When Nipper’s master died, the mixed-breed terrier went home with the dead man’s brother, painter Francis Barraud. Earlier, Barraud made a recording of his sibling on a revolutionary machine that engraved his spoken words onto a cylinder. At some point, Barraud thought it might be consoling to play the dead man’s voice so the bereaved dog could hear it.
Barraud memorialized the pet’s reaction in a painting of a puzzled Nipper peering into the big horn, his head at an angle. The work was purchased by the Gramophone Company, a precursor of RCA Victor, and became the iconic logo for its records.
People are a little more complex. We have great memories of when we heard sounds made somewhere else and transported via a variety of inventions—chiefly various iterations of telephones, radios, and record players or their digital successors. “There are 20 to 30 guys who are serious collectors, and some come in two or three days a week to see what LPs have come into the store,” says Blane Dulin, proprietor of Goodboy Vinyl, a small shop on Kirkwood Highway in Wilmington that stocks thousands of albums.
Vinyl was almost extinct. But it’s since made a comeback, spurred by a mix of nostalgia, digital disenchantment and audiophilic obsession. Goodboy is one of a growing number record stores in the region. Some held on through lean times, while others are brand new. “Most customers are middle-aged, but we get younger people, as well,” says Dulin, glancing at a college-aged couple browsing in the country section.
Most used albums in Dulin’s store average about $8 each, with new and reissued LPs running $20-$30. There are extremes, from the more beat-up vinyl in the dollar bin to coveted jazz recordings that fetch $300-$3,000 each. LP collectors typically aren’t trying to make money from ferreting out rare records. “Mostly, they’re looking to round out their collections,” Dulin says. “Their goals are simply to collect more.”
Some collectors search out the colorful toaster-size transistor radios with plastic housing that became quite popular after World War II.
People interested in old radios and other gone-by-the-wayside transmission and reception devices have a somewhat different orientation than vinyl collectors. They’re interested in the accessories and pieces of furniture that once brought sounds into people’s homes. That covers a broad category, from the huge consoles of a century ago to the transistor radios of the 1950s and ’60s to the boom boxes of the ’80s.
Mark Nardone has an Atwater Kent console radio produced by the inventor, who operated the world’s largest radio manufacturing factory on Wissahickon Avenue in Philadelphia in 1920s and ’30s. “My father-in-law bought it 25 years ago for my wife, who likes antiques and was heavily involved in radio at the time,” says Nardone, who’s the communications manager for Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. “The cloth over the speaker is pretty ragged these days, and the speaker is probably torn, thanks to a curious toddler. The works may have gotten jolted during a move a few years ago, but the cabinet is still gorgeous.”
The old cabinet sets like Nardone’s aren’t the most collected, according to Selbyville’s Domi Sanchez, a member of the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club. “As our membership ages, they’re also downsizing their collections, turning their eyes to tabletop radios,” Sanchez says. “They often give away their consoles, but you can still find them in antique stores and at estate sales.”
Transistor radios have become quite collectible, “as are boudoir bedroom radios,” notes Sanchez. Some collectors search out the colorful toaster-size radios with plastic housing that became quite popular after World War II.
About 30 years ago, members of the radio club decided to open a museum in Bowie, Md., about midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It’s now called the National Capital Radio & Television Museum, and it’s open to visitors on Fridays and weekends. (Philadelphia’s Atwater Kent Museum permanently closed in 2018.)
Most of the radios on display at the Maryland museum were donated. Visitors can get a preview of the exhibits at ncrtv.org. “We have docents who can give tours, which each take about an hour,” says Brian Belanger, curator for the museum.
Or visitors can take a self-guided tour. “We have around 1,500 to 2,000 guests every year,” Belanger says. “We also have a restoration shop and teach classes in repairing vintage sets.”
One area where the interests of radio fanatics and vinyl collectors overlap: phonographs and record players. Some vintage radio consoles also came with record players that could handle the old, thick 78 rpm platters, along with 45s and standard LPs. And there are even companies that take old cabinets, restore them, and outfit them with modern turntables and state-of-the-art sound systems.