When TV was exciting, new

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LEWISTON – Kirk Lundstrom’s collection boasts lots of old, electronic firsts.

The boxy, brown-handled 1959 Philco Safari, the first transistor television set, described in “Popular Science” that year as “the first really portable TV.”

The first Zenith set, the Mayflower, made in 1948 – it’s got a round, porthole picture.

The 1949 Pilot with a 3-inch screen – the first TV in the U.S. that sold for under $100. But with one catch:

“The funny thing was if you wanted it assembled, they charged an extra $25 for it,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom, 45, has 24 antique TVs, most from the late ’40s. (A 27-inch Sony upstairs does everyday duty.)

Most of them don’t work, for now. It costs nearly as much to buy them as to fix them up, he said, so that’s his goal for another day. Maybe after his daughter graduates college.

“I just like the beginning of everything,” he said. Back then, “television was exciting and brand new. The sets look so interesting compared to sets now.”

His TVs are in intricate wood and metal cases. They were all made in America. Today, none are, so he sees the downfall of U.S. manufacturing in his collection, too.

Lundstrom has picked most of the sets up at regular swap meets in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He brings things to trade or sell only if he can upgrade the collection.

“The name of the game is contacts,” he said. “I have one real rare set I drove all the way to Rhode Island and back for in a day – it was worth it.”

The oldest sets have Channel 1, before the Federal Communications Commission disbanded it. The rest have knobs for channels 2-13, along with volume, brightness and contrast.

Lundstrom started collecting antique radios when he was 12. That collection’s grown more slowly, because good, old radios are harder to come by.

In his basement, he’s got the first plug-in radio: a 1926 Super Zenith. Wooden, with tall legs, the sound comes out of a speaker horn on top. It still works.

He never knows where he’s going to find the next piece.

Lundstrom was getting his hair cut one day at Frenchy’s Barbershop when he spied a 1972 orange Weltron globe-shaped radio/8-track player. He already had one in yellow. Orange was the rare color.

“I said, If you ever want to sell that…'”

The barber did. Lundstrom walked out with a haircut and a classic.

Know anyone we ought to feature? Contact Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or kskelton@sunjournal.com

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