I bought my first "antique radio when I was in high school. My electronics teacher Rick Bilbro K4KAV had brought some back issues of Popular Electronics in for us to read, in the July 1969 issue there was an article called "Whatever happened to Atwater Kent". It didn't mean much at the time, but a few weeks later I went with my mother to a local flea market and there sitting on the tailgate of a pickup just inside the gate was a radio I recognized from the article. It was an Atwater Kent model 20. I remember the dealer had it priced at $15, I only had $10 so I asked my mom for $5 so I could buy the radio. She said "I'm not going to give you $5 to buy that old piece of junk, if you want it try to haggle him down to $10". Well, he took the $10 and I was hooked, not only on old radio, but haggling with dealers over their price.
I still have the AK 20 and that original issue of Popular Electronics. They both have a place of honor in Radio Heaven.
As I think with most new collectors, for a while I bought just about every radio I saw. This was 35 years ago and I bought a lot of radios and went a long time before I had to spend more than $10 on one. Most of the sets I bought early on are now long gone. I think I only have two from the really early days of my hobby. One of the things that held back the growth of my radio collecting hobby is that I had been collecting radios for about six years before I ever knew anyone else but collected them.
At that same flea market where I bought my first set there was a dealer the sold old radio shows on cassette tape. I think it in about the summer of '76 I there with my wife and thought that a tape of War of the Worlds would be neat to have to play through my old sets. When I was paying for the tape the dealer asked what my interest in it was. When I told him that I collected old radios he asked me if I knew a collector named Bob Lozier. He told me that if I'd give him my name and address he'd pass it along the next time he saw him. Several months went by and one day I got this long formal letter of introduction from Mr. Lozier. It turns out that even though he lives nearly thirty miles away in a neighboring town, he happens to work just a few miles from my home. Robert, (I was to learn he preferred to be called) introduced me to the Antique Wireless Association and told me about an event in Winston-Salem NC that I should think about attending. He also gave me name of another young collector that was my same age, 24, his name is Brian Harrison. Brian and his wife Cathy and me and my wife Belinda were to became close friends over the coming years. We attended our first antique radio meet in Winston-Salem in 1978, and in 1979 our little group hosted our first AWA meet in Charlotte, NC. That event has grown over the years and so has our little group which is now an official chapter of the AWA.
Lew Elias, W4DBT who started hosting the AWA meets in Winston-Salem has long since given it up, and the event that for several years bounced around the southeast has settled down and now has a permanent home in Charlotte.
My collection has also grown over the past 35 or so years.
For a long time it was my dream to have one of every model of radio Atwater Kent made. I haven't managed to get them all, yet. But I do have examples of most of the battery era AKs and good number of the later AC sets. AKs being high quality radios were fairly expensive and it is very rare to find one in the south since this was such a poor area before WW2. Just as an example, the county where Charlotte, the largest city in the state is located, according to a survey by the local newspaper in 1924 there were only 400 radio in the entire county. There were only three radio station in the entire state. So finding a 1920's era radio that was bought in the Charlotte are in the 20's is very rare. I have two in collection that I know came from Charlotte because they have tags in the lids showing they were bought at a radio store called T.R. Banks on East Trade Street in Charlotte. Compare that 400 radios in 1924 to the fact that there are more than 400 radios in my collection now.
For a long time I really wasn't interested in any radio made after 1930. And except for the transistor radios and some of my vintage amateur radio gear most of my collection is still mainly 20's era battery sets. I never really intended to collect transistor radios, my friend Robert was the first "collector" I knew to buy a transistor radio. This was in 1978 and some of us couldn't understand why in the world he wanted that junk. For a number of years my Saturdays were taken up with yard sales and local junk flea markets where I found a few radios I was interested in, but mostly I found transistor radios, both pocket sets and novelties. Most of them could be had for a dollar or less, so I started buying them and trading them to Robert for things I wanted. One thing I got in trade for a bag full of "junk" transistor radios was an original leather bound Atwater Kent service manual. Now that was a good trade, I was hooked.
Not only did buying the transistor radios give me trading material, it also fed the fever so to speak. You know collecting is an addiction, almost like being a junkie. If you spent a day out combing the flea markets and didn't find anything to buy, you'd come home all down and out. But, even if it was a couple of transistor radios that you really didn't intend to keep, it still "fed the fever".
Well it didn't take long for my friend to run out of trading material. The next thing I knew I had 50 transistor radios, then there was a hundred, then there was two hundred
One of the things I try to get across to people when they start asking about my collection is that you don't have to be rich to have a nice radio collection. You just need to be patient, do a lot of looking, and have some good old fashion luck.
In 35+ years of collecting the most I've ever spent for a single radio for the collection is $500, and I don't even have it anymore. I sold it to a Italian collector that's a friend of mine.
One of the things that makes a radio really interesting to me is if there's a story to go with it, either where came from or who owned it, or especially if there's a good story about how I got it. A good portion of the radios in my collection have stories to go with them. I hope that putting the information together for the article will push me to continue to write the stories down.
In the radio collecting hobby there are several schools of thought or philosophies. There are collectors that wouldn't have a radio that didn't shine like a new penny with a slick refinished cabinet and completely rebuilt chassis. Then there are some that wouldn't have a radio that didn't play. Then there are guys like me that want a radio to be as original as possible. In 35 years of collecting I have never refinished or recapped a radio and under normal circumstances I don't even want a radio that's been refinished. There are a couple of exceptions in my collection where the set was rare and I wasn't likely to fine one in presentable original condition.
An example would be my Radiola AA1300/AR1400, the original finish on the two cabinets is OD green and about half of the paint on the 1300 is flaking off, most folks think it's a military radio when they first see it. And actually it was, in 1920 when broadcasting was just getting, RCA was a marketing agent for GE, Westinghouse and Wireless Specialty. Westinghouse had just introduced their first receiver for home use, the RA/DA beating GE to the punch. GE wanted to get something on the market fast so they took the AA1300/AR1400 that was being sold to commercial and military users and put it out for consumers.
Most of the AA1300/AR1400's you see have a solid brass cabinet that is painted OD green, but the cabinet on mine is made out of sheet zinc, also the main tuning coil that's inside the 1300 has been soldered in place instead of just being held in by the spring clips as they are normally. I'm fairly sure that my 1300/1400 is a pre-broadcast version of the set, which makes it far rarer. Will I ever fix the flaking paint, no way. The zinc cabinet is what makes it rare and if it was repainted then it would be just another green 1300/1400 pair. Originality to me is the most important thing. I've learned to carefully clean and preserve an original finish on wood cabinet radios. And I just don't buy radios that need major cabinet works. I'd rather bide my time and look for a set with a decent presentable original finish. My AK model 447 is a good example of a set that most folks would think needed to be refinished. When I bought it was almost solid black, it had apparently been stored is a basement with a coal bin for many years. When I got it home and started looking at the cabinet I had an idea. I went into the kitchen and from under the sink I got the cab of Go-Jo cream hand cleaner/degreaser. I figured that since it didn't hurt my hands, why should it hurt wood. I also found a pack of 0000 steel wool and a roll of paper towels. Since my wife was still at work, I set the radio on the dining room table, took out a piece of the fine steel wool, dipped it in the Go-Jo and started gently rubbing on the top of the AK's cabinet. WOW, the black crude just melted away. In less than an hour I had a beautifully clean AK 447 with a nearly prefect original finish. A couple good coats of paste wax and now more than 25 years after it still looks just as nice and is a prized piece of my collection that I call "Radio Heaven".
The name "Radio Heaven" came from a good friend Gerald Cromer who along with his wife Betty were the first visitors to the newly completed display room at the first open house on Friday evening of the 1990 AWA meet. A group of friends, my wife, and my parents had been working our buts off for tem weekends in a row to get the display room finished in time for the AWA meet. When Gerald and Betty walked in he looked around the room and said "WOW, this must be Radio Heaven". And so the name stuck.
When I first got involved with the AWA I soon found out that I was one of very few collectors at the time that weren't ham radio operators. Most collectors back in the 70's were old hams.
I had never gotten my ham ticket, even thought my high school electronics teacher really tried to get me to. My wife and I had even taken a novice class back in 1975, but just as we were about to take the test, I got a new job and ended up working out of town 5 days a week, and the ham radio thing just slipped by the side.
It wasn't until 1990 when the FCC approved the new No Code license that I decided that there really wasn't any reason not to go ahead get it. Having my ham ticket lead me to my latest area of collecting interest, early amateur gear. One thing that got me interested in early amateur gear is that I found that most hams, especially new and younger hams had no idea what came before their pocket size HTs. The concept of having to have a desk full of radio equipment with tubes and wires was totally foreign to them. So I started trying to collect vintage ham gear that would represent amateur radio through the decades. So far I've got enough stuff to show a early 20's station with a spark transmitter, a 1930's station with a 2 tube transmitter built from and article in a 1929 issue of QST with a 3 tube receiver with plug in coils. I have a mid 30's station with a first generation National HRO receiver and a transmitter that was built by Clough-Brengle in 1934 to be used by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I also have enough gear to set a 1950's station with a Globe transmitter, any of several National or Hammarlund receivers, and late 50's Gonset 2 & 6 meter rigs.
Over the years our local group has done many displays of antique radios at various hamfests, local events and also in local museums. I currently have radios displayed at the Discovery Place Science Museum and the Levine Museum of the New South, both in Charlotte, NC.
As you can see from the photos, my display room is full. I don't do much buying anymore since there's almost no where to put anything else. Most of my collecting effort now days is vintage tubes and paper related to early radio. I'm always on the look out for early home brewed amateur gear.