History enthusiasts, nostalgia buffs, and radio aficionados will appreciate the artifacts adorning Eagle Point Library’s display cases for September. The crown jewel of local resident Russell Webb’s collection is a 1938 Zenith identical to one regularly featured on the 1971-1981 TV series, “The Waltons.”
“None of these worked when I got them,” Webb said. “They all work now.”
“I’ve never seen a radio Russell can’t fix,” added Webb’s vivacious wife, Sue.
As occurs with most collectors, Webb finds potential treasures in various states of disrepair at thrift shops, EBay, Craig’s List, or “somebody’s old storage shed.”
Families often unknowingly discard their great-grandpa’s beloved antique radio because it’s no longer functioning, and nobody’s using it, Webb observes. He recognizes the value of restoring such objects to their original condition.
A background including electrical engineering studies at the University of Missouri, augmented by three decades as an electronics technician, well-equips Webb with his skills. He’s also familiar with the extensive history and scientific facts surrounding each item he collects.
According to Webb, wireless radios ran on batteries at first. The battery kit included earphones so the listener could hear it. Circa 1925, the Peerless Company made a reproducer, which Webb’s display also showcases. It worked like a speaker, and made it possible for the entire family to hear it together.
Industry leader, Atwater Kent, manufactured radios bearing price tags comparable to automobiles. Then Philco, an upstart company out of Philadelphia, began producing inferior, but more affordable merchandise. Their small “cathedral” model retailed for $29, sold thousands, and helped boost Philco’s status to “number one radio producer.”
“In 1928,” Webb said, “RCA invented the Alternate Current (AC) Vacuum tube—no batteries required. It just plugged into the wall. This innovation, an “all-in-one” version, ushered in by a formidable competitor, sent Philco into a panic.”
Webb’s collection also features the first clock-radio. “Clego made it around 1931,” he said. He chuckled when recalling the artifact’s condition the day he acquired it. “The wood on the bottom had been damaged by termites,” Webb said. “The clock didn’t work. I took it apart, read a label that said, ‘If clock stops, press this button.’ I pressed it; that started it running again.”
“How did it stay in such good condition after all the shoes that probably hit it?” joked Sue Webb. “Don’t all people throw shoes at the alarm device that wakes them up in the morning?”
Library Branch Director, Charlene Prinsen, extends a cordial invitation to view these and many more splendid examples of Russ Webb’s restored-to-new-condition antiques. The Eagle Point Library is located at 239 W. Main Street. For more information and Library hours please phone (541)-826-3313.