Vintage radios restored to golden status at shop

April 03, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

For Golden Age Radio, try tuning in 1609 Ceddox St. in Curtis Bay.

It's an out-of-the-way spot between the CSX coal tracks, an auto repair yard and a stretch of World War II neighborhood bars.

Golden Age Radio is a specialty shop where the Philco is always tuned to Benny Goodman and transistor is an unknown word.

"We don't want this to be a junk store. We may have a lot of extra parts, but we do serious work here. We want to repair and restore radios from the classic period," said Sam Cannan, a former Baltimore police officer who is the store's 43-year-old founder.

The Golden Age Radio story began in Southwest Baltimore, where Mr. Cannan grew up. As a child living on Wilhelm Street, he often visited a Disabled American Veterans warehouse on South Pulaski Street.

For $2 a piece, he carried home as many vintage radios as he could stuff in his cellar. He later branched out into radio tube buying.

He joined the police force, suffered a back injury, tried private security work, but gravitated into his first love. He spotted the vacant Ceddox Street grocery store one day while driving to his Pasadena home. He opened the shop, open afternoons and evenings Wednesdays through Sunday, three years ago.

Today, Golden Age Radio provides a modest living to six radio workers, who repair, rebuild and refinish aged Atwater Kents, Zeniths, Crosleys, Emersons, Stromberg Carlsons, RCAs, Bendixes, Kolsters, Spartans, Majestics and Philcos.

"We do this because we love the work and we love radios," said Tim West, a 31-year-old Columbia man who junked his job fixing home computers so he could tinker with the troubled tubes of the invention that carried the news of World War II into many a living room.

When a radio leaves his hospital, it often looks better than the day it was bought at Johnson Brothers, Pollack's or Levenson & Klein.

One flight up from this radio recovery room is the wood refinishing shop of LaMaur McClendon. He walked in the store two years ago and soon taught himself how to make the varnished cabinetry on the art deco consoles glisten like fresh molasses.

"Radios come in all beat up and the wood has turned white. We bring 'em back," McClendon said.

Frank Lipieko Jr., 41, the shop's head radiosmith, also works at a steel painting company. He caught the wireless bug as a young man who tuned into Johnny Dark on WCAO. At nights, against his parents' wishes, he had a radio under his pillow.

Most of the shop's customers are not serious collectors. They are people who want a classic AM radio as a focal point in their living room or den.

"People come in with a radio and say it was their father's. They sat and listened with their dads to FDR making a speech. They say, 'This was the radio we heard the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight on.' Radios were a part of peoples' lives. That's why they come in here," Mr. Cannan said.

He tuned in the British Broadcasting Corp. and Spanish National Radio on a short wave set he had as a child.

"Radio brought me a big new world. . . . Radios are much more fun than TV because the pictures are better," he said.

Step in his front door and it is clear this is one serious shrine to the broadcasting.

The old grocery store (once owned by grocer William Grube) makes a fine setting for the wall full of 1930s cathedral models, radios whose wood cabinets are shaped like the inside of a Gothic church.

Next to them are the tombstone models, similar to a cathedral but with a squared-off top.

They do, in a manner of speaking, resemble grave markers.

There are big floor models, called highboys, and a shorter version, called a lowboy.

Most of this variety comes encased in a heavy wood cabinet.

But there are also modernistic 1950s kitchen radios, too.

If Mr. Cannan's store has radios and a number of windup phonographs, it has a back room, cellar and garage full of spare vacuum tubes, other parts and schematic drawings.

One of the core of radio rescuers is Glenn Lahman, who at 70 is the senior Golden Age radiotrician.

His career in broadcasting coincides with the Nov. 2, 1948, start of TV station WAAM, now WJZ, on Television Hill in Northwest Baltimore.

"When a radio stumps me, I give it a little time. I go out, walk around block, think about it. Maybe I make a stop. Then it comes to me," Mr. Lahman said after a long draw on a large pipe.

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