Radio Heaven

Mar. 16, 2013 @ 09:19 PM

Unable to take a machine-shop class in 1969, his junior year in high school, Ron Lawrence opted instead for an electronics class. As Lawrence describes it more than 500 radios later, "It was one of those innocent moves that changes everything from that moment forward."

Just before his junior year and his first electronics class wound down for the summer, Lawrence bought his first antique radio at a local flea market, successfully bargaining the seller down to $10, five dollars less than the asking price. It's not that he valued the radio at $10, it was what he had in his pocket. True to form for most any serious collector, the first one is always a 'keeper'.  Anchoring a prominent spot almost 50 years later in Lawrence's 'Radio Heaven' sits one 1924 Model 20 Atwater Kent; radio number one.

Decades of electronic shows, flea markets, yard sales, hamfests and estate auctions continually honed Lawrence's knowledge of the hobby which, combined with his eye for bargain and ability to haggle, has the radio room in his Wesley Chapel brimming with antique radios and literally thousands of associated parts and accessories, some of which have been grouped together, germinating one additional collection after another. So much in fact that Lawrence admits he's just had to back off a bit and hold out for the more eccentric and sought after pieces that now tend to find their way to Radio Heaven through a network of friends and, occasionally competitors.

One can take the tour Ron's way or casually wander about on their own as Lawrence offers a textbook history when he notices that a particular model has caught their attention. Be assured though, that no one leaves Radio Heaven without a good viewing of what Lawrence considers the diamond of the entire collection; a 1921 Leutz, Model L, the first radio built by Charles R. Leutz. According to Lawrence, it is one of about five known to exist intact.

Lawrence figures he hasn't spent as much as $500 on any one item, but he won't put an estimated value on any one radio or even the entire collection. Even when asked point-blank, the answer is always the same: "They're not for sale. This is who I am, and they're just not for sale."

It becomes perfectly clear that Lawrence's safe haven is truly the final resting place when a tired radio finally completes its life-long journey and crosses the threshold into Radio Heaven.