Norbert kept Leaside tuned in, turned on

Norbert and his son René circa 1975.
Norbert and his son René circa 1975.

There is nobody in Canada who could repair a tube radio like Norbert Batsch – known as Mike by most – and that fact probably still holds true. Throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s Norbert kept the hi-fis of Leaside sounding sweet.

Norbert set up house and shop in Leaside in the early ’60s. He and his wife bought a detached “Canada Wire and Cable” house on Sutherland Drive where his two children were born and raised. And he opened his shop called the Vintage Radio Store at 465 Manor Rd. East, just behind Hollywood Gelato. Norbert, 94, now lives north of Toronto but has fond memories of his decades spent in Leaside. He recalls the friendly small town feel and the many conversations he had with folks curious about his passion – antique radio equipment. It wasn’t only his shop that was filled to the rafters with beautiful wooden radio cabinets and speaker horns from the ’20s and ’30s but also his home. On his large covered front porch, he was known to display some of his pieces, reflecting his love of all things mechanical.

Norbert and his family came to Canada in 1951. An ethnic German, he was born in Poland but along with his brothers and parents, fled to Austria with the start of the Second World War. Like millions of others in the ’50s they made the decision to leave a ravaged Europe behind and start anew, settling in Toronto. Norbert explains that he was always curious about how mechanical objects worked. He remembers taking apart telephones, much to the chagrin of his parents. His enthusiasm paid off.

At the shop in the 80's.
At the shop in the 80’s.

His shop quickly became popular and Norbert was recognized as the man to see to repair the family radio set. In the early ’60s most homes still had tube radios, manufactured pre-’50s. The radio cases were large and stylish, large because it was vacuum tubes that made them work and the tubes were big. The tubes contained filaments much like an old light bulb, which would get hot, eventually burn out and need replacement. Toward the end of his career on Manor Road he was mostly servicing antique pieces that were in collections or displayed as curiosity pieces. Even today they are popular with audiophiles who like the look of Bakelite or the ornate wooden cabinets and warm sound that resonates from the speakers of a vacuum tube device.

Norbert has had a lifelong fascination with Reginald Fessenden, which makes his choice of country and career appropriate. After all, Fessenden was born in Quebec and as a radio engineer developed the foundations of AM radio as well as made the first transmission of speech by radio in 1900. Norbert likes to share Fessenden facts you don’t read in textbooks such as his eccentric habit of serving his cat Mikums sips of brandy from a thermos bottle.

While Norbert no longer does complicated repair work, he has been known to dabble and is always wired to share tales of radio technology and warm memories of his many years lived in Leaside.

About Mitch Bubulj 11 Articles
Mitch is a born and raised Leasider. He worked for many years in South East Asia but ended up back in South Leaside where he raised his family. A member of the North York Community Preservation Panel and a retired English and Social Science teacher, Mitch has a passion for neighbourhood, history and a good story.