Radio Repair Is Better than Tinker Toys

Image via iFixit user Bac’s fabulous Sony TR-63 Transistor Radio Teardown

For Ken Smith, electronics repair is a lifetime obsession. He was just six years old when he bought a radio for a quarter at Goodwill. It sounded funny, so he took it apart and discovered a bad switch, which he bypassed with a wire. The radio was fixed, and Ken sold it to his brother for $5—a hefty profit for a kindergartener.

Transistor radio repair

Ken runs a vintage radio and electronics museum out of his home in Eugene, Oregon. He keeps hundreds of jukeboxes, phonographs, and televisions in working order. The Register-Guard has a great profile of Ken’s workshop and museum. From the article:

“New TVs and radios are not repairable,” Smith says, running his palm over the surface of the kitchen table in the jukebox room. “They will disintegrate if you try. They are impossible to service. RCA built some televisions that I swore would work for 100 years. They built sets that were just bulletproof. RCA said they were going to do away with TV repair people because they were so good. Technology was not more advanced then, but it was more durable. If you bought a radio from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and had it repaired, it would last forever.”

“This bulb,” he says, pointing to a crystal clear tube on the table, “is 90 years old. And it works great.”

Despite the current culture of disposable rather than repairable electronics, Smith still has hope that the kind of technology he fell in love with as a 6-year-old is not lost.

Ken hasn’t stopped buying and fixing old radios and flipping them for a profit—but now his shop is online.