Brooklyn-based photography duo Marty Diegelman and Sophie Butcher first got chatting at a Narratively photojournalism event, where Marty treated Sophie to a beer. After going on one date, Sophie was disappointed not to hear from Marty again for a while but, she tells us: “It turns out he got in a motorcycle accident and was in the hospital.” Marty jokes that “it was totally awkward when we met up again. The only reason Sophie recognised me was because of the cast.” Sophie and Marty have since collaborated on numerous photography projects, some self-initiated and some in affiliation with The New York Times’ branded content studio, T Brand Studio. Sophie says: “It’s super fun and we keep learning about each other; Marty always pushes me to get out of my comfort zone.”
The pair’s recent photographic publication, Radio Boys, is an offbeat, journalistic study of a niche community: antique radio collectors. Marty remembers: “After losing my 200gb+ iTunes music collection to a failed hard drive, I found myself suddenly interested in vinyl. My friend Tom Cawley, who is featured in the project, told me about this group of radio collectors and it piqued our interest.”
When Sophie and Marty, at their friend Tom’s urging, attended their first antique radio swap meet, they were pulled straight into the fold of a welcoming and enthusiastic community of people, all drawn together by a nostalgic love for old radios. As Sophie tells it: “I saw the passion of these collectors and thought what a great story it would be to photograph.” For Marty, “it brought back memories of the dusty units in my parents’ basements. Radio really changed the world and it’s slowly fading away and being replaced by digital transmission.”
Radio Boys is a compilation of profiles and portraits of some of the antique radio club members and collectors that Sophie and Marty made connections with. Alongside these are photographs of the men’s prized collections and documentation of the largest East Coast swap meet, held in Kutztown Pennsylvania. “We were by far the youngest people attending these swap meets!” Sophie exclaims, but because she and Marty shared with the other attendees an essential interest in the world of music and vinyl, “They were excited to have us.” The subjects were keen to share their passion for, and knowledge about, the world of radio – this is immediately perceptible in the photographs, in the men’s animated expressions and gestures, and in their pride as they pose with their treasured possessions.
The photographs have a warmth and good-natured humour to them that involves the viewer in the genial atmosphere of the swap meet. “We started this with a very different, strictly photojournalism approach that didn’t quite lend the ‘fun’ to the project that we felt while shooting,” Sophie tells us; “It took us a while to develop the feel that we wanted. A big part of it was us working together as a couple, we definitely learned a lot about our relationship and ourselves.” As Marty states: “_Radio Boys_ really settled us into our roles as a photo duo.”
Speaking of how rewarding the project was as an insight into a community brought together by a single shared passion, Sophie states: “It’s really cool to be welcomed into someone else’s personal space and not just to see, but to document what it is that wakes them up in the morning. I always enjoy that aspect. We got to see so many cool radios too!” And, Marty says, “we were lucky enough to buy a few,” along with some vinyl records for Marty’s physical music collection that he’s shoring against digital loss.
Marty entreats It’s Nice That’s readers to “please, please, please check out your local radio. You can skip right over the corporate radio and head straight to the low numbers on the radio dial. Those tend to have the coolest stuff and are publicly funded, which means no commercials. Most also have a streaming platform through apps and online – they are so much better than a Spotify algorithm. WFMU in Jersey City is legendary, KEXP in Seattle is endlessly cool, and KALX in Berkeley always has something interesting on. Most have volunteer DJs that change by the day, so what you hear will be completely different each time. Check it out next time you are looking for something to listen to.”
Radio Boys is a wholehearted celebration of those dedicated to maintaining the history and tradition of radio transmission. As Sophie sums up: “Viva la Radio!”