95 Year-old Local Repairman still on Job and with many Stories to Tell

Ernie Hirsh, 2019 (taken by L. Peskin)

One of Euclid's best kept secrets is electronics repairman Ernie Hirsh, age 95, who works most days a week in his shop in the 500 block of East 185th Street, as he has since 1958.   Ernie is attuned to all things tv and recalls that he saw on Channel 8 that the next total eclipse of the sun viewable in North America will occur on April 8, 2024, Ernie's 100th birthday.  So special will this day be, and so robust Ernie feels at present that he is confident he will be able to view that eclipse. 

Perhaps at one time or another you have met Ernie.  Over the years you may have taken something to be fixed at his shop, Top TV.   Up until 1963 the shop also sold new televisions.   When computers came out, Ernie adapted and began repairing those too.  He wrote some programs, as well.  Ernie at one time repaired Windows-based systems, but at present works on DOS-based ones.   Really Ernie got into repair of most every important technological breakthrough in the appliance world.  He has always fixed microwaves but never got into large appliances such as refrigerators and washers/ dryers.

Not only did Ernie's business establish itself in Euclid in 1958, in the late 1950s the Hirsh family was involved in some fascinating Cleveland early tv trivia.    Ernie's dad Milton, also in the radio/ tv repair trade, was at this time briefly hospitalized.  He brought one of his tvs to the hospital and fashioned a homemade antenna, as hospitals in those times didn't yet enjoy tv reception or have sets.  Ernie recalls the wowed doctors and nurses swarming around the set, which added considerable cheer to the sterile hospital environment. 

Since the 1920s, Milton Hirsh had a dedicated radio repair business on Hough Avenue in Cleveland.  Milton was an electrical engineer, who since 1927, operated the National Radio School at 5200 Euclid Avenue in Midtown Cleveland.   Here in the late 1930s, Cleveland's probable first tv signal was received on a set that Milton himself built using so-called spinning wheel technology.  The screen was two inches square.  This set picked up a television-capable signal of a live singer from nearby radio station WJAY.   Milton on his set provided the picture for this signal.  The lights needed for this experimental tv broadcast were so bright that they made the performer very uncomfortable, Ernie recalls. 

The Great Depression hurt enrollment at the National Radio School and led Milton to establish a radio repair business on Hayden Avenue in East Cleveland, where the family also lived, in a rear apartment.  Such were the tough times of Depression-era Cleveland.   Business was slow at the repair shop too.  Ernie explained how Milton only survived by closing Wednesdays and acting as auctioneer for personal belongings neighbors put up to generate much-needed cash. 

Following in his father's footsteps, Ernie in 9th grade commenced radio repair studies and trade himself.  Then, at age 18, he went into military-industrial work at Westinghouse.  There he built 36 machines that tested the structural soundness of P-38 missiles.  Ernie recalls loading the heavy testers on flatbed trucks.  Quite quickly, he remembers, the P-38 became obsolete, and he helped process the return of the testers he built. 

 In WWII Ernie was an engineer with the US Army.  He first served with the 50th Combat Engineers stationed in various locations in the South Pacific theater.   Around 1944 Ernie switched to the 34th Combat Engineers in the same theater.   Ernie rose to the rank of Tech Sergeant.  That position entailed acting as communications chief.   After the War, Ernie briefly served in Korea, where he witnessed the hardships of the developing world.

After WWII Ernie returned to Ohio and Westinghouse, where he was involved in important work outfitting the Steamship William S. Mather II with a radar positioning system, in 1946, one of the first deployed on the Great Lakes.  The ship was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes at the time, hence its value and need for a stellar navigation system.

Under the GI bill, Ernie like many WWII veterans, was able to attend college free. He enrolled at the top-flight Capitol Radio Engineering Institute in Washington DC, where he earned his degree.  The most exciting part of college was the work that came to the students via a Saturday on-the-job component of their studies.  One client was the Truman White House!  In 1947 Ernie was dispatched to fix the White House tv sets.  Unfortunately, Harry Truman was not home at the time.  Due to remodeling, he and his family were in the Presidential temporary quarters at Blair House.  Thus, without molestation, Ernie was able to put his feet up on Truman's desk and lean back in his chair.   

By 1951 Ernie had opened his own tv repair business, Top TV, at 12732 St. Clair Avenue at East Cleveland.  The building was incidentally owned by KT Salem of the famous Akron company, Salem Potato Chips.   No free snacks were provided, and this landlord raised the rent, prompting Ernie's move to Euclid, he relays.   In 1958 he relocated to 569 E. 185th Street.   In the 1960s his business shifted to the larger storefront next door at 573 East 185th Street, where it has been ever since.

The annals of Top TV hold many funny or touching stories.  A couple concern a WDOK 1260 themed clock from 1951 still in Ernie's shop.  Ernie received the clock because he advertised on the radio station.  After many, many years ticking away, the motor finally went bad in 2015.  Ernie looked up the clock manufacturer and luckily found it still in business with one single motor for his clock in its worldwide remainder stock.  Ernie feels very special to have been able to buy this motor for his cherished clock, itself a Cleveland relic.   Ernie recalls his ad agent, who originally brought the clock, was later forcibly removed from the radio station during the McCarthy Red Scare.   Radio stations, heavily regulated by the federal government, specifically the Federal Communications Commission, were scrutinized for suspect Communist sympathizers.  The government found that the ad agent, Al Narosny, had been a onetime Communist Party member during the Great Depression.

Ernie is a family man, marrying Nancy Haid in 1949.   Nancy waited Ernie's frequent lunch table at Pat's Open Kitchen on St. Clair Avenue.   The couple had two children   including Bob Hirsh who has worked at Top TV in recent years.   In his spare time Ernie has enjoyed his dogs and kids.   Son Bob Hirsh academically excelled at Maple Heights High School.  He then earned a BA in communications from KSU and a BS in electrical engineering from CSU.  Bob pursued a career in automation, which took him to such employers as Rockwell and NASA.   In his spare time, Bob was a serious weight lifter. He was a finalist in the National Collegiate Powerlifting Championship.    In 1979, he finished second in the State of Ohio Powerlifting Championship.   Then Bob competed in the All Around Weight Lifting, where he participated in 150 different lifts.

Ernie's son Ernest H. Hirsh first distinguished himself by playing football at Shaw High School and then in Strongsville, where the family moved, in his senior year.  He graduated from the University of Akron Law School second in his class and became Senior VP at Eagle Picture, a company diversified in heavy industrial products.   So, you see Ernie and his two sons have made business and engineering their life work and have many adventures from the field to share.

Laura Peskin

Laura Peskin is a local historian and author of three books. She is active in local historical societies and contributes to their publications. In the 1990s, she started a collectibles business and later earned an MA at John Carroll University.

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Volume 11, Issue 5, Posted 10:48 AM, 05.05.2019