Some car radios never die; especially when Brad Owens of Vintage Alpine Repair get his hands on them.
Owens is a car audio installer for Dad’s Electronics in Duluth, Minn., which is a long time Alpine dealer and a former service center. The shop had a lot of Alpine parts and radios lying around, and Owens took an interest in fixing them. He soon found there was a demand for these radios in the collector’s market. Owens took to eBay and began buying additional parts and broken radios, working in his spare time out of a shop in his garage.
“That started getting people to contact me about repairing people’s radios,” he said. He expanded to brands beyond Alpine, including Pioneer, but Alpine decks remain the bulk of his business. Owens works all day at Dad’s Electronics and then comes home and repairs radios.
During the pandemic Owens took nine months off to figure out what he wanted to do with his growing business that was a hobby or side job at the time. He received over 100 messages during that time and ultimately decided to formally register as a business and make it an official “second job.”
All in all, Owens has been at this for 5 or 6 years. Part of the reason people want the older radios is nostalgia. “I have 90-plus cassettes and over 1,000 CDs. I get the nostalgia.” But Owens is very much of the younger generation. “Most of the equipment I’m working on came out when I was 10 or 12 years old. I’m only 38. But I came across an old Alpine radio we had here sitting on the shelf that never got repaired. It sat here for 20 plus years, so I fixed it and then I thought, if I can fix this, then what else is out there?”
He runs a Facebook group, Vintage Car Audio Repair, with 4200 members, and My page Vintage Alpine Repair, with 3500 followers.
He charges $175 to repair radios and $275 to repair cassette decks. Or he’ll sell a radio for about $300. The Alpine 7903 is his most popular unit. Cassette decks are surprisingly popular.
“Maybe it’s moving away from convenience. When you put a cassette in, you’re locking into that album, not skipping tracks. You are playing that whole thing through. Some guys are huge collectors, some with rooms full of stereo equipment,” Owens said.
“Then there’s the people that want period correct components for their car. They don’t care about CarPlay or screens,” he noted. In general, of his audience, Owens said, “Honestly the best thing to sum them up is people who have a great passion for what we consider the Glory Days of car audio.”
Do the old radios sound better? “It’s subjective. I was running a radio from 1990 in my own vehicle for about a year, but then I put an Audison bit One on the back and it does sound good.” But he said older radios have “a certain tone.”
How difficult is it to repair old radios? “I’ve been fixing stuff since I was a kid, so it was an easy transition for me,” Owens said.