Christmas Blog: The $155.46 Fifteen-dollar Radio

A couple of years ago, I was visiting a local antique mall when I chanced upon a small, green Bakelite AM radio from the 1940’s or 1950’s. It was the perfect color for my kitchen, so I bought it for fifteen dollars. My house was built in 1939, and I like to decorate it so that the people who lived in it originally could walk in and feel comfortable.

And the radio fit right in.

After I got the radio home, I plugged it in only to discover that it did not work. So, I put it in the basement. I was only out fifteen bucks, so it was no big deal. I found a modern old radio replica (FM only) that was a similar color and put that radio in the kitchen.

Fast forward a couple of years…

… a couple of months ago, my youngest son asked me what I wanted for Christmas- something you should never as an old person. Almost all of us have enough worldly possessions to make it to the finish line, so why waste your money, right?

But for some reason, I thought of the little green radio in the basement and said, “I’d like it if you could get my little green radio fixed.”

As a point of clarification, radios, especially AM radios, have a very important place in the lives of people my age. We were raised either before television came into common use or at least at the beginning of the advent of television, and radio was the predominant form of media in the house- more specifically, AM radio. That’s where we got our news, sports and weather as well as our music and weekly radio shows. When I was nine years old, I received a red AM radio similar to the little green one for Christmas. All of a sudden, I had access to the world! I could go into my room, close the door and listen to all kinds of neat things. I thought having a radio from that era in my house would be a cool thing- not that it would ever steal much time from the plethora of various media available to us every day. But it would be nice to have around to look at and have a nostalgic tear well up in my eye every now and then.

The reason the idea of getting the radio fixed popped into my mind was because my son had recently taken some vintage speakers into a shop on Cleveland’s West Side for repair. The shop- Play it Again Sam- was a one-of-a-kind place. Its owner was an old guy (probably younger than me) that looked like Santa Claus, and he fixed all kinds of vintage electronic stuff. He had sold my son a 1965 console stereo and a few other things and he had fixed my 1940’s Zenith AM-FM Bakelite radio that was exactly like the one my grandmother and grandfather had in their kitchen. The guy did a great job, so, when my son said he was going there to drop some more stuff off to be worked on, I asked him to take my little green radio in. That was in September. By the beginning of December, he told me that the radio was ready (I had initially planned on paying for the repair myself). That was the same day he asked me what I wanted for Christmas.

I thought I had made a pretty good bargain. I figured that it would cost $50-$60 to get it repaired- fair enough for a Christmas present.

When we went to pick it up, we couldn’t find a place to park near the shop. We ended up parking five blocks away, and, since nobody carries cash anymore, neither of us had quarters for the parking meter. Fortunately, the first fifteen minutes were free, so we hustled our way down to the shop and picked it up. I wasn’t paying attention while my son was settling the bill, but I did notice this incredulous look on his face. As we were leaving, he gave me the radio, the tubes that were replaced and the receipt.

“Holy Crap,” my son exclaimed as we walked back to the car. “What’s wrong,” I asked.

“Take a look at the receipt,” he said.

Once in the car, I unfolded the receipt and my jaw dropped. It had cost $155.46 to repair the radio that I had purchased for $15.00. My son started laughing and said, “Dad, every time I call you up or you call me, I had better hear that damned thing playing in the background.”

We laughed about it all the way to my son’s house. I couldn’t wait to get the radio home to try it out. I got out of my car, rushed into the house, found the spot I has made for it, plugged it in and turned it on.

All that came out was a loud buzz. It seems that wi-fi has a bad impact on old AM radios. It causes a loud buzz.

So now I have a $170.46 decoration on the little cabinet in my dining room next to the stained-glass tulip lamp I made several years ago.

There is a moral to this story:

  1. Always get an estimate.
  2. When you tell Santa what you want, engage him in a discussion about it first. Santa don’t ask no questions. He just takes your request and fixes it for $155.46.
  3. Onge can help you with a lot of things, but you’re on your own regarding common sense.
  4. If all else fails, hope you have a son that loves you enough to foot the bill.

Merry Christmas!
–Fred Crans, St. Onge Company

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