Ray Edwards loves records. He loves listening to them, he loves collecting them and he loves talking about them.
“The argument has always been that you can’t replace the sound of original, analog music on vinyl with digital music,” Edwards said. “It just doesn’t sound the same. I can put on a record and I can FEEL the record. It’s hard to explain.”
That feel led Edwards to start volunteering at a radio station in Irondale as a teenager. He took on the Sunday morning shift that no one else wanted, just to be around the music.
After high school, Edwards majored in broadcasting and education and worked at radio stations around the country before returning to Birmingham in 1988.
Edwards collection began in earnest when a radio station he worked at suddenly switched formats, from rack to country. The station manager told Edwards to take whatever he wanted of the station’s old rock records. So he did.
In 1988, he took a job teaching at Jefferson State Community College and eventually headed up the mass communications department there, where he taught the next generation of broadcasters for two decades.
Last weekend at the Gardendale Civic Center, Edwards was joined by hundreds of other vinyl collectors, sellers and enthusiasts for the South’s largest record show.
“Most people have a particular group of years, when they were teenagers—usually 11, 12, 13—they discovered music,” Edwards explained. “Whatever format that might have been, from the radio—the old AM radio when I was a kid, maybe the FM radio when that came in—CDs, (some people don’t know what a record is) and, of course, downloads now. But whatever that music was when you were a teenager—until you got to the point where either you got married, had a kid, didn’t have time to listen to the radio anymore or play your music anymore—that period is your era. Everybody has an era. The nice thing about one of these shows is that we’ve got that music.”
Much of the collection Edwards was selling is part of the legendary “Rumore Collection.” Joe Rumore was a Birmingham Radio icon for more than 40 years. Broadcasting from his basement studio, rather than going to a station, Rumore’s tagline became “From our home to yours.”
When Rumore went off the air, his studio sat abandoned and the records—more than 40,000 of them, collected dust. Among collectors, the rumor was that the collection had been sold. In early 2017, Edwards learned the inventory from a record store Rumore owned had been sold, but his personal collection that he played on the air remained intact.
Edwards purchased the collection from Rumore’s son and spent the next month moving the collection out of the two car garage, where it was stacked ceiling-high.
Once Edwards had a chance to sort through the records, he realized he had some incredibly rare finds. The first sale from the collection was a still-sealed copy of David Bowie’s “19.”
The collection also yielded other surprises—a rare record by Commonwealth Jones that can go for as much as $1,000. That album, Edwards said, highlights the importance of rarity when determining the price of a collectible record.
“It’s really a combination of factors,” Edwards explained. “It is condition—the better condition it’s in, the more it’s worth. The second thing is how many of them are there—how rare is that particular item. A lot of people have a Beatles album and think ‘oh, it’s a Beatles album, so it’s worth $1,000.’ The problem is a million other people have that same Beatles album so it’s not very valuable.”