How I Spent My Summer Vacation, 1996

How do you spend your summer vacation? Some folks raft wild rivers, trudge through the Louvre, or toast on the beach at Mazatlan.

In 1996, we spent two weeks in Minnesota, where my wife and I grew up, mostly visiting relatives.

Here's your roving radio hunter, clutching a street sign a couple of miles from my parents' house in Cottage Grove. You can see why I made my wife pull over for a quick photo op.

I also visited some favorite cheapskate hunting spots here and there, but that kind of place typically has few if any radios to offer.

A highlight of my vacation was a flying visit to a shop called Great Northern Antiques in South Minneapolis. If you've ever seen their ads in Antique Radio Classified magazine, you know that co-owners Alan Jesperson and Mike Embry have a fondness for Zenith radios, and their motto is, "We can and do ship consoles and we do it right!"

I wasn't disappointed in their wares. They have many fine consoles on display, including some wonderful Zeniths.

Here's the view upon entering the shop. (Please excuse the image quality. These images were captured from videotape.)

Radios, radios, everywhere! Radios stacked on other radios. Radio banners, clocks, and signs on the walls. Shelves full of tabletop sets. Aisles full of handsome consoles.

For a radio nut like me, it was like waking up in Heaven.

After I explained why I was stumbling around their store with a camcorder in front of my face, the owners kindly allowed me to photograph a few items. Alan Jesperson even took a few minutes out from a busy day to show me around.

Here's Alan at his workbench, restoring an awesome Stromberg-Carlson 255 console with flash tuning and an acoustic labyrinth speaker system.

I didn't get a closeup of the Stromberg-Carlson's dial, but it has little glowing lights to mark the station presets, arranged in a semicircle around the bottom dial perimeter. To my ears and eyes, this set was just about showroom-ready. It looked and sounded fantastic. While chatting with me, Alan deftly pulled the magic tuning eye and repaired it.

Here, we've left the workshop to visit the store's display area. This aisle had some great consoles, as well as a Wurlitzer tabletop jukebox.

The bullet-shaped ivory lamp in the center of this picture is an unusual Mitchell lamp radio.

In 1999, three years after writing this original article, I bought a Mitchell lamp set of my own.

Shelves full of table radios, including a pair of cute "owl-eye" Motorola portables on the right of the middle shelf.

I didn't even try counting all the radios in this place. Let's just say that there are lots!

Yet another aisle of consoles, with a whole family of RCA "Nipper" figurines.

Visible near the upper right, stacked on another brown and white tabletop, is a green Catalin midget with louvred grille.

Perhaps it was a Fada Model 53—I don't remember exactly. It's tricky to take notes with a camcorder in your hand!

Near the end of my all-too brief visit, Alan ushered me into their basement, which seemed to go on forever. This nether zone was crammed, floor to ceiling, with old radio gear—complete sets, cabinets, chassis, you name it! Maybe you've had dreams where you suddenly stumble into a forgotten treasure trove . . . that's the sort of feeling I had while gazing around that storehouse.

At this late stage in our vacation, I was under a stern mandate not to bring "any more of those darn radios" back to box up and ship home. So I didn't do any serious shopping at Great Northern. But I couldn't leave the store without at least taking a couple of trademark black Zenith T-shirts off their hands.

Great Northern Antiques is located just a couple of blocks from Lake Nokomis, in Minneapolis. I made a second visit while visiting Minnesota in 2005, and was equally impressed with their inventory, almost a decade after my original visit.

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