During the last few decades, a number of
broadcast-related museums have sprung up across the country — locations in
California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, West Virginia and Rhode
Island come to mind, just to name a few.
of America Museum of Broadcasting is located in this former Voice of America
relay station building in Bethany, Ohio.
This interest in exhibiting older gear may in part be due to
the graying of many broadcasting’s players, and perhaps the comfort level
brought by being around some of the hardware that made coast-to-coast and
round-the-world transmissions possible before satellites, fiber and computers.
Regardless, there are a goodly number of such institutions and the number seems
to be growing.
Three new entries have set up shop in a historic setting in
central Ohio. These separate but thematically connected museums are under one
roof on Tylersville Road, just down the way from Powell Crosley Jr.’s fabled
WLW transmitter site with its Blaw-Knox diamond antenna and 500,000 Watt
The site that the museums occupy was created and owned by
the Crosley broadcasting empire, later becoming federal property when the
government took over the shortwave broadcasting operations that Crosley
launched to help America counter wartime propaganda coming from Nazi Germany.
The new institution officially is the National Voice of America Museum of
Broadcasting and is on the former campus of what was once the VOA’s Bethany
THREE MUSEUMS, ONE ROOF
The museums — the Gray History of Wireless Museum, the
National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting and the Media Heritage
collection — occupy a relatively small portion of a cavernous building that was
constructed nearly 70 years ago and originally housed several custom-built 200
kW HF transmitters.
Much radio (and television)
history is captured in the artifacts on display in the Gray History of Wireless
The government decided to end VOA program relay operations
from Bethany in 1994, and the station building and a portion of the surrounding
antenna farm acreage were deeded over to the West Chester (Ohio) Township for
use as a park. The shortwave station’s antenna farm — numerous rhombics and
curtain arrays — were toppled, but the transmitter and operations building was
allowed to remain, with the three historical organizations being given space to
exhibit their artifacts.
This 1960s vintage Collins 821A1 250 kW transmitter once powered VOA HF
broadcasts from the Bethany relay station. It’s on display as part of the
National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting collection.
The Gray History of Wireless Museum has been part of the
greater Cincinnati landscape for several decades. It consists of a large
collection of wireless artifacts amassed by one G.J (Jack) Gray during his
lifetime as a ship’s radio officer in the 1910s, and later as an employee of
the Crosley radio empire.
After Gray’s death in 1970, the collection was relocated
from his garage to the Crosley Telecommunications
Center, location of Cincinnati’s PBS member station, WCET, and public radio
station, WGUC. When the former VOA space became available, the Gray collection
was relocated there.
It is organized, timeline fashion, into
an easy-to-follow series of displays. It’s not just about radio, as there are a
number of television artifacts too. One of the more notable is a large power
klystron that’s been cut away to display its inner workings. The 430-pound tube
came from Washington UHF television operation WDCA(TV) and logged nearly 48,000
hours before it was retired in 1985.
From an organizational and geographic
standpoint, the next entity at the site is the one that takes its name from the
former government broadcasting operation housed there.
It’s the National Voice of America
Museum, with its centerpiece exhibits being a surviving Collins 821A1 250 kW
shortwave transmitter (once there were three at the facility) and the former
station’s master control room, which has been left largely as it was in late
dates from the 1920s and provides a good example of what an broadcast station’s
audio mixer looked like 80 or so years ago. While not totally original — VU
meters didn’t appear until the late 1930s — it does contain a number of
components dating to the ’20s. It’s one of many Media Heritage Museum
Even though the antennas to the rear of
the building have been demolished, the massive outdoor RF “routing switcher” —
part of the original 1942 wartime installation and used to direct transmitter
feeds to the facility’s various antennas — is still in place, complete with
creosoted telephone pole supports and “heavy iron” contactor gear.
These costumes were
once worn by ‘Uncle Al’ and ‘Captain Windy’ in a long-running Cincinnati
children’s daily television show. The show began on WCPO in 1950 and continued
until the mid-1980s. The costumes are on display at the Media Heritage Museum.
The Media Heritage museum is a
combination of broadcasting hardware and informational displays about the
“software” side of radio and television — its performers and programs.
Co-founder and President Mike Martini
explained, “There are several museums dedicated to radios, microphones, and
equipment; and because we’re in the same building as the Gray Museum, we wanted
to go beyond that and preserve the memory of the performers, the writers, the
technicians, and others who helped to put the shows on the air.
“Most other places are into equipment,
but our primary focus is on Cincinnati’s radio and television history.”
Even though the programming side of
broadcasting is emphasized here, there’s certainly enough in the collection to
whet the hardware lover’s appetite. Relics include an very large Ampex
quadruplex videotape machine, an RCA 16 mm telecine projector and studio color
camera, an early weather radar display, transcription turntables, audio
consoles, and most remarkably, a very early audio control “board” that is said
to have been used originally at Cleveland’s WTAM.
Photos of hundreds of performers from Cincinnati
broadcasting’s heyday line a wall of the space, and there’s a display case housing
costumes worn by performers “Uncle Al” and “Captain Windy” on a local
children’s daily television show that enjoyed a three-and-a-half decade run.
Perhaps the most visible artifact in
the Media Heritage collection is a white Wurlitzer 1787 organ console — the “control
surface” of an instrument found in hundreds of showplace movie theatres and
larger radio stations and network operations during the 1930s and beyond. It’s
awaiting restoration and reconnection to hundreds of pipes. And although this
console came from a movie house, one of the ranks of pipes acquired for the
project was once part of the fabled Crosley WLW “Moon River” organ. Martini
says plans are being worked out for a computerized control system to be added
to the organ so that demonstrations on demand can be part of the Media Heritage
this ‘mighty Wurlitzer’ organ originally came from a 1920s ‘movie palace’ and
not a radio station, in later years it was fitted with a rank of organ pipes
from the WLW ‘Moon River’ Wurlitzer organ. The Media Heritage Museum has plans
to restore it to playing condition and provide museum visitors with a taste of
what live radio organ interludes sounded like.
“Our goal is to give people the opportunity to hear
a big Wurlitzer organ played on a regular basis, either by a live performer, or
played by computer.”
Hundreds of artifacts and exhibits
await discovery in this unique museum setting; if your travels take you anywhere
near Cincinnati, a visit should be on your must-do list. Where else can you tour
a facility where a monster transmitter that beamed programming around the world
coexists with performers’ costumes?