There’s a great television episode of The Twilight Zone called “Static” that features the main character and an antique radio, specifically a 1928 RCA Radiola 62. In typical Twilight Zone fashion, the story was creepy. The main character became obsessed with the radio, even though the live performances and programs being aired featured people who had already died. When he tried to play the paranormal radio for friends, all they heard was static.
That episode aired in 1961, and here we are 57 years later, and people are still enthralled with antique and vintage radios. Back then, a new Radiola radio of that caliber might cost about $400 with tubes. Today, when most of us listen to the radio in our cars or through apps, an RCA radio is not in demand. Yet, if a 1928 RCA Radiola 62 came through our auction house in mint condition, I’d guess it might sell for $400-$600.
Of course, it depends on who is bidding. There are plenty of hobbyists who like to restore antique radios in their free time. If the radio is rare and in good condition, it only takes two people to create a bidding frenzy.
Or, it could be a college student or young professional looking to add a hip, retro design element to their home. Antique and vintage radios may lack parts, and they may not work, but if there’s one thing they don’t lack, it’s a wide variety of sleek, classic and Art Deco designs. Add that person into the ring and now the bidding has heated up even more.
History buffs, musicians, techies, broadcasters, interior designers, actors…the list of people who bid on antique and vintage radios is varied as are their reasons. Some like the sentimental value, others are interested in experimenting with sound, and still others are fascinated with old technology.
Just the evolution of the radio alone is pretty amazing. Most of the early radios after World War I were sold as kits that people had to assemble. And back then, radios ran on batteries that could only be recharged at a service station.
Some of the antique and vintage brands doing well at auction include Philco, Bendix, Zenith and Air King.
More contemporary radios, like small portables you might have in the kitchen or a large boombox you might have taken to the lake 30 years ago are beginning to become more desirable and as such so will parts for them.
Some of the younger members of my staff laughed at me when I shared how important boomboxes were, but nostalgic collectors will pay top dollar for a rare one, as evidenced by the 2014 Bonhams’ auction of Radio Raheem’s boombox from the 1989 movie, “Do the Right Thing.” That iconic radio realized a whopping $9,375!
Whether or not that collector chooses to play the famous boombox for his friends, I’m pretty sure there won’t be any strange static.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale.