubes in them, the average set had a service call three times a year,” Langner said. “I had sets where I’d go every month. Service calls were a dollar and a half to $2.”
He also remembers people taking their television tubes to drug stores to have them tested.
“In 1960, it went from tubes to solid state parts,” he said.
As televisions evolved, factories offered training.
About 20 years ago, Langner changed the name of his business to Don’s TV & Electronics, when radio was no longer a big part of his business.
He said the radio repair side of his business was a good one when every household had several radios.
That eventually changed.
He also remembers the days of 19-inch television screens and said when the large flat screens appeared in the market about 10 years ago, he initially did not like them.
“I tried to talk people out of it,” he said.
Langner attributes that feeling to his age.
“As we get older, we just hate to see changes,” he said.
Langner grew to like the big flat screens, saying they have bigger pictures and are fun to service, too.
“People wanted bigger, bigger and bigger,” he said.
Companies did not offer additional training about the flat screens.
Instead, Langner turned to the Internet for information about how to service them.
“Without that, I would have been lost,” he said. “That would be the big thing that helped me.”
Today, those working in this area must learn through experience, he said.
“It’s a dying trade. People call me from all over,” Langner said.
His business allowed him to support his family, which he said would not be possible today.
When someone learns it will cost $100 to repair a television, that person often decides to just purchase a new one, he said.
“It’s sad. People throw everything away, whether it’s washers and dryers or refrigerators,” Langner said.
Most of his technician friends are gone, and 10 years ago, Langner returned to working out of his home.
His wife Judy agreed to let their garage be his shop.
“I”m still tinkering around,” he said. “As long as I can see, I will continue.”
He sees the work as being good for his mind.
“I remember when I was in the Air Force, I was doing TV service on the side,” Langner said. “You never know it all. It’s a challenge. You keep learning all the time. I never got tired of it.”