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Tuning in to Jerry’s Vintage Radio

Local collector and aficionado shares his hobby

Posted: September 29, 2013 11:20 p.m.
Updated: September 29, 2013 11:20 p.m.

Jerry Simpson examines vintage tube radios and equipment in the work room of his shop, Jerry's Vintage Radio.

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Jerry Simpson’s antique radio repair shop is located in Canyon Country in a Sierra Highway strip mall, its most distinguishing feature an unnecessarily large parking lot where a tumbleweed is more likely to roll through than a customer.

Walk inside, and the shop smells like someone sprayed a can of WD-40 on the 1950s.

The reception at Jerry’s Vintage Radio is dismal — a peculiar circumstance given that Simpson’s livelihood depends on listening to the broken devices he’s entrusted to repair.

That’s status quo for the white-haired Simpson, 70, whose early years were similarly defined by a series of significant, self-imposed obstacles.

He is now at peace with himself, working in solitude but accompanied by his slow-moving cat, Butch.

Simpson wears his trademark turquoise-blue reading glasses and Pink Floyd T-shirt as he tinkers at a workbench, arms up to his elbows in the guts of a radio chassis from a bygone era.

“I’m looking for basics,” said Simpson, who could very well be talking about his outlook on life, but in this instance, it’s simply radio repair. “I know what a radio should be doing compared to what it’s actually doing right now, so if I get sound of any kind, that tells me something.”

Early in the analysis, Simpson turns the volume knob southward, presses his ear to the speaker and listens.

“If it’s got any amount of hum with the volume down, it means the power supply likely has a bad filter condenser, a component that converts AC voltage from the wall socket into DC voltage,” he said.

Simpson performs other tests to detect the presence of leaky capacitors, faulty tubes and damaged speakers. Once he draws a bead on the trouble, he replaces bad components, performs a general overhaul and restores the cabinet.

Curiously, customers return to claim revitalized radios that Simpson, because of the shop’s wholly inadequate radio reception, has never listened to in the usual manner most people do.

Valencia resident Greg Brown became an indirect customer of Jerry’s Vintage Radio when he received as a gift a 1952 RCA 1-R-81 AM/FM radio that Simpson meticulously resurrected from the dead.

The relic is now the centerpiece of Brown’s living room.

“The first time I turned it on, there was an uncomfortably long delay for the tubes to warm up, and that led to some doubt and concern as to whether this thing would actually work,” Brown said. “I remember hoping my circuit breaker was working.”

A circuit breaker is designed to protect against damage caused by overload, and in early adulthood, Simpson could have used one.

That’s when he discovered alcohol.

After graduating from Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills in 1961, Simpson enlisted in the Army and was assigned to radio teletype school in Fort Gordon, Ga. He spent two years in Korea spying on communications between China and North Korea.

After an honorable discharge, he went to work for an aerospace company monitoring Air Force military satellite flights.

He began drinking heavily and did not stop for 14 years, resulting in the loss of his top-secret military security clearance, a divorce from his first wife, several DUIs and a stint at a VA hospital psychiatric ward.

Simpson drifted in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous as he struggled with health, emotional and financial issues, finally hitting rock bottom in 1976 when he contemplated suicide.

“I thought about putting a bullet through my head, but I only had a .22 caliber pistol and was a little concerned that a .22 may not kill me,” he said.

He saw an ad on TV for a drug and alcohol care unit in Glendale and checked himself in. He’s been sober ever since.

A job as a TV repairman at Sears led to a hobby in vintage radio repair, which evolved into a love affair with antique radios and a storefront presence along Sierra Highway for more than 40 years.

Reflecting on his life, Simpson measures his success not by the radios he has revived, but by the relationship he has rebuilt with his daughter Jessica Kibler, a 41-year-old mother of six from Lancaster.

Kibler is Simpson’s only child.

“I’ve got a daughter who loves and respects me and still comes around for advice when she needs it,” Simpson said. “I didn’t have that when she was young and I was drinking.”

Kibler says growing up the daughter of an antique radio repairman had its challenges.

“Our vacations consisted of driving around looking for old radios,” Kibler said. “When I was a teenager, my punishment was normally, ‘Hey, you have to come out here and strip old lacquer from radio cabinets,’ and I hated it.”

Kibler says she respects her father because he lives his life as an example.

“He’s not someone who says you should do something without having first done it himself, and I think it was one of the deciding factors to get sober,” she said. “When my dad does something, he puts everything he has into it. He’s like that with everything — his friends, his relationships, his sobriety and his work.”

It’s the reason why Simpson will likely have that much-needed addition to the roof of his repair shop any day now.

“I really need to put up a better antenna,” he said. “I know I’ve been saying that forever, but now it’s time.”


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