By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Being taught electronics with vacuum tubes while in the army in the mid-1950s, Ralph Jackson decided to refresh himself decades later with the purchase of his first antique radio. From that moment on, he realized his was addicted; he currently owns around 65 beauties that are scattered throughout his home.
Many of these radios were bought on eBay or at swap meets and Jackson painstakingly refurbishes the inner workings to make these gems work, whenever possible.
“I love to collect one brand in particular, called Halson,” he explained. “These were manufactured from about 1930 until 1939. I like the wood cabinets and the styling, which is very self-contained. I also look for Philco, Gloritone, Emerson and Stromberg-Carlson. I have handled about 150 radios and I am always on the hunt for that one that I still don’t have.”
He retired from Raytheon in 1993 as an electrical engineer at the age of 58. He then took a job volunteering at the Worcester House of Correction and worked with inmates teaching them how to repair electronics. Looking back, Jackson marks this time as one of his personal highlights.
“I always referred to those I was teaching as students rather than inmates and we actually both learned a lot from each other,” he noted. “I recall one man who restored the wood on a radio cabinet. He did an incredible job. I worked there for 17 years and formed bonds with many students. I was especially fond of one student who, through the course of our working together, learned how to control his temper and master repair skills to help him with a vocation. I know I was truly able to make a difference in many people’s lives.”
Jackson keeps himself quite busy and enjoys repairing electronics at Gary’s Antiques in Northborough. He is also a member of the New England Antique Radio Club (NEARC), which meets three to four times each year and has an internet newsletter. They also sponsor a huge meet once each year in February where collectors can buy and sell items.
He also volunteers for “The Refugee Apostle” at The Little Store in Worcester, which is part of the Diocese of Worcester. He fixes all electronic devices.
As a young boy, Jackson fondly recalls listening to the radio and being comforted by the mellow vacuum tube sound. He enjoyed listening to mystery programs and was fascinated by the sound effects. He has watched many Youtube videos that show how effects like thunder and horses, are created.
He is insistent that it was, in fact, Nikola Tesla, not Marconi who had the original patent for the invention of the radio.
“In 1930, Tesla sued the government to get his patent back, which was approved in 1900. The protracted lawsuit lasted until 1943 and although he had already died a pauper, the patent, was, in fact, given back to its rightful owner who didn’t even care about the money.”
Jackson has met so many people through the years that share his passion and enthusiasm for antique radios.