Sunset Beacon

Man Still Tinkers with Old Radios; a Labor of Love

By Jonathan Farrell

While strolling along Irving Street, near the busy traffic of 19th Avenue, a little

shop once called Aladdin Radio is not that hard to miss. Although it closed

down nearly a decade ago, the shop’s owner, John Wentzel, can sometimes be

spotted inside tinkering at his leisure.

John&SonSizedForInside

Former owner of Aladdin Radio and Repair Shop, John Wentzel, 94, with his
son Jim in the shop on Irving Street. Although officially closed, Wentzel still
likes to tinker at the shop, which has been at its current location for 67 years. Photo by Philip Liborio Gangi.

“I am just doing this a few hours a day as a hobby,” said Wentzel, now 94 years

old. “The shop officially closed back in 2007; It is not a business anymore.” But he does

like to tinker. “I like to repair radios and some TVs,” Wentzel said.

 

His son Jim, who lives a couple of blocks away from the shop, explained:

“Dad doesn’t work with anything made much after 1960. He really prefers old

AM-band radios of the ’30s and ’40s, sets employing vacuum tubes.”

 

Jim and his older brother Bob grew up in the flat above the Irving Street shop.

Jim, Bob, their mom Louise and Aunt Stella (John Wentzel’s sister), all

lived in the flat.

 

John Wentzel was born and raised in Newton, Kansas, a town of less than

20,000 people, located about 25 miles north of Wichita.

 

Wentzel always enjoyed working with his hands.

 

“My interest in working with radios goes back to when I was in

high school,” he said.

 

Wentzel served in the U.S. Army Air Force Communication Service from 1942

to 1946. While in the military, his work with radios continued and it encouraged

him to consider it as a career. Before Aladdin Radio made its permanent home on Irving

in 1950, it was located on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and Kirkham Street.

 

“And, before that, Aladdin Radio was originally at 45 West Portal Ave. in the

West Portal District,” Wentzel said.

 

When an opportunity to buy the business where he had been working

was offered, Wentzel accepted.

 

“I eventually moved Aladdin Radio to the current spot on Irving Street because I

wanted to own the shop rather than rent,” he said.

 

Jim spoke of many happy memories growing up in the Sunset. Both he and his

brother Bob graduated from John O’Connell High School, which was located

in the Mission District.

 

Aladdin Radio was a mainstay, Jim said, mostly because his father enjoyed

fixing and putting things together. For almost 60 years the little shop served the

electronic needs of the community. Post-WWII was a time of great prosperity

and opportunity.

 

“My dad already had one sister, Clara, living here in the City,” Jim said “This

helped encourage him to venture out to San Francisco from Kansas with Louise

(soon to be his wife) and his other sister Stella.” Previously, John Wentzel had visited

the City only a couple brief times.

 

He has noticed significant changes along Irving Street over the years.

“More people, more traffic, fewer places to park and too many regulations

(among other things),” he said. Wentzel appreciates items that are

well-made, and likes to work with things constructed with craftsmanship and longlasting

quality. He has an extensive collection of old radios, clocks and various

items dating back to the 1920s.

 

“I used to help out a little in the shop from time to time, but my Aunt Stella

worked there full time ’till she passed away,” Jim said. “Then, my mother took

over handling all of the administrative needs.”

 

Jim reflected on how the Sunset District was like a little village when he

was growing up: “Life was pretty simple and low-stressed back in the

’50s and early ’60s.”

 

Since the official closing of the shop, Wentzel has kept Aladdin Radio as a

meeting place for hobbyists, enthusiasts and historians, like members of the

California Historical Radio Society and Museum. The site at 1609 Irving St. is a

throwback to simpler times. A look in the window will provide a

glimpse of the past, and maybe even a sighting of

Wentzel tinkering – still doing the work he loves!

 

JohnWenslierSizedForInside

John Wentzel, 94, at the Aladdin Radio and Repair Shop.

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