By Jenn Goeddeke
MICHAEL SHEPPARD, OWNER OF NORTHERN TV & VACUUM in Madison Heights, has been repairing electronics since the tender age of seven. During the World Series of 1968, Sheppard’s father was having problems with his radio, “So I took the back off and saw a loose wire hanging. It seemed an obvious fix, but it got me started, and I have been hooked ever since!”
His strong work ethic, outgoing nature and enthusiasm for repairs has remained strong, and his store continues to thrive. His educational back-ground in applied science and electronics enables him to understand the complex nature of repairs. With seven specialized workstations set up in the store and a highly trained staff, Sheppard ensures that he keeps up with ever-changing technological advances and evolving customer needs.
The store has a vibrant history. It was founded in 1940 by Clay Walker, who worked in the 1930s for Jamison (Jam) Handy, a motion picture company in Detroit. Walker predicted that television was going to be much bigger than radio, which turned out to be accurate. The first Northern TV store was located in Detroit, and a second store opened shortly afterwards in Royal Oak. At the time, bar owners were the main clientele, purchasing TVs for their popular bar room daily broadcasts.
Despite the fact that during World War II all commercial production of television equipment was banned and TV broadcasting was limited, Clay opened a third store in Port Huron. He anticipated the big surge in TV sales post-wartime, which did occur (and is still occurring). Clay eventually bought out his two partners, and kept open only the Royal Oak location. In 1962, the lucrative company was sold to Ray Olson, Joe Boginski and Archie Bartley, and it continued to prosper and grow.
Meanwhile, Sheppard had set up his own service stores at the young age of 24: Sheppard Electronics, with locations in Troy and Warren. Unafraid of hard work, he supplemented his income in the early years with other jobs, including teaching both college and high-school level courses. “I still have the first dollar I ever made!” Sheppard told me with a smile.
In the late ‘80s, Sheppard began repairing camcorders and VCRs at Northern TV. By the early ‘90’s, Olson, Boginski and Bartley were preparing to retire, and on October 1, 1993 Sheppard bought the business. Between ’94 and ’95 he closed his other stores, and gathered everything under one roof. Then in 2012, the store moved to its present location in Madison Heights, starting year number 72 of business.
Northern TV is diverse. The staff can fix almost any electronic device, antique or newer, including any TV, radio, turntable, vacuum cleaner, etc. An impressive ar-ray of accessories are always kept in stock. In addition, other services are available, such as audio and video transfers from older media types (all formats) to modern digital storage. Reel-to-reel conversions are also in big demand, as the tape softens and deteriorates.
One popular service offered is the installation of a Blue-tooth system into vintage stereos or radios, turning it into a sort of soundbar speaker. Sheppard further ex-plained, “Even a cheap, antique model will outperform a regular soundbar!” Customers with some knowledge of electronics can also buy a kit and install it themselves.
Sheppard gives back to the community by staying involved with the Madison Heights DDA board. Additionally he plans on starting a program with schools in Madison Heights using radio kits. He aims to “create a spark and re-establish a connection” in younger age groups, as the skilled trades industry in general is having problems retaining young people.
I asked Sheppard for a most memorable customer moment. He immediately recalled the time where he was visited by Bobby Jr., the son of composer Robert Bateman, who helped write the hit song, “Please Mr. Post-man.” As it happened, the sound engineer who had worked on the hit (Ed Wolfram) was working in the store that day. Then in walked Lee Allen, a legendary broad-caster from the ‘50s and ‘60s, who had been the first DJ to play Bateman’s hit song on air. Naturally, all three had plenty to talk about, and Sheppard described it as a magical moment.
Certainly, Sheppard and his staff have created a business with great ambience and where customer satisfaction is the priority. Many more magical moments will no doubt follow!
Northern TV and Vacuum is located at: 27633 John R Rd in Madison Heights in the Farnum Plaza; 248.545.1800, or check out their website: www.northerntv.net. M-F, 9am-6pm; Sat, 9am-Noon; Sun, Closed.