For Peter Eldridge, it started with a gift. His grandmother gave him a 1947 Admiral table set, and before long he was enchanted with the old radio, staying up late to listen to the voices that traveled through the night from faraway stations — WABC of New York, CBM of Montreal, CBT of Toronto, WHO of Des Moines, Iowa. Soon enough, he started buying more radios; tube radios, in the mid- to late-1960s, when they were cheap because the majority of people were getting rid of them.
With these sets, a lifelong collection was born.
Some of the smaller items from Eldridge's collection are on display in the Martha Washington Library on Fort Hunt Road, together with some sets that belong to friends and family members, as well as the Radio and Television Museum of Bowie, Md. This month marks the second time Eldridge, a River Towers resident, has displayed radios at Martha Washington, and is the beginning of a series of exhibits at Fairfax County Public Libraries, with shows at the Kingstowne, George Mason and Tysons-Pimmit branches planned.
"The idea is to show contemporary examples of radios," Eldridge said. "As I began to formulate the display, I wanted simple novelty and inexpensive sets that were relatively easy to find and inexpensive. I chose a $20 or so price point to demonstrate radio collecting could be affordable as well as fun and unusual."
Affordability is one of the key attributes of radio collecting that make it a good choice for children today, according to Eldridge. "If young people are going to come into a hobby or an interest, it's got to be within their range," he said.
Another important criterion is accessibility — if something is difficult to acquire now, it does not lend itself to being a collector's item. A number of the sets on display at Martha Washington came from places like Target, Radio Shack and thrift stores. Radios on sale at these stores are "accessible to a wide number of people," Eldridge said. "Any of that is very highly collectible."
While some collectors specialize — it is not uncommon to choose a theme, a particular maker or a type of radio — Eldridge isn't picky: "Me, I'm greedy, I'll take it all," he said.
His advice for collectors is to focus on items they enjoy rather than trying to predict what may be popular in the future. "It's an individual choice as to what you think may be collectible," he said. "You never know what the public fancy or taste is going to be in 5, 10, 15 years."
<1b>— Meghan Williams