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For the love of pinball: Local radio host makes house calls to repair machines

By Rae Rellim

 

mattwithmicGearing up for the holidays, typically a busy time for Matt Hendricks’ GR Pinball, he recently bought a purple and white Pacer as a unique way to promote the pinball machine repair business.

The 1970s Pacer – yes, the same iconic car made famous in “Wayne’s World” – is decked out with decals and garnering attention on the road. Hendricks isn’t sure a pinball machine can actually fit in it, but the car is a fun way to market his traveling repair business.

“The main function of the car is to be seen and stand out more,” he says. “Buying a regular van wasn’t very interesting. It’s been a nice little addition and one more kind of nichey, coolness factor.”

He turned his pinball hobby into a part-time business, GR Pinball http://grpinball.com/, several years ago after acquiring and fixing pinball machines for his own collection.

His other side gig is radio, and he has enjoyed being back on the air as a daytime disc jockey on Muskegon’s 100.9 FM WFFR http://www.muskegonradio.com/. Nearly a year in, he says the station continues to grow and add new programs.

His idea for GR Pinball was born when he realized there wasn’t anyone in the area that made house calls. He quickly learned there are a lot of pinball machines in West Michigan, and the Midwest, because they were built in Chicago.

Hendricks has loved pinball since age 5 and understands the fun and enjoyment they bring. He also appreciates the artistry and intricacies of the machines.

He usually sees an increase in phone calls over the holidays, when people are either looking for a machine or want a broken one repaired so friends and family can play at holiday gatherings, or during tax time when people have extra money.

“There’s way more demand than I would have ever imagined,” he says. “I never thought I would be doing this. People know people and we’re all kind of connected because it’s such a nichey thing.”

Once he bought a house in Grand Rapids, he began buying and fixing pinball machines. What started out as just single pinball game in his basement grew to more than 20. He bought his first one from a guy in Detroit and admits he didn’t know much about how they worked.

“Ever since I’ve been a child, pinball machines always fascinated me,” he says. “They’re loud, mechanical, bright and flashy. Plus, they’re very Americana and beautiful pieces of art. It was just a cool-looking, fun thing I always enjoyed playing as a kid.”

But with that many games, Hendricks started tinkering around and learned how to restore and repair them. It’s like working on a car, he says. The makes and models might be different, but the general mechanics are the same.

“Once you kind of understand how it all works, it’s not as hard as you think,” he says. “A lot of machines tend to have the same problems over and over. It’s fun. I got to learning about the games, how to fix them, restoring the artwork, and I discovered there’s a whole network of pinball enthusiasts around here.”

Many people have older machines sitting unused or out-of-commission in game rooms, garages and basements. Hendricks takes the hassle out of getting them fixed by going to where they are. He also buys, sells and trades older, refurbished machines or helps people find particular models.

“If they’re looking for a game, I can always find it,” he says. “More and more, I’d find games that needed to be fixed, sitting in a garage or a barn or wherever it might be, with beautiful back glass and art. They saw the value in them, but didn’t know how to fix them.”

His business has evolved through word of mouth and ads on Craigslist. He also has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GRPinball and website, GRPinball.com http://grpinball.com/.

Right now, repairing pinball machines is more a labor of love. He does it for the enjoyment and saving a piece of Americana.

Hendricks still has a day job at Berlin Raceway, announcing races every weekend in the summer and handling sales and marketing.

He’s also a familiar voice on local radio. Hendricks does the mid-day show from 10 a.m.-2p.m. weekdays on 100.9 FM and worked for more than a decade at other stations in West Michigan.

A native of Petoskey, Hendricks moved to Grand Rapids in 1999 to study broadcasting and marketing at Grand Valley State University. He got his start in radio at age 15, visiting the Petoskey station where his former babysitter worked to help out and learn all he could.

“I knew I wanted to be in that business,” he says. “So I basically asked her, ‘can you talk to the owner and see about getting me in here?’ I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”

He did everything from clean vans to paint walls to organize old records in the basement. He graduated to some short spots on-air and helped with local high school football games, playing commercials and overseeing other technical aspects from the studio while the announcers called the game.
While at Grand Valley, he joined a West Michigan station as a part-time producer and worked in various roles at local stations for more than a decade. He was a disc jockey for many formats of music, but was always a fan of what was called “oldies” back then, he says.

He even created the Classic Hit or Miss http://www.classichitormiss.com, which features long lost classic tunes from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s that radio and others have forgotten.

Hendricks enjoys 100.9 FM because it’s a nonprofit radio station for the community with local ownership.

“It’s a great privilege to be a part of it, because most of us got into radio to do what we’re doing in Muskegon, to play good music, inform people, be part of the community and make an impact,” he says. “The public service aspect is a very important part of it.”

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