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Local man enjoys ‘keeping history alive’ by restoring old radios

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Doug Bohman, 62, of Rigby in front of an old Philco radio he restored. See some of his handiwork in the video player above. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

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IDAHO FALLS – Those familiar with Doug Bohman know he loves to tinker.

The 62-year-old Rigby man has been a hot cell technician at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Naval Reactors facility for the last 18 years. In his spare time, he is often restoring and tweaking old cars and motorcycles. About three years ago, he picked up another hobby.

“I restore antique radios,” Bohman tells EastIdahoNews.com.

Placed throughout the interior of his 5,000-square-foot home are eight console radios dating back to the 1930s and 40s, all of which Bohman has spent many hours meticulously refurbishing.

Most of the radios were purchased inexpensively from garage sales and homeowners throughout Idaho, Utah and Montana, many of which sat untouched for years.

“A lot of these are true barn finds, meaning they were literally out in a barn covered with mouse nests and cobwebs. Some of them are in pretty bad shape,” Bohman says.

Bohman spends about 60 hours per radio, cleaning them up and stripping out the old tubes and circuits. He replaces those with current radio and stereo technology and also puts a new finish on the wooden exterior.

Seeing the transformation of every console he works on is what Bohman finds most rewarding.

“I love seeing them go from dilapidated, really bad looking to beautiful pieces of furniture,” says Bohman. “When people see them, they say ‘Wow, they’re just beautiful.'”

Another appealing aspect for Bohman is hearing the stories people tell about them.

“Almost every time I buy one, someone will say, ‘This belonged to my grandmother,’ or ‘This was my great grandmother’s.’ Then they’ll tell me a story about how they … used to listen to it when they were little. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, Why are you getting rid of it, then?

Bohman says it was his wife, Brenda, who got him interested in doing this. In December of 2017, she found an old Philco set for sale in Idaho Falls and thought her husband would enjoy fixing it up.

“The site shuts down every year for the holidays and Doug has a lot of time off during that period. He’s a doer and loves to be busy doing things and I just thought it would be a good project for him and me to do together,” Brenda says.

That first restoration project lasted much longer than anticipated because there was such a learning curve. It’s now proudly displayed in the couple’s living room.

What started as a one-time project has now become a passion. In the last three years, Bohman has restored nearly a dozen radios with two more waiting in the wings. Several people have purchased radios from him and he says he’s willing to sell some of his handiwork for the right price.

“I get so attached to them,” Doug says. “I would sell them. The problem is I’ve put so much work into them and just the electronics I put back into them are $300-$400. Even if I ask $600, I don’t know if people are willing to (pay) that.”

The original guts of one of Bohman’s radios. | Courtesy Doug Bohman

‘Keeping history alive’

Giving new life to old technology has taught Bohman a lot and given him a better understanding of how radio has evolved over the years. He says it’s given him a better appreciation for different kinds of music.

“Back in the day, I was kind of a rebel and I loved … ’70s rock music. Now I’m more into (what I would describe as modernized jazz). I have hundreds of artists I’ve listened to that probably no one has heard of. That’s what these radios sound best playing,” he says.

He also appreciates having them in his home as a throwback to a once-popular form of entertainment from an era now long past.

“They didn’t have TVs or computers (back then). They’d turn on the old radio, gather around and listen to an old broadcast,” says Bohman. “For a lot of people, this was (how) they first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the ending of the war. That’s how they got their news and information. I like to think that I’m keeping them going and keeping history alive.”

Doug Bohman, right, with his wife, Brenda. | Courtesy Brenda Bohman
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