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Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analogue past

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

Brooklyn-based photographers Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman, aka famefamefame, are drawn to devoted subcultures—from Iceland's small publishers to the oldest tool and die shop in Manhattan. Their latest photo series documents collectors from the New Jersey Antique Radio Club  (NJARC). Formed in 1992, it's the largest radio club in the United States with over 200 members.

"Radios used to be in every American’s living room. It was how you got your news, entertainment and music," the photograpy duo write in the introduction to their zine Radio Boys, printed as a digital mini newspaper. "As technology evolved, radios fell out of favor and moved to basements and collected dust." Luckily, the members of NJARC are determined to preserve these disappearing pieces of analogue history.

Here, Butcher and Diegelman tell us more about the project—like what happens at a vintage radio swap meet and how they persuaded club members to pose for portraits—and why Spotify just doesn't compare to the charm of local radio shows.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

"Radios used to be in every American’s living room. It was how you got your news, entertainment and music." From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

Can you give us a bit of background on your careers and some of the milestones so far?

Martin Diegelman: I studied film in college and lived in LA in my early 20s, working on any production that would have me. I was there until I realized I didn’t like working in such large groups and also hated LA and its eternal sunshine. From there I moved to New York and started shooting stills.

Sophie and I met at a photo event for the site Narratively. We were presenting personal projects at this weird Russian caviar bar in Soho. Flash forward 5 years and we’re engaged to be married at the end of this March!

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

Sophie Butcher: One of my first internships at TIME magazine was so fulfilling, I knew straight away that I wanted to be in the world of journalism and photography. I also freelanced at Aperture Foundation and was lucky enough to work on some amazing photo books, like re-designing The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon and assisting on the re-issue of Sally Man’s Immediate Family.

"We kept going until we figured we'd documented all the facets thoroughly. It's a quiet, honest piece."

I’m now a photo editor at The New York Times, but make it a point to keep working on personal projects despite the full-time gig. I love shooting but also love the process of print and book design.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

"As technology evolved, radios fell out of favor and moved to basements and collected dust." From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

Why did you decide to do a project all about radios? How did you learn about the New Jersey Antique Radio Club?

SB: We don’t own pre-war radios like these guys, but Marty has too many records and spends way too much time fixing up his speakers. We can start with that.

MD:  I always need more records.

SB: A friend of ours, Tom Cawley, is a member of the club and was telling us about the swap meet and it kind of just grew organically out of a genuine interest.

MD: Yeah, it really was people just doing things for the right reason. Not for money, not to get famous—just out of love and preservation. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I don’t know if the same type of nostalgia will apply for the original iPhone, but maybe I’m wrong.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

How long did you work on this series?

SB: We worked on this one for a long time. A really, really long time! Way longer than other projects but mostly because we kept looking for a unique angle or perspective and by doing so we kept experimenting, shooting in so many different ways—sometimes using film, backdrops, digital. We kept going until we figured we’d documented all facets thoroughly. It’s a quiet, honest piece.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

"Three times a year, the NJARC sponsors antique radio swap meets. Members often arrive before the doors open to get first dibs on rare finds." From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

What's a meeting of the New Jersey Antique Radio Club like?

MD: Well, Sophie sticks out like a sore thumb there. It’s mostly engineer-type older men checking out the tables, looking for their particular type of vintage radio. They always were welcoming to her and she never had to pay admission. They even had her pull the tickets for the raffle at the end of the Parsippany show a couple times.

"Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I don’t know if the same type of nostalgia will apply for the original iPhone, but maybe I’m wrong."

SB: Tom said it best I think when he was talking about how much of a family it is. One guy will walk up to a table and see a radio and be like “I used to have that radio!” and the guy at the table will be like “Yeah, you sold it to me 5 years ago!” There’s a lot of members but they all seem to know a little something about each other, and really, while there are a lot of great radios out there, there are only so many of these older and more rare radios around.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

Can you describe your process for taking the portraits?

MD: The portraits on the dark seamless were all taken at the Kutztown Radio Show. Luckily we're friends with Tom and he helped wrangle up some of his buddies and that got things going.

SB: Yeah, we just set up under a nearby canopy and went for it. We spoke with so many people that weekend that once a few portraits were taken it was easier to convince, or at least drag, a few more guys over to our set up. We just asked them to bring along one of their favorite or most interesting radios and hung out waiting to see what they showed up with.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

"At the end of the first night of the Kutztown Radio Show, members ceremoniously burn wooden radio cabinets that are beyond repair." From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

Do you have a favourite photo from the series? The ceremonial burning of the radio cabinets [above] is really intriguing!

MD: I really like the shot of all the guys huddling around the giant vacuum tube (below). They were just fascinated and totally into it. They were taking their own photos and all speculating about what it could be from. I think they decided it was from a radio transmission site but I really don’t remember.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Members of the New Jersey Antique Radio Club admire a giant vacuum tube. From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

SB: The ceremonial burning of the radio cabinets was great! It really was nice to see how much of a community they all were and this was just a good way to bring everyone together at the end of a weekend that is all about radios.

"It really was people just doing things for the right reasons. Not for money, not to get famous—just out of love and preservation."

They made it really really clear that they wouldn’t be burning these cabinets had the radios they were housed in not been beyond repair. They don’t take their role in the preservation of radio lightly.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

The title of the project is "Radio Boys" and it seems like collecting antique radios is a pretty male-dominated hobby. Did you encounter any women?

SB: There definitely aren’t many radio girls! Bruce Mager co-owned the store Waves with his wife who passed away recently. After she met Bruce, she got into radios too and was the only one that kept him from selling the first radio they bought together. Both of them loved collecting and going to swap meets. Now their son Max is stepping in and working at the store part time.

MD: To be honest, other than that, most of the women I saw at the radio swap meets looked like they were waiting patiently for their partners to get their “radio fix” and then leave.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

Why did you decide to publish this project as a newspaper?

SB: My friend showed me some samples of Newspaper Club’s printing and I loved that the colors could look so bright even on newsprint. I also liked how simple the process was once the layout was designed and ready to go.

MD: A newspaper zine is an easy thing to share, and the first thing we’re going to do is give out copies to the radio boys. It’s been a long time coming. Then, we’ll use whatever’s left as promotional material for our work on famefamefame.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Waves, open since 1978, is the only remaining vintage and antique radio shop in Manhattan. From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

You must have learned a lot about radios in the process of this project! What's the most interesting thing you learned?

MD: One crazy fact is that Norway has recently banned FM radio broadcasts. They’re using the airspace for other transmissions, but radio as we know it is definitely changing. It’s kinda scary when you think about how important radio is when a natural disaster hits, or really, how great it is to have independent or college radio stations still around.

"A newspaper zine is an easy thing to share, and the first thing we're going to do is give out copies to the radio boys. It's been a long time coming."

SB: Like WFMU! Everyone check out WFMU, it’s 91.1 in the NYC area and online. It’s completely independent, not school supported or underwritten, and they have an app where they archive every show. We listen to Clay Pigeon every morning before going to work—completely awesome stuff all the time with no commercials!

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Radio Boys zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed as a digital mini newspaper.

MD: But there are all kinds of great stations all over the world, like WFMU in Seattle or KALX in Berkeley. Radio is awesome and DJs will go in totally bizarre directions that Spotify can’t replicate. It’s fun to explore the radio dial when you’re driving around the country.

We also learned that radios are crazy complicated and way over our heads. These guys really know a lot about some pretty technical stuff. They would often lose us after about 5 sentences and we would just nod along like we were keeping up.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Kutztown Radio Show, one of the largest radio shows in the country, is a two day bonanza where buyers and sellers get together and bond over their love of radio. From Radio Boys by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman.

What's next? Can you tell us about any projects in the works or coming up?

MD: After getting scooped on a story Sophie was working on last year, I’m guessing she doesn’t want to give out too much info...

SB: Well yeah, but it led to another great story! I have a personal photo project being shown in Brooklyn in conjunction with the Audubon Society about Project Safe Flight.

Project Safe Flight documents bird strikes during spring and fall bird migration in the lower Manhattan skyscraper area. NYC lies directly in the path of millions of migrating birds and so they often fly into the glass panels of these tall buildings. Project Safe Flight is doing their best to raise awareness of how buildings can build responsibly so the birds steer clear and safely migrate. Audubon will feature the piece in their magazine and our favorite local brewery, KCBC, is hosting a show on April 25th. They even have their own Project Safe Flight beer! Great people over there!

MD: We have a few things that we’re laying out right now but without giving away too much, all I’ll say is Sri Lankan books and small-scale aeronautics. We like finding obscure subcultures and spending time documenting them. Real “edge of your seat” types of stories.

Radio Boys documents collectors preserving an analog past. Photography zine by Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman. Printed by Newspaper Club.

Photographers Sophie Butcher and Martin Diegelman, who work together as famefamefame.

Custom type for the cover of Radio Boys created by Laura Toffolo.


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