Friday, October 3, 2014

Preserving High-end History - Part 3

Passion in the restoration field is a common theme among the member elite; some get hooked early in life while others eventually migrate into the field. The first person of interest in this series is "Sonny" Clutter, someone possessed with early radio restorations. Note that in the high-end, I believe that being possessed is a positive trait although my wife may kindheartedly disagree.

C. E. "Sonny" Clutter
Sonny became interested in radios at the impressionable age of 10. His stepfather was what you would call a "picker", he would buy and sell anything and everything he could get cheap, and the two started traveling together at about age 12. They frequented local appliance dealers (who took trade-ins back then) and would often buy a whole truck load of stuff. Sonny can remember seeing 7”, 10”, and 12" TVs stacked high in the back rooms of these dealers all ripe for the taking. These trade-in TVs fetched about $5 each in those days, even less if you bought them by the truck load. Depending upon condition, I either removed what was of value and scrapped the rest, or re-sold the better stuff at auction houses or local buyers.

Sonny Clutter

Sonny’s first restoration project was a 1949 10" Meck television way back in 1953. One unsuspecting day Sonny’s stepfather gave it to him to tinker with, what a thrill that was for a young and innocent child. With a little loving guidance, Sonny was able to make it work and that became their family’s first television.

Sonny remembers the old console radios they would get, especially the large Majestics. He marveled at the intricacy of the various parts, circuitry, and the sealed containers. His curiosity overcoming him, Sonny would remove and open the beautiful constructed aluminum and sometimes copper cans containing the meticulously-wound coils on these old pieces of engineering and marveled at how these made sounds and music. What a thrill that was for him to bring one of these old relics back to life by his own hands.
Not satisfied with a casual understanding of electronics, Sonny found an old NRI (National Radio Institute) home study course in 1954 and taught himself the basics of radios and electronics.

In 1956 Sonny took an after school and week-end job at a local Radio & TV repair shop in Ashland (Supreme Radio & TV). Owner Jake Rodman couldn't afford to pay Sonny a salary, so he started working for nothing (a "gopher at first) just for the opportunity to learn more about the technology he loved. Jake, a first-class service technician in his own right, taught Sonny many of the things that he still practices to this day. Sonny started by working in Jake’s shop doing odd jobs, sweeping the floor, and later was trusted to test tubes for customers at the counter. He also spent time on the work-bench asking Jake numerous questions and learning specific trouble-shooting techniques. It wasn’t long before Sonny joined Jake on service calls and antenna installations, and after only a few short weeks Sonny started earning a modest salary. Getting paid to do what he loved seemed like the best job he could ever have.

In 1959, Sonny joined the Air Force where he again studied electronics focusing on radio communications. After the USAF he worked as a consumer electronics service technician but could not shake his fascination with old technology. In 1962 his love for old radios was rekindled when he accidentally crossed paths with an old 1927 "Kolster" AC radio. He meticulously cleaned and re-finishing the cabinet and found that restoration was still in his blood. In 1996 he devoted himself to his “hobby” and has since turned this passion into a thriving Internet business.

Sonny’s Immaculate Workbench

Since 1966, Sonny dedicates his time to restoring all sorts of old radios and televisions and has many of these for sale on his website. Sonny is not interested in upgrades or modifications but rather in restoring a piece of equipment to its original design, just as you would have purchased it brand new way back when.

In the next interview, I will again add a name to the "possessed" list with a local Tampa person with an unusual story. Until then, remember to listen with your ears and not your eyes.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

Skeptics are essential to keep us sane; skeptics do little to keep us inspired. Philip Rastocny, 7-16-2014

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