Advice to "Newbies"
BY JIM MENNING
Internet newsgroups are often a valuable resource for newcomers such as Jason Pramas, who recently posted the following notice on the newsgroup rec.radio+phonos:
"My wife and I were two of the "newbies" at the recent [New England] show, and we enjoyed ourselves, although it's a bit bewildering to people like us not in-the-know... So, we thought it might be nice to have an intro seminar or two at shows for people new to antique radio collecting/restoration. Perhaps it would help sales if more people had more of a clue. Just a thought."
Jim Menning, an experienced collector, decided not to wait for a club to offer such a seminar, but responded via the newsgroup to Jason's suggestion. With Jim's permission, we are reprinting his words of wisdom, which should prove valuable to others just beginning to collect.
In addition to Jim's suggestions of useful resources, we, of course, suggest "Antique Radio Classified." (Editor)
Welcome to the hobby, Jason, (and your wife, too!). Many of the larger shows (two- and three-day meets) offer seminars on different levels of radio repair, different collecting interests, and even general question and answer forums. It is a good idea to offer a "basic" course for the new collectors and general public, but because most of the event participants are "regulars," an "introduction to the hobby" lecture would have relatively low attendance. Therefore, you would have to watch to make sure that you attend a show that has that particular type of program listed in its schedule. These live demonstrations are a very good resource, and I agree that they are very helpful to the newcomers to the hobby.
There are other forums to learn from. A newsgroup like this one, for example, helps beginners through experts. Many times no one here knows the correct answer to all of the questions, but the group is pretty resourceful at finding where to look to get an acceptable answer to most queries. You can ask almost any type of question here and get many different responses depending on the experience and the mood of the participants responding. This is a lively group of characters, both good and bad, both selfish and philanthropic, but always entertaining.
Books are of great benefit. You mention that you have already found one to study from. Many of the better books on fixing up old time radios are out of print, but can be found through sources such as www.abebooks.com and Ebay. Some are tailored to the absolute beginner, and some are for far advanced restorers. I'd recommend starting with books low in theory and high in procedure. Too much theory can not only be confusing, but can lead to the feeling that the repair is above one's abilities.
Reading three or four of the basic repair books will show you that there is a lot of overlap in the recommended procedures for starting to repair a radio from the first moment it is acquired. Such basic things as what to look for before you ever plug it in can save a lot of money and effort in the long run. In each book you will learn some of the "secrets" or tips and hints that the authors have learned from their experiences and will share with the readers.
Many of the books discuss the same topics, but you will notice that some explain things better than others. You may find one book that explains something like detector stages in an easy to understand format, and another book will leave you totally confused. But the next book may discuss a different topic better than the first one did. Therefore, I would recommend having at least three or four basic books to glean understanding from. Just ask the group for suggested titles and authors. Some (not heavy in theory) that I would recommend are:
Fixing Up Nice Old Radios by Ed Romney; Antique Radio Restoration Guide (2nd edition) by David Johnson; Old Time Radios! Restoration & Repair by Joseph J. Carr. [These three are in print and available from A.R.C.] How To Repair Old-Time Radios by Clayton L. Hallmark; Rapid Radio Repair by G. Warren Heath; Radio Troubleshooting Guide by John F. Rider & J. Richard Johnson. [These may be found in secondhand bookstores or on eBay.]
The internet has many sites for the radio restorer and collector. Sites such as the very comprehensive one set up by this group's own Phil Nelson are a great resource for beginners to servicing, and radio/TV collectors as a whole. http://antiqueradio.org/. [We also suggest www.antiqueradio.com, A.R.C.'s web site.] As you travel from website to website, always check out the links provided. It is by following those links that will put you on the path to discovery of amazing radio-related things most could never imagine. You can find more in one weekend on the internet than you could in years of travel and searching bookstores, libraries, and radio events. The internet is not a substitute to a real life radio experience, but it is a great resource for gaining knowledge about the hobby.
Videos can also assist in learning some basic repair information. Both Bret Menassa and Ron Mansfield have put out interesting videos on restoring radios. Bret has done one on antique radio restoration, and Ron's is about servicing older transistor type radios. Bret took a 1936 Philco radio from flea market to restoration, sharing along the way the steps he took to return the set to good operating condition. Ron takes transistor radios, and with the help of Eric Wrobble, shows how to clean and repair them. There are also a lot of good pointers in this video to help you understand some of the cosmetic issues with the transistor radios, and what can and can't be fixed. Good information before spending big bucks on some of the rarer models.
Both videos are listed at the bottom of this link: http://www.antiquesupply.com/index.shtml. Now I wouldn't say that I agree with everything shown in these videos, but that is because I have developed my own techniques from my own experiences. Also, some of the references to other materials that Bret makes mention of are common knowledge to those who have been in this hobby for a while, but might need further explanation for a beginner. He briefly mentions some of the work that he had to do to the Philco off-camera, that a newcomer might not be familiar with.
In answer to your question of how to begin -- first, remember not to use a price guide to determine the value of a radio. These books are often good references for identifying radios, but the prices can be ridiculously high or low.
These books often give a false impression of what radios may be worth. I've brought clean, working radios to large swap meets that have price guide values over $400. But many came back home with me, even though priced as low as $60.
On the other hand, I have a nice Philco 37-690 console that "books" for only $500 that I gladly paid $1,250 for. I wanted the set, and it was in great condition. I've since turned down three offers in the $1,600-2,000 range for this set. These examples are only given to show the relative value of the price guides. Don't trust them!
One thing you will soon learn if you study the books, videos, and other information available -- there is no one right way to approach repair and restoration. But the more you study, the more you'll learn of what to avoid in the way of purchases, and repair blunders. You'll eventually develop your own procedure, adapting different techniques depending on the particular radio or problem you are trying to fix.
Some very tempting radios are out there, at very reasonable prices. But some can be nearly impossible to restore or get replacement parts for, especially some of the cosmetic and mechanical pieces. Certain dials, grille cloths, and cast parts will be impossible to find or remanufacture. Only experience will give you the knowledge of what you can handle, and what you must learn to avoid.
To start to learn to repair tube-type radios, study the resources listed above, and purchase the cheapest radios you can find locally -- $5 rummage sale radios are great to learn on. If you screw up, you haven't invested much. And you need to start with these to learn the basics of soldering, identifying and replacing parts, and trouble shooting/aligning. Start small, and advance at your own pace. Any time you have a question along the way, feel welcome to come back to us.
(Jim Menning, 3080 E. Wisconsin Ave., Appleton, WI 54911-4123)