Farmington Hills— After he retired from his job as an elementary school teacher, Ed Schutz turned his hobby of repairing antique radios into a business. He now produces more than 200 plastic and rubber parts that he sells to collectors and claims to be the only one in the country doing what he does.
“Rubber parts are usually disintegrating on old radios,”said the Shelby Township resident. “You can’t just go to the hardware store to buy them because they are all different sizes.”
Given that most of the radios he supplies parts for are more than half a century old, business is pretty good for a niche market. Although most of the people he deals with are older folks, there are plenty of younger collectors getting into the hobby, he says.
“It’s a real thrill to take a radio that hasn’t worked in 40 or 50 years, go through it to fix the problems and all of a sudden music comes out of it,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Collecting radios is a hobby that has sustained popularity through the years even with the adoption of newer sound technology, said Mark Oppat, who owns Antique Audio radio repair and is a board member of the Michigan Antique Radio Club.
“It’s like a car,” he said. “Those are the only things were you can really combine the style of the era with the technology.”
The Michigan Antique Radio Club boasts 600 members across the country and holds four major electronics expos every year. On Saturday, members of the group met at the Costick Activities Center in Farmington Hills to show off their repaired radios, exchange tips and sell some units.
Hundreds of tube and transistor radios were displayed on tables while others had boxes and boxes of knobs, bulbs and other bits to sell. The collections branched off from radios and included other sound electronics like vintage television sets, Mac computers and some early video gaming systems.
But, without doubt, the radios were what drew the crowds.
“Michigan is great for collecting because we are in the middle of the ‘radio belt,’” said Oppat, of Plymouth. “It runs from Illinois to the East Coast, north of Kentucky.”
In the 1930s and 1940s, the area produced well-known brands like Zenith Radio Corp., in Chicago, Detrola, in Detroit and Philco, in Philadelphia. Massive sales mean there are still a large number of radios to be found in the region, said Oppat.
Detrola was the largest Michigan radio manufacturer, and was in business from 1931 until 1948 with a factory located at the corner of Beard and Chatfield in Southwest Detroit.
“Back then, World War II was starting out and people would gather around the radio because they wanted to know what was going on,” said Oppat.
Nostalgia, history keep people investing in radios
It’s that nostalgia and history that keeps people investing in antique radios today, said Ken Nevins. And he would know about that. He’s created his own private museum in his home with more than 500 radios on display.
“My wife has given up finding space in the basement,” he said.
Nevins, a retired Ford electrician, got his love of radios from a young age when his father was a radio engineer for the Ann Arbor Police Department back in the late 50s. Now, the Blissfield Township resident has his own radio repair business out of his home called Totally Tubular Radios -- named because he focuses on earlier model “tube” radios.
“I started picking up radios whenever I could, figuring I was one of the only fools who cared about them,” he said. “But then I found there was a whole club.”
Now a member of the Michigan Antique Radio Club, Nevins says he understands what keeps people buying the units.
“I think they remember ...listening to ‘The Lone Ranger’ or ‘The Shadow.’ The theater of the mind is so much bigger than a box with a picture on it,’ he said. “They are like little time machines that put you back to that sweet spot, that sweet era.”