Bristol's 'Man with 1,000 radios' putting them up for sale

Posted 10/15/19

Gary Watros, who calls himself The Man With 1,000 Radios, will probably only have about 700 of them out when he hosts a radio sale at his 291 High St. home this Saturday and Sunday.

“Maybe a …

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Bristol's 'Man with 1,000 radios' putting them up for sale

Posted

Gary Watros, who calls himself The Man With 1,000 Radios, will probably only have about 700 of them out when he hosts a radio sale at his 291 High St. home this Saturday and Sunday.

“Maybe a few more,” he said Tuesday.

The radios, which were made in the 1930s through the ‘50s, are stacked in neat orderly rows in his garage, tower on shelves and are loaded into efficient sliding wood trays he built when he moved into the old Greek Revival home about 21 years ago. There are Spartons, Stromberg Carlsons, Zeniths, Philcos, Silvertones, Truetones and other defunct brands from America’s manufacturing glory days. They represent years of yard sale scouring and searching, as well as a good bit of nostalgia and romance, for the retired engineer.

This weekend’s two-day sale will be a bittersweet day for Mr. Watros, who spent years buying radios that needed rescuing wherever he could find them. When he started looking for them in the mid-1980s at yard sales around his old town of Winchester, Mass., the Internet wasn’t there to help owners find homes for them. Countless old sets ended up in the dump, a fate which Mr. Watros, a builder and admirer of quality, could never abide.

So he started looking for them, paying little attention to any particular make or model — “I thought they all deserved saving and preserving,” he said. His long-term plan was to spend his retirement restoring and finding loving homes for them. But in all these years he has restored just one (it’s not for sale).

Now his life is busy, he has too many other projects and interests, and the radios, as well as his collection of hundreds of small kitchen and home appliances from the same era, are taking up too much room.

“I mean, we can’t move!” he said, extending his arms in the cramped garage.

“It’s kind of sad, but I need to find new homes for them,” said Mr. Watros, who is now 77. “I have a fantasy that I will hold half a dozen back and restore them in my elder years.”

Mr. Watros’ inventory — “It’s not a collection,” he jokes — is a snapshot of the quality of American manufacture in the mid-20th century. The radios he collected were all made here, many as close as Rochester, N.Y. and Connecticut, in large factories and small.

All operate on vacuum tubes, which were used to amplify and modify electrical signals before the introduction of transistors. Many are made of Bakelite, a crude early form of plastic, and others were expertly built by cabinet makers. When his radios were built, planned obsolescence wasn’t yet a thing, and appliances were built to last and be serviced.

Since long before his move to acquire them, he admired their beauty, quality, endurance and the sense of history that settled into them over the years. Finding a pre-World War II radio at a yard sale, he would marvel that “the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor was probably announced through this.” Or he would think of Red Sox games, broadcast long ago through a simple tabletop radio, and imagine the call when Ted Williams pulled one into the right field bleachers.

“It’s like the game was stored” in the radio, he said.

By now, most of the radios he owns are inoperable, as the electronic parts — capacitors, resistors, intermediate transformers and other items — degrade with time. But as they were designed with repair in mind, most or all are easily restorable by those versed in radio service, of which there are many locally. And for his money, there isn’t much sweeter than the smell of an old tube radio heating up:

“Everyone who has radios, who works on them, knows that smell,” he said. “It’s sweet.”

Saturday and Sunday’s sale of radios and selected vintage appliances is being advertised locally, and Mr. Watros has also spread the word on antique radio websites and Facebook pages. He said he will charge “no more than $20” for most of the smaller Bakelite radios known as AA5s, or All American Fives, in reference to their simple five-tube circuits. Other, more elaborate radios will cost more, but all will be priced to sell, he said.

“I want to give them a new life and find people who will value them.”

The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, at Mr. Watros’s home at 291 High St. No early birds, please, he said.

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