Thomas L. Dorsey Sr., 96, electronics expert who founded Park Radio Co.

October 07, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas L. Dorsey Sr., electronics expert and founder and longtime proprietor of Park Radio Co., died Thursday of sepsis at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Govans resident was 96.

Born in 1905, Mr. Dorsey was 14 years old when he built a transmitter and receiver in the Bolton Hill rowhouse where he was born and raised. He established Park Radio Co. at North and Park avenues in 1930.

The business later moved to North Charles Street before arriving at its final home at 202 W. Fayette St. Mr. Dorsey continued selling parts, tubes, radios, televisions, phonographs and other electrical equipment at the location until 1995, when he closed the store and retired.

In 1975, the business changed its name to Soundscape Audio-Video. It is now in Roland Park and is run by three of Mr. Dorsey's sons.

Mr. Dorsey was not only an electronics expert and tinkerer, he never seemed to throw anything away, even though times and technology changed. His shop became a favorite haunt of antique radio collectors and other buffs interested in restoring old electronic equipment. They knew that if anyone had a rare vacuum tube for a 1920s-era Super Heterodyne radio, it would be Mr. Dorsey.

"He never threw anything away. He had tubes, electrical components, old amplifiers, tape recorders and plenty of parts. He had a lot of stuff jammed in the store," said son John Ridgely Dorsey of Mayfield. "He could even provide metal needles for old-fashioned wind-up Victrolas."

Mr. Dorsey's years in business spanned the age of technology, from commercial radio to television and from 78-rpm record players to the high fidelity of the 1950s, stereo, and the era of tape recorders.

On his shelves, one could find such legendary radios as Atwater-Kent, Philco, Emerson and RCA Victor. In the post-World War II period, his store carried H.H. Scott, Sherwood, McIntosh, Marantz, and Harman-Kardon amplifiers and tuners.

When TV became popular, Mr. Dorsey became one of Baltimore's first dealers. Customers could drop by his shop and check out the quality of the picture and reception of a DuMont set as opposed to an Admiral.

Known to his customers as "Lee," Mr. Dorsey was always well-tailored in a carefully pressed suit and knotted tie and wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He was more than willing to satisfy his customers' needs.

Anthony H. Orka of Northwood, now retired from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, was a customer for over 40 years. "He was a very gentle, soft-spoken man who had a warm personality. And he was very accommodating," said Mr. Orka.

After closing the store at 5:30 p.m. and having dinner with his family, Mr. Dorsey often made house calls in the evening, lugging around spare tubes and parts in a specially made box, said family members. Sometimes when a cranky TV or radio didn't respond to his ministrations, he would load it onto the company's 1953 Chevrolet panel truck and carry it to his store downtown.

During World War II, Mr. Dorsey worked for Bendix Radio in Towson as the chief production technician for the bomber aircraft direction finder team.

"He liked to tell the story concerning his call for induction into military service. He was about to be sworn in to the army at the Fifth Regiment in Baltimore when Bendix called and prevailed upon the Selective Service to allow him to remain at the manufacturing plant because he was considered essential to the war effort," said another son, Thomas L. Dorsey Jr. of Guilford.

Mr. Dorsey, who had an extensive collection of microphones, radios and other electronic equipment, was a 70-year member of the Amateur Radio Operators Association. He continued making worldwide radio broadcasts until he was 93. He also enjoyed woodworking.

Descended from Edward Dorsey, who had settled in Anne Arundel County in 1650, Mr. Dorsey was a 1925 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School and studied electrical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University for three years.

Family members said he was always reading Scientific American. For Christmas or birthdays, he enjoyed giving Gilbert chemistry sets, electronic experiments or radio kits.

He was a member for 50 years of the Maryland Chapter of the Society of Colonial Wars, Council of the Society of Colonial Wars and a fellow of the Samuel Victor Constant Society of the General Society of Colonial Wars. He was a former member of the 1812 Society and the Sons of the American Revolution.

Mr. Dorsey was a 48-year parishioner of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5202 York Road, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Jeanne Thomas; three other sons, Charles Bosley Dorsey of Cedarcroft, Richard Wyatt Dorsey of Mount Washington and Edward Warfield Dorsey of Towson; a daughter, Louise Marguerite Dorsey of Towson; a sister, Virginia Peach of Towson; and seven grandchildren.

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