Mid-Atlantic Gadget 'geeks' Pursue Passion For Antique Radios (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Mid-Atlantic Gadget 'Geeks' Pursue Passion for Antique Radios

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and granted, it was just a few short weeks ago that we leapt forward into a brand new year, but for the next hour we're going to do something completely different and leap back. Yes, we're going to press rewind button and whiz back to the Washington region of yore with a show we're calling "Throwbacks".

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:39
We'll peddle produce with vendors on horse-drawn carriages.

LAW LAW

00:00:42
We knocks on the door, we bring them to the door. We bring the groceries to you.

SHEIR

00:00:45
And we'll visit some old furry friends tucked away in a Smithsonian basement.

MR. DWIGHT BOWERS

00:00:49
These were rather hastily made for this television show in the '50s. And they obviously were creating them for the moment. That they have lived beyond the moment is rather remarkable.

SHEIR

00:00:59
Plus, we'll take one last spin around the dance floor of an old-time polka hall. And we'll dig into the history of one of D.C.'s more contentious landmarks.

MS. EMILY EIG

00:01:06
For many years nothing was happening here. Nobody was walking in here unless people were trespassing. And it seemed very mysterious.

SHEIR

00:01:25
But our first story today is about some men and a smattering of women after our own hearts. It probably goes without saying that we here at "Metro Connection," tend to majorly geek-out when it comes to…

MR. GEOFF SCHEARER

00:01:36
I've got crystal radios. I've got Atwater Kent breadboards from the '20s.

SHEIR

00:01:40
…radio.

SCHEARER

00:01:41
I've got the whole gamut, all the way up through the Zenith Transoceanic radios.

SHEIR

00:01:44
And for us it's all about making radio and listening to radio. But for the 800 or so members of the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club, or MAARC -- including Virginia resident Geoff Shearer here -- it's all about fixing, cleaning, restoring, and collecting.

SHEIR

00:01:59
So you're a bit of a collector.

SCHEARER

00:02:01
Oh, yes. My collection, I think, is small by comparison. I've got about 200.

SHEIR

00:02:06
You hear that? For these folks a collection of 200 radios -- and in Geoff's case we're talking pristine, high-end, vintage radios -- is considered small.

MR. BRIAN BELANGER

00:02:15
Well, there are people who have huge numbers of radios. In fact, one of our members who died a few years ago, his house was filled with radios, and I mean filled.

SHEIR

00:02:24
Maryland resident Brian Belanger has been with the club since its founding in 1984.

BELANGER

00:02:28
In fact, he had one bedroom where the radios were stacked floor to ceiling, completely filling the room. In many parts of the home the radios were stacked up so high you had a little narrow corridor to walk from one room to the next. It was really a serious problem.

MR. STEVE HANSMAN

00:02:42
I think we had to say he had a little bit of a hoarding problem.

SHEIR

00:02:48
That other fellow is former MAARC vice president Steve Hansman. We're in Centreville, Va., in the parking lot of the Sully Station Community Center, where the club is about to hold its monthly meeting. But before we move on, just to be clear, that kind of hoarding Steven and Brian mentioned, it isn't exactly common among club members. What is common, says Steve, is a shared appreciation for what he calls the old things.

HANSMAN

00:03:12
We like to tinker with the old things where you can see the different components and see where the wires hook up. And, you know, they're much easier to work on than modern sets. And more satisfying.

SHEIR

00:03:20
Not only that, says Geoff Shearer, but they're often more or less works of art. Like the stately old cathedral radios, introduced in 1932. Or the gleaming mirrored radios, built between 1935 and 1937. Geoff, by the way, has about 15.

SCHEARER

00:03:35
I have radios in green, have them in blue, have them in like a silver color, and also in a peach color.

SHEIR

00:03:40
But not only do these things look good, they sound good, too -- especially the old analogs.

SCHEARER

00:03:45
I mean, the little Bose speakers, they're good, you know. But when it comes down to it, I talked to the Bose people and I said "Oh, how do you adjust the tone, you know, if you want a little more bass?" And they're like, "You don't."

SHEIR

00:03:57
One of the things that's so amazing about the guys in the club is they'll collect these vintage radios, many of which don't even work, but after some tinkering, they'll get them to sound like new again. And when I say guys, I do mean guys. Here's Brian Belanger, again.

BELANGER

00:04:11
You'll notice this tends to be a male-dominated hobby. We have about 800 members in our club and I think we only have two females, as I recall. So if you'd like to join, why you can help our percentage here. Give us some diversity. It also tends to be dominated by senior citizens. You'll notice a lot of gray hair here today.

MR. ERIC STENBERG

00:04:29
I think a lot of the people were in the industry back in their day when they were working. They were working in electronics and a lot of the interest comes out of that. And the industry tends to be kind of male-dominated. Not that there aren't women doing it, but I think that kind of follows.

SHEIR

00:04:42
Current MAARC president Eric Stenberg does have a point. Geoff Shearer, for instance, fell in love with broadcast electronics while working at the Federal Aviation Administration. Steve Hansman got hooked because his dad worked with electronics. But Eric says his reason for joining MAARC was different.

STENBERG

00:04:57
I kind of found it, it looked like it was a fun thing to fix these things up.

SHEIR

00:05:00
And once he fixes them up, he'll often sell them, as he is today. Before each of meeting, MAARC holds an outdoor flea market. And Eric's table is covered with wooden radios.

STENBERG

00:05:09
That's kind of my niche. You'll find most of these collectors have a niche. You know, either a particular era or a particular type of radio. It could be plastic radios or the small transistor radios from the 60s. That's a popular type of thing.

SHEIR

00:05:22
Price-wise, the items at the flea market pretty much run the gamut. Today, outside the Sully Station Community Center, Geoff Shearer is asking $500 for a pumpkin-colored pre-World War II FADA Catalin radio, and $2,000 for a hand-painted 1933 Mickey Mouse radio. But inside the community center…

BELANGER

00:05:41
Ladies and gentleman, we're about to start the auction.

SHEIR

00:05:43
…a few more bargains are to be had at MAARC's monthly auction.

BELANGER

00:05:48
Okay, let's get this auction underway, folks. The first item here is number 14-4. A box lot of four ivory-colored radios. A couple of which are not bad. Let's start that at $10 for the box. Do I hear $10 bid somewhere, 10 bucks? Who wants it for 10 bucks? Starting at $5…

SHEIR

00:06:02
In addition to being a founding member of the club, Brian Belanger is also one heck of an auctioneer.

BELANGER

00:06:07
All right. Here's another box lot. This is item 14-3. Look, you're getting a nice Bendix. I think that's a Model -- what is it -- 626 or something like that? And let's start this at five bucks for the whole box. We've got five. Do I hear 10 on the whole box? Ten, ten, ten? Who would like it for ten? Ten we've got. Twelve? Twelve we've got. Fourteen? Sixteen? Sixteen, sixteen, anybody sixteen? Sold. $14 goes to number 38. Thank you, Nicholas.

SHEIR

00:06:32
Okay. So remember what Brian was saying about the preponderance of gray hair among MAARC members? Nicholas, as in Nicholas Saunders, is an exception to that rule. I caught up with Nick outside the community center just before the auction began.

SHEIR

00:06:44
I guess you're the youngest member of the club.

MR. NICHOLAS SAUNDERS

00:06:46
I think so, yeah.

SHEIR

00:06:47
How old are you?

SAUNDERS

00:06:48
I'm 16.

SHEIR

00:06:50
What do your friends think of your hobby?

SAUNDERS

00:06:52
Some of them just think that I should wait until I'm 70 to be interested, but whatever.

SHEIR

00:06:59
Nick, who, incidentally, is a huge fan of "The Big Broadcast" on WAMU…

SAUNDERS

00:07:02
I love Dragnet. And also Johnny Dollar.

SHEIR

00:07:05
…joined MAARC a couple of years ago, after his parents took him on a little trip from their home in Arlington, Va., Bowie, Md. There, they visited the National Capital Radio and Television Museum, which MAARC members started in the 1990s.

SAUNDERS

00:07:18
We had a really good time there. And I decided to try the club out. And I don't think I've missed a meeting in the whole two years.

SHEIR

00:07:28
Now, Nick's radio collecting and restoring has become more than just a hobby. It's kind of a cash cow.

SHEIR

00:07:33
So what do you do with the money after you sell these things?

SAUNDERS

00:07:36
I have actually been saving towards a car. I kind of do this rather than a job after school.

SHEIR

00:07:42
His two main sources of income are MAARC auctions, and eBay. And veteran collector Geoff Shearer says while some collectors find eBay controversial, he wholeheartedly approves.

SCHEARER

00:07:53
You know, you can get really good deals in these auctions, much better than you'll find on eBay. So you buy it here and sell it on eBay.

SHEIR

00:07:59
But the thing to remember, he says, is however you do your buying and selling, do not end up like that guy who died with mountains of old radios cluttering up his house.

SCHEARER

00:08:08
Don't hoard this stuff. If I have two of one item, I'm going to get rid of one, so somebody else can enjoy it. Because there's other people out there looking for it. You need to share it.

SHEIR

00:08:20
And to all of you listening on your radios, if you want to do some sharing of your own, on January 19th, the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club is holding its very first indoor Radio WinterFest. MAARC is partnering with the National Electronics Museum, at the museum, right near BWI Airport, for a flea market and auction. We have more details on our website, metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.