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September 22, 2017

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Vintage gramophones, radios amaze

Papenburg, Germany--When 72-year Rudi Evers talks about music being groovy, he means it literally. The German collector of old radios and electric music players has no time for new-fangled smartphones.

For him music is all about coaxing beautiful tunes from the grooves of vintage 78 rpm records. When not doing that, he enjoys the warm green glow of his old bulb-valve radios.

Should the sun shine, Rudi would pack his portable Guiniphone player as the ideal equipment for a picnic.

He demonstrates the device to visitors by unfolding the paper speaker, winding up the machine and placing a shellac record on the turntable.

Rudi activates a little lever and the black disc on the turntable begins to spin. He then carefully lowers the pickup arm, which ends with a short needle resembling a household nail and suddenly there are loud rustling and crackling sounds.

Within seconds, soft and dulcet tones pour forth and Rudi beams from ear to ear at his home in the northern German coastal town of Papenburg, where the enthusiast has assembled a fascinating private collection of turntables and gramophone sets.

Piled up in the basement and under the low rafters of his house are all manner of weird and wonderful relics — some dating back to the 19th century, alongside brightly colored transistor radios, renowned for their plastic and fake leather cases and strained "tinny" sound.

"I can't tell you how many of the things I've got," said Rudi. "I've stopped counting."

At a rough estimate there are 3,000 pieces of elderly audio equipment devices and Rudi, a trained painter and decorator, spends a couple of hours every day in a basement workshop poring over them.

"I can really unwind down here," he said and starts moving among the exhibits. "Isn't this marvelous" And to think it doesn't use any electricity at all," he says and turns the handle of an ancient Edison Phonograph.

The device does not play disc-shaped records but tinfoil coated rotating cylinders using a stylus — a hard-pointed instrument like a fat needle. After a few turns and a burst of white noise, an orchestra can be heard accompanying a powerful baritone voice.

"What a friend we have in Jesus," the singer intones

A date stamp on the side of the phonograph reads "July 29, 1902."

It is amazing to think that this piece of music was performed and preserved well over a hundred years ago.

Rudi's family runs a carpet and decorating business, but as a young man he yearned to become a radio technician. At the time there was no radio apprenticeship available locally, so he followed in his father's footsteps and learned how to paint houses.

"It's a wonderful profession, very creative and you have a lot to do with people," says Rudi. He still regularly paints and wallpapers.

Young at heart Rudi admits wryly that if he spends more than two hours a day down in the basement among the old valves and transistors, "you start to feel like a museum exhibit yourself."

Among the assorted gadgets are some real rarities. One of them is a Lampophone — a frilly edged table lamp with a built-in turntable and speaker inside, which seemingly cannot make up its mind what it is supposed to be.

Another oddity is a French gramophone set made by the Pathe brothers. It played records at 95 rpm from the inside outward in attempt to establish a rival patented system. It never caught on. All standard record players play flat discs from the outside inwards.

Standing next to some sumptuous cabinet radios from the 1930s is an example of the notorious "Volkempfaenger," the German name for a range of brown-colored "people's radio" receivers developed at the request of Nazi propaganda authorities.

They enabled stay-at-home Germans to hear dictator Adolf Hitler's speeches. Just so they did not forget who was in charge.

Rudi exhibits it along with some replicas he has made of primitive radio sets built from odds and ends by clever prisoners of war.

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