Collectors get geeked for antique radio road show

By: Terry Oparka | Farmington Press | Published January 16, 2013

 Michigan Antique Radio Club President John Reinicke works on and repairs vintage radios in his basement workshop in Bloomfield Township.

Michigan Antique Radio Club President John Reinicke works on and repairs vintage radios in his basement workshop in Bloomfield Township.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Got an old radio in your basement or closet you don’t know what to do with, or want more old radios to add to your collection?

The Michigan Antique Radio Club will sponsor the Vintage Electronics Expo and sale, open to the public, Jan. 19 at the Costick Center in Farmington Hills. Those who attend can get free appraisals of their collectible electronics, hook up with repair and restoring experts, and bid on items for sale in a silent auction.

The MARC, which started in 1985, has about 700 members and holds four events around the state each year.

MARC President John Reinicke said that, in recent years, in addition to radios, the club has seen that more people have started to collect audio equipment, such as tube-style amps, stereo receivers, and handheld games and computers.

“It’s fun to see what comes in,” he said. Reinicke, 68, described himself as an eclectic collector with a couple of hundred items. The Bloomfield Township resident said he’s been collecting radios and other electronics since he was a kid.  He’s most interested in collecting items that are technically interesting — prototypes, test lab equipment and one-of-a-kind electronics — rather than things that are aesthetically pleasing.

He’s a retired electrical engineer and worked in robotics for the last 20 years of his career.

“These days, radios aren’t so magic with the invention of cellphones,” he said. “In the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, radios were magic. Ham operators talk point-to-point all over the world.” Ham, or amateur radio operators, transmit through the Amateur Radio Service set up by the Federal Communications Commission as a person-to-person means of communication and are not allowed to broadcast one way. 

Reinicke pointed out that cellphone parts use a heterodyne circuit that was first used in a radio in 1918.

Items on display at past shows have run the gamut from advertising pieces for radios, to an all-pink radio collection to raise awareness of breast cancer, to a rare Disney Snow White radio made of papier-mache in 1938 that originally sold for $9.95.

“The Michigan crew tends to be more interested in radios from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s,” Reinicke explained. “We collect for aesthetics and we collect for history,” he said.

Many vintage electronics are affordable, and many club members scour garage sales and flea markets for valuable finds. People who had no idea of the value of items, such as a Catalin red-and-white radio, have brought items into the MARC events.

That radio sold at the silent auction at last year’s Farmington show for $1,400.

“She didn’t have a clue,” Reinicke said. “It was sitting in a closet. She didn’t want it.”

At the summer show in Lansing, an old Sparton Nocturne radio that had deteriorated in a barn sold at the live auction during that event for $34,000.

“Had it not been in a barn (deteriorating), it could have sold for $70,000 to $80,000,” Reinicke said. “Most things are not likely to be one of these. That’s what makes it such a good hobby. You can get a nice collection without spending a fortune.”

That said, some club members have brought home more than they expected in their hunt for vintage electronics, such as mice in radios, and in one case, a possum. However, items at the show will be varmint-free, Reinicke said.

MARC member Robert Murrell has been interested in crystal radios since he was a kid growing up in Berkley in the mid ’60s. “We lived in the shadow of the WJR radio station antennae on Greenfield, and you could make almost anything into a crystal radio,” Murrell said.

He explained that crystal radios don’t require any batteries and work with simple components, good antennae that are then grounded, preferably to a cold-water pipe.

“I could pick up several radio stations without a battery,” he said.

In 1985, he dusted off some World War II bomber radio equipment — which an elderly Berkley resident and Ham operator gave him and was gathering dust in his basement — and jumped back into his radio hobby, he said.

Morrell runs the “radio rescue” at the show; people can bring him their old radios and he will appraise them, tell them where they can get them repaired or restored, or help them sell them on the spot, a similar format to the PBS TV show “Antiques Roadshow.”

Morrell does it for free because he said he hates to see people cheated out of the value of valuable antiques.

He said 90 percent of the items at the show are worth about $100, but “sometimes it’s in the thousands. Radios made in the ’50s and ’60s, named mid-century modern, are popular right now.”

Morrell has restored a number of old wooden radios because wood is “more forgiving. Metal and plastic are harder to work with.” He does it mostly for the love of the hobby, rather than to make money, he said. He noted that modern components electrically work the same as the old components. “The newer ones are just a lot smaller. Also, so many vacuum tubes were made, there’s still plenty of stock available. Getting a radio working is not so difficult. It’s the amount of time you have to put into it.”

He said the show is a great place for a beginner to start collecting.   

The show will be held 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Costick Center, 28600 W. 11 Mile, between Middlebelt and Inkster in Farmington Hills. The cost to attend is $5 for adults, free for children younger than 14. For information about the MARC, call (248) 626-4895 or visit