Two weeks after he graduated from Camden High School, Ronnie Bradley received a telephone call from Harvey Hall, owner and founder of Hall TV in Camden, offering Bradley a job. Bradley, who had studied auto mechanics and woodworking in high school, told Hall he appreciated the offer but knew nothing about televisions.
“We lived out in the country and didn’t even have a TV,” Bradley said. “Mr. Hall told me that he knew I would show up and work, and that he would teach me what I needed to know.”
That was 1967. Aside from a two and a half year hitch in the U.S. Navy, Bradley has been at Hall TV ever since, eventually buying out Hall and two other partners. Bradley’s wife, Betty Ann, came into the business and together they have run the business for many years, he said.
But after some 48 years, Bradley has decided it is time to retire; Hall TV, a fixture of the Camden business community for more than 50 years, will close Dec. 31.
Bradley said he is sad to be closing the business but, at age 68, has decided it’s time to move on to the next phase of his life. He said he explored a number of options before making the decision, approaching other businesses in the general area as well as trying to find someone from within the organization who might want to take over.
“What bothers me the most is that I won’t be here helping people like we’ve been doing,” he said. “That’s what I’ll miss the most. Our customers over the years have challenged us to come up with solutions they needed and wanted and we were able to do that for them. I’ll miss that.”
Bradley said his approach to business was instilled in him early by Hall.
“He was the best teacher,” Bradley said. “He always said to step into the shoes standing on one side of the counter, then go around to the other side of the counter and step into the shoes standing there, then try to come to a mutually beneficial situation. If you can’t do that, then don’t do business. Treat every person the way you want them to treat you. We’ve worked very hard to do just that.”
In short, the driving philosophy has always been to provide a quality product and superior customer service, he said.
Hall TV always sold quality products, Bradley said. When RCA was the top-rated television in America, Hall TV became an RCA dealer. When RCA shifted its focus to lower-tier products, Bradley, after approaching and discussing the situation with RCA, became a Sony dealer. He said he also saw the threat of big box retailers early and joined a wholesale buying group which allowed him to remain competitive.
Bradley said he always tried to stay ahead of the technology curve as well, having seen many changes and milestones over the years, both in the products and the service. When he started working with Hall in 1967, most of the televisions they sold were black and white -- not only was color television much more expensive, but owners needed a large separate antenna to receive color broadcast whereas a black and white TV could receive signal with its on board “rabbit ears.” By the 1970s, transistors and solid state technology had come in; one didn’t have to allow vacuum tubes to warm up before the TV would work.
As technology improved, so did affordability, Bradley said. Not only did such improvements as large flat screens become the norm, but with the advent of cable and satellite television, the service became accessible virtually anywhere.
“The first year Sony made LCD, the minimum price for a 42-inch screen was $9,900. Now you can buy a 48-inch screen for $499,” he noted. “It’s funny -- in 1955 a color TV was $700 and so was a new Ford car. If the automotive industry had done the same things the television industry had done, a new car would probably cost $50 and get 500 miles to the gallon.”
Bradley also saw the rise of high definition and foresaw its popularity. Hall TV was the first dealer in South Carolina to buy an HDTV from RCA, he said. Bradley said he even called the program director at a local television station and asked when the station was going to start broadcasting in high definition. The program director replied they probably never would and saw HD as yet another passing fad which would go the way of Beta Max video tape and others.
Not only has Bradley built a solid reputation locally, he is respected in the industry nationally. He was one of five dealers in the U.S. asked to work on a committee of dealers for Direct TV. He also designed a configuration to set up in-home picture-to-picture television service that so simplified the customer’s user experience the design is still used by several large companies, including RCA.
Bradley said he never thought he would make this his career, but has greatly enjoyed it.
“I told my Sunday school class a couple of years back, that I have the best job in the world,” he said. “I get to help people, I make a good living helping people -- and I get to play with all these great toys I otherwise couldn’t afford to take home with me. Truly, though, it’s been a blessing from the good Lord, and I owe any and all success to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the people of this community.”