When Radio Was It


What motivates a collector to dedicate a portion of his or her life to searching for the most rare and beautiful forms of a certain item? Is it their love of stamps from all over the world or is it their desire to find the most complex and unique model of a car? From jewelry and dolls to sports memorabilia and computers, a collector’s interests can range from the most bizarre items to the most common. Michael Katz, longtime collector of vintage radios from the 1920s to ’50s, said that the two kinds of things collectors go for are “stuff that’s really unusual and really decorative or the rare and expensive sets.” 


For 30 years, Katz has been building his large collection — mostly storing it on the shelves in his apartment — but once a year, he displays the old-fashioned radios at Levittown Library to share with the community. For the month of June, Katz’s radios will once again be on display, giving Nassau County some insight into the importance and beauty of traditional radios.


“I sit at the display occasionally,” began Katz, “and see people’s reactions. Some are interested, like ‘what are these things?’ but there are always others that will walk right by. Last year, I had some people call me after the display; they had radios they wanted to give me, so that was really nice. A lot of the older people even remember some of these radios and come to look because you can’t see them much in the real world anymore.”


Katz began his collection in 1983 when he discovered a radio he really liked at an antiques show. After putting it in his house, he decided he needed more and since then his collection has grown to just over 100 unusual and decorative radios. “If it weren’t for the limited space in my house, I’d gladly have 200 to 300 radios,” the enthusiastic collector stated.


Katz collects other things, but believes that his radios are the most long lasting, and they are the things he likes the best. “They may not be as important as they used to be, especially to the younger generations who usually only listen to radio for music and sports, but it still keeps people informed of the world’s events and delivers our entertainment; it’s still important.”


Unbeknownst to most of the population, radio collecting is a widespread hobby among Americans. Katz describes waking up at the crack of dawn to attend meetings, sales and converse with his radio-collector friends. “There is a local hobby meet in Long Island once a month attracting about 30 to 40 collectors each time, and every state has some sort of club that meets all year round; it’s a decent-sized hobby that not many people know about.”


While Katz’s personal close friends and family do not share in his appreciation and amazement of antique radios, he and those he calls “hobby-friends” are all involved with specific aspects of radio collecting and are able to complement each other’s interests. “Everyone’s seen something different and everyone has different experiences. Some people have the equipment and knowledge to repair radios and I really enjoy collecting transistor radios. We all talk and share advice,” said Katz.


Katz’s avid interest in radios has stuck with him for more than a quarter of a century and after becoming enthralled in the hobby, he explains how it “becomes a focus and you are always looking for it; you never know what you’ll find or where you’ll find it.” In fact, when seeing radios in the backgrounds of old movies, Katz is able to recognize what time period it is from and whether or not it is consistent with the time period of the movie. “If there is a 1936 radio in a 1934 movie, I get angry. I’m like ‘That’s not real! That’s not genuine!’ so that’s sort of a fun thing as a collector,” he said.


This “underground hobby” of unique and one-of-a-kind collections can be viewed as an important part of history that will live on forever — in the movies, photos and on shelves in homes of passionate collectors like Michael Katz. “Most people don’t even remember these radios, but that is what’s fun for me,” said Katz. “I like to show off my collection to people who have never seen it — the stranger and weirder the better!”


Radios from Katz’s collection will be on display at the Levittown Public Library, at 1 Bluegrass Lane, during the month of June. Visit the library’s website at: www.nassaulibrary.org/levtown or call 516-731-5728 for more information. Katz can be reached at 516-330-0611 or mskcpa1@aol.com. 


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