Her six massive transmitters may be quiet, but she is far from silent.
Amateur radio operators routinely talk to the world from station WC8VOA in West Chester, Ohio, located about 25 miles north of Cincinnati. This former VOA relay station is now a museum with collections from the Gray History of Wireless Radios; Powel Crosley Jr., and Cincinnati radio and TV broadcasting history; and the Voice of America.
The museum celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Bethany Station in September with a fundraiser to make the first floor of the museum accessible for people of all abilities.
SIT AT THE BOARD
The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting is open every weekend from 1 to 4 p.m. Tours are given continuously on weekend afternoons by knowledgeable docents. It houses the Bethany station’s last control room and one of the remaining 250 kW Collins shortwave transmitters.
You can sit at the massive audio console that controlled the six shortwave transmitters and literally take a tour inside one of the Collins transmitters. You can view the massive switch gear, built during World War II, that changed Bethany’s 24 rhombic antennas to its six transmitters.
At one time, Bethany Station covered a square mile of property on former farmland. Today the museum sits on 14 acres and the antennas are gone; but with surrounding park acreage, you get a sense of the massive scale the site covered with towers and the miles of transmission lines and antenna wire.
The museum houses a large collection of radios from the early part of the 20th century, including names such as Hallicrafters, National, Drake and Collins. A large collection of Drake Amateur Radio products is always a must-see by visiting radio enthusiasts and ham radio operators.
Drake radios were produced nearby in Miamisburg, Ohio. An area dedicated to the Crosley Corporation shows off many of the Crosley brothers’ radio, TV and household products that were manufactured in Cincinnati. Crosley contributed heavily to the war effort during World War II, with the production of tens of thousands of portable radios for the U.S. Army and millions of proximity fuses for anti-aircraft ordinance.
Not only did Crosley develop radios, but content as well, with its on-air radio station WLW, which still broadcasts today on 700 AM. WLW transmits from its original site and the large Blaw-Knox tower can be seen from the VOA museum. The museum contains the original 50-watt AM transmitter that WLW started with in 1922.
WLW was the only U.S. station allowed to operate at 500,000 watts of power during the 1930s. The collection includes a bright red Crosley Hot Shot sports car, too. Crosley Corporation developed a number of vehicles during the late 1930s and resumed production after World War II until shutting down in 1952.
An additional area of the museum houses artifacts and memorabilia from the early era of Cincinnati radio and TV broadcasting. The Cincinnati Media Heritage section includes many of the celebrities who got their start at WLW and other local broadcasting outlets. These WLW radio stars, many of whom transitioned from radio to TV, include Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame; sisters Rosemary and Betty Clooney; Eddie Albert; Doris Day; The Mills Brothers; and Ruth Lyons.
Housed in three of Bethany’s old transmitter vaults, the history of broadcasting showcases the talent and equipment that made Cincinnati an early nursery for radio and television entertainment. Artifacts include equipment from a 1930s radio station; a 1950s AM station, including disc jockey’s audio console and turntables; and a 1000-watt transmitter. A very early and massive RCA Victor color television camera is on display, along with other television and video equipment.
RADIO LIVES HERE
Our amateur radio station is operated under FCC license WC8VOA and is manned by the West Chester Amateur Radio Association.
The station has seven operating positions equipped with modern and vintage amateur radio gear. Antennas cover the radio spectrum from two meters down to 160 meters. The former VOA receiving satellite dish has been converted to 10 GHz transmit and receive capabilities for EME (Earth Moon Earth) bounce. Signals are sent to the moon and the dish used as a passive satellite to communicate with other amateur radio operators.
The club participates in radio contests, portable operations and local STEM events. It averages some 6,000 contacts per year, covering modes of voice and digital and CW. The club also operates two FM repeaters on two meters and 440 Mhz.
Operators are in the shack every weekend and hold an open house every Wednesday night for radio enthusiasts and those interested in obtaining a ham radio license. Our WC8VOA call sign is recognized by many of our fellow radio amateurs around the world. We have made contacts from all seven continents and hundreds of countries.
Radio is still an important part of our lives. Whether it is listening to AM, FM or satellite services, radio remains a viable source of our news and entertainment.
Voice of America broadcasts were never intended for Americans. They were targeted to people living in oppressed countries where media was censored to change people’s minds by providing sourced and accurate news.
In fact, the VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350), which was passed in 1976 during the Ford administration, states that VOA news will be “accurate, objective and comprehensive.” It will also “represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” Last, the VOA is mandated to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”
VOA news and feature stories are still broadcast and transmitted today to more than 275 million people weekly in 40-plus languages in nearly 100 countries. VOA programs are delivered on multiple platforms, including radio, television, web and mobile via a network of more than 3,000 media outlets worldwide.
Broadcasts have aired continually for more than 75 years, along with sister stations of Radio Free Europe; Radio Liberty; Radio Free Asia; and Radio Martí.
Here is the crux of the matter for all of us at the VOA museum: Once Bethany Station began operation during mid-World War II, an infuriated Adolf Hitler was quoted as saying on one of his radio broadcasts to never listen to those “Cincinnati Liars.” We’re proud to be part of the VOA heritage we are entrusted with and even more proud to be related to those “liars” from Cincinnati.
But while we’re proud of our heritage, I must be honest: The museum is housed in an aging, uninsulated, 75-year-old building that constantly needs repairs. We receive no federal funding, and this is our big fundraising push for the year.
Our workforce of docents, conservators and maintenance crews are all unpaid volunteers. And many of our volunteers come from our local radio club, the West Chester Amateur Radio Association.
Please help us out with a donation. For information on the museum and how you can help with donations, visit www.voamuseum.org. Please donate today. If you’re interested in our amateur radio group, additional information is at wc8voa.org.
Joe Molter, WCARA, N8IDA, ARS Operator, is with the National VOA Museum of Broadcasting.