Tuning into history

Left, Bill and Jo Manny with a 1935 Scott, the Stradivarius of radios. Early radios often had a greater range of availiable bands. See the closeup of the dial below. Right: Radios and microphones from Bill Manny's collection are on display at the Umatilla County Historical Museum.

By Luke Hegdal

Staff writer

For collector Bill Manny, radios are, and have always been, much more than a simple hobby. Perhaps it's in his blood. Manny's father Harold, began building crystal radio sets when he was 12.

Manny Senior, now 95, listened to the first broadcast of the World Series on a radio he built in his parents' garage. Eventually the hobby became a career.

"My dad had a radio shop in Hermiston when I was growing up — one of the first shops ever in Hermiston," said Bill Manny. "And so I grew up out in my dad's radio shop, checking tubes for him."

In fact, Manny grew up during the Golden Age of Radio, and by the time television came to Hermiston in 1956, Manny had already left for college.

"I liked Red Skelton, Jack Benny, all the comedians," Manny said.

After attending Oregon State University, Manny joined the Air Force.

"They put me in RADAR, so my whole life has been in electronics," said Manny. "When I got out, I went into the TV and radio business."

It was during a TV repair call that Manny was given his first ?collectible' radio. He had been called out to a house to fix a broken antenna.

"(The owner) took me down into the basement and he had a 1929 Atwater Kent, what they call a Big Box," said Manny. "He said, ?I'd like you to have that. I don't have any use for it.' That's what really got me started. I still have that."

Since then Manny has amassed an amazing collection, a small portion of which can be seen at the Umatilla County Historical Museum in Pendleton.

"I've got so many radios I've lost count, to tell you the truth," he said. "These old radios are history, and I have a reverence for them."

Often times people simply give him radios, which he then restores and finds homes for, either in his own collection or with someone else.

"It just kills me to see these go to the dump," he said.

Among his many radios, Manny has a 1932 Stromberg-Carlson radio, the first entertainment system with a ?remote' control. The bulky device bears little resemblance to its sleek, modern counterparts. A small cabinet opens and the dial panel lifts out, connected only by a long wire.

One time, during a road trip he and his wife, Jo, took, Manny made another fascinating find.

"We were wandering around in Panama City, Fla., waiting for our dinner with friends, and we went into a little shop and there was a little suitcase," Manny said. "And inside was a little telegraph set with a transmitter and a receiver."

These types of radio sets were used during the World War II for clandestine operations by both Axis and Allied forces.

"It was 75 bucks so I bought it. That makes it fun — the thrill of the hunt," he said.

Through his years in the electronics business, Manny has collected old radio parts, as well as radios, which he now sells on eBay to help offset the cost of his expansive hobby.

Manny's clients, mostly collectors like himself, span the globe and hail from as far away as China, the Netherlands, and Australia.

"I've got one guy in Japan named Yamada. He gives me a big order, several hundred dollars worth, every month," Manny said.

Too keep up with the demand from his many clients, Manny is always on the lookout for old radio parts, especially old tubes, which he says most people see as junk and throw away.

And there is still one radio that has eluded Manny all these years.

"I want one called a Zenith Stratosphere. That's the epitome, that's the radio," Manny said. "Every collector wants one because they are so rare. I've never even seen one."

Bill Manny can be contacted at (541) 276-7439.

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