Atwater man tuned in to father's radio habit

At age 40, Atwater's Harry Bohl is considered a kid among antique radio buffs.

His father began collecting old radios years ago but had no place to store them when he moved off the family farm. Then, Alzheimer's disease set in, and the elder Bohl could no longer dabble in the hobby. So Harry took over and now owns a collection of roughly 200 antique radios and parts, some of which have been on display at the Merced County Courthouse Museum since July 3 and will remain there through September.

It's becoming a passion for Bohl, an ironworker by trade. But while many collectors buy and sell radios, he isn't looking to add any more to his trove. So instead of displaying his collection, he'll simply work the information desk at the swap meet sponsored by the Central Valley Chapter of the California Historical Radio Society on Oct. 4 at the Modesto Radio Museum, helping others get started in collecting and interested in the club.

"I won't be selling anything, so I won't be bringing anything," Bohl said.

He'll be signing up visitors for the club's mailing list and trying to enhance its reputation.

He's still learning about the antique radio world, after taking over his dad's collection a couple of years ago.

His oldest piece is a 1909 Chicago Radio Laboratories model. The company eventually began making radios under another name: Zenith. His 1909 model probably would still work if he decided to try it.

"I'm sure it would," he said.

The problem is that it uses a De Forest Audion vacuum tube, and he doesn't want the risk of having it go out.

"Even a blown-out one, I'm sure, is worth quite a bit of money," he said.

He could manipulate it to use other kinds of tubes, he said, but the value is keeping them in mint condition.

"I've had it apart to make sure it's in good working order," he said.

Even so, he said he doesn't really have a favorite piece among the collection.

"My expertise is in the 1920s crystal and battery sets," he said. "The elders are teaching me at the radio club, and I really like those older battery sets. You can tell they have some history to them."

The October show will be at the Modesto Radio Museum, 1192 Norwegian Ave., in Modesto.