BERKELEY -- Step into the building that houses the Bay Area Radio Museum and you might expect to find old-timers tinkering with wires and vacuum tubes as they bring vintage radios glowing to life.
And you'd be right, except these days the men are just as busy boxing up batteries, microphones and other memorabilia because they are moving to Alameda.
It's a little bittersweet: the California Historical Radio Society, which manages the museum and the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, has occupied the Ashby Avenue site for a decade, rent-free. But Pham Radio Communication, which recently bought the property, wants the volunteer group to leave.
There's other reasons behind the move: Few people ever walk past the building, and most motorists never notice it behind the trees as they skirt nearby Aquatic Park on their way to Interstate 80, despite the building's towering antennae that transmits station KVTO.
"Things will be different in Alameda," said Steve Kushman, the society's president. "We are purchasing a place on Central Avenue that will give us a higher profile. It will generate more public interest and help us to expand."
The museum has about 2,500 antique radios. It also has Victrolas, vintage posters and other odds and ends from the golden age of wireless. The collection's oldest radio is a crystal set with a wandlike speaker made about 1912, the same year RMS Titanic sank. Other items include a transmitter that U.S. Navy sailors used on Mare Island in the 1920s and a radio from the same era with glass tubes that still have labels from Uncle Al's repair shop in Oakland.
There are even early black-and-white televisions, including one with a 3-inch screen built back when people tuned into "The Honeymooners" and the "The Jack Benny Program."
Many of the radios and TVs work. Restoring the others is an ongoing passion for the museum volunteers.
"We have guys who can do anything, who can fix anything," Kushman said.
A nonprofit, the radio society was formed in 1974 among radio buffs who would gather in homes and at swap meets to share advice and encouragement. It now has about 400 members.
Kushman began collecting radios in the late 1980s. The San Francisco resident, 62, who works as a video editor at KGO-TV, now owns about 1,500 of them.
"Some of our wives don't particularly want a lot of radios around the house," said Gilles Vrignaud, who owns about 100, as he helped out at the museum on a recent morning. "You know how they say, 'Space is the final frontier?' For us collectors, that's very true."
Scott Robinson, of Sausalito, joined the society after finding one of its fliers at Aladdin Radio Repair, the landmark San Francisco shop that owner John Wentzel closed on New Year's Eve 2007 after more than 60 years in business.
"I thought, 'My God, there are people interested in the same things that I am,' " the 71-year-old Robinson said. "And they have formed a group."
Kushman admits the Berkeley building was in many ways a perfect place for the museum. Constructed in 1937, it was the home of radio station KRE for decades. It was also used in the film "American Graffiti" for a scene featuring Richard Dreyfuss and Wolfman Jack.
The building was vacant and in disrepair when the radio society began restoring it in November 2003.
The group now has equally ambitious plans for the former children's learning center at 2152 Central Ave. in Alameda that will house the expanded museum, including replicating a 1940s studio and 1950s control room.
The group is in escrow for the 7,410-square-foot property and has raised more than $760,000 toward its goal of $1.1 million. The move from Berkeley must be completed by the end of this month.
Just when the museum will open its doors in Alameda will hinge on how quickly the former school can be refurbished, Kushman said. But he said volunteers will make arrangements to meet anyone before then who is interested in the collection or who wishes to learn more about the group's projects.
"This is radio," Kushman said. "You have to stay tuned."
Contact Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654. Follow him at Twitter.com/peter_hegarty.
For information about the California Historical Radio Society or to donate to help pay for its move from Berkeley to Alameda, call 415-203-2747 or go to www.californiahistoricalradio.com.