Kirkus Book Review: Radio Daze

Zevy presents a collection of stories about collecting old radios in this memoir.

“Radios are my thing,” writes the author in what certainly must be the understatement of the year. His book tells the story of this overwhelming collector’s urge: He fell under the spell of vintage radios early in life, came to know them very well, and started collecting them. Several of the radios are presented in these pages as the linchpins of stories relating moments from both Zevy’s adventures as collector and from his life with his friends and family. Inevitably, some of the stories feature high degrees of nerdy punctilio (the author notices, at one point, that a set in the movie Goodfellas features a 1956 Motorola radio in a scene that takes place in 1978), but Zevy regularly counterbalances this element with everyman observations about everything from dealing with delivery services to negotiating with sketchy dealers. He likewise softens the ultra-niche nature of his own specific interest by painting an effective portrait of what it’s like to be a dedicated collector—not just of vintage radios, but of anything. Readers are shown every aspect of the life of a collector, from the “honeymoon phase” (that was “affecting a judgment which was already teetering on the edge of sanity”) to the resigned and world-weary later stages of accepting that virtually nobody else will understand the obsession. To help give readers context for his avocation, the author includes clear color photos of all of his focal-point radios.

The author begins the chapter titled “1947 Northern Electric Baby Champ,” for instance, by recounting a drive from Montreal to Toronto in 1977 to start his first year in university. Of course, he’s aware of the limited appeal of his subject; he mentions it several times. “For a while, every time I received a new radio, I would take a photograph and post it on our family group chat,” he writes; most of his family would just ignore him. This wry self-deprecation buoys the narrative and saves it from being a pure exercise in the tedium of inflicting a family album on a stranger. And he’s consistently funny when describing the various astonished reactions his collection elicits from normal people. In the chapter titled “1954 Sparton Football,” for instance, he reports that the most common question he gets is whether or not all those old radios actually work. “It is a bit of a tricky question because, although the great majority do work, they don’t get very good, or actually any, reception where I live,” he writes. “So, I end up giving Bill Clinton-like answers – ‘it depends on your definition of works.’ ” The cumulative effect of these quips and relatable storytelling ultimately saves the book from being for fellow collectors only.

A surprisingly engaging look at the life of an avid collector.