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A turn of the knob takes you back in time

Though the days of families gathered around the Philco radio happened before I did, I've watched enough episodes of "The Waltons" to appreciate those times and imagine the conversations it started.

I have good news for fellow nostalgia lovers — many of those vintage radios are out of retirement and playing like new at Russ and Sue Webb's Old Radio Museum. I recently visited them and their felines Fuzzy and Woolley at their country property near Eagle Point.

Russ Webb is a professional electronics technician. One look at his stunning array of restored radios will convince anyone that it's no cliche to call it a labor of love.

The Webb home could contain only so many of the chocolate-and-caramel colored beauties, so Russ built them their own space within his workshop, appropriately with living-room atmosphere. It's where he takes the remains of radios that have seemingly gone the trip, as my grandma used to say, and breathes new life into them, painstakingly returning each to its former splendor and utility. All of the approximately 125 floor and tabletop models look and play just as they did when they graced Great Uncle Roy's parlor floor.

Having traveled and scuba dived all over the world, the Webbs chose Eagle Point for their home base. Now when they travel, they peer into corners and dusty attics, keeping an eye out for forgotten piles of radio innards, old tubes and faded veneers.

Sue Webb is marketer and Web designer for their collaborative effort. They've been married 35 years, and her enthusiasm for her husband's talent is apparent.

"I love spending time in the radio room," Sue said.

As Russ turns the knob on a favorite — a cathedral-style Clago Radiochron with rich birdseye maple and a clock in its middle — the small dial glows, promise of the reception to follow.

Russ came by his radio connection naturally. Even though his dad wasn't a radio technician, he served in the military at a radio relay site. When the family sold everything to relocate to Turkey, Russ, then a teenager, decided to build his own radio. He's never stopped tinkering, and I'm convinced there's nothing he doesn't know about radios and their history.

While I stood with my mouth open, ogling all the gorgeous models (radios, guys), Russ took me on a historical tour starting in the 1920s, when radios were cumbersome beasts requiring stacks of batteries and pots of acid. Not easy on the family carpet. Most examples are from the 1930s, decade of the Great Depression between two World Wars, and before television came along to disrupt things.

When I asked him why he worked so hard at it, his reply was simple.

"I think somebody needs to do this."

His heart is in it.

He told how someone called wanting to restore Grandma's old Zenith.

"When they came, Grandma showed up with it," Russ said.

That's when his work hits the mark. He loves returning a prized heirloom to a family member in like-new condition.

"I like fixing Grandma's radio for her."

There are a few pieces offered for sale, but the bulk of the collection is family and not going anywhere just yet. Russ plans to retire from his day job soon.

"I'll have more time to do this," he told me. Some folks' calling is no mystery; it busts out of them and fills their space.

Russ plans to give a presentation on antique radios for the Southern Oregon Antiques and Collectibles Club at Horton Plaza at 7 p.m. on May 7. The free meeting will be open to the public.

You can see the Old Radio Museum website at www.russoldradiorepair.com. It'll whet your appetite. Email the Webbs from the site if you want to set up a time to visit this slice of authentic history and maybe get a visit with Fuzzy, the quad-riding cat, in the bargain.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.