VOA Delano Transmitter Readied for Public Display

Gargantuan task of reassembling 19-ton transmitter now completed
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If you’ve been following the saga of the Voice of America’s Delano, Calif., transmitter plant since its closure in the fall of 2007, you know that one of the big Collins Radio machines there — a 1960s-vintage 821A-1 250,000-watt shortwave transmitter — was rescued through the combined efforts of the Antique Wireless Association and the Collins Collectors Association.

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The Collins 821A-1 250,000-watt transmitter is shown after its reassembly at the AWA Museum in Bloomfield.
Photos by James E. O’Neal

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The Antique Wireless Association decided to recreate the VOA’s Delano transmitter plant’s control room. When the facility was active, operators could keep tabs on the station’s Collins and ASEA Brown Boveri quarter-megawatt transmitters.
Photos by James E. O’Neal The organizations pooled their resources to create the Collins Radio Heritage Group and funded the removal and shipping of 38,000 pounds of heavy-metal transmitter some 2,700 miles to the small New York town of Bloomfield.

During my visit in 2014, the Collins 821A-1 had arrived, but was still in relatively small pieces occupying more than 100 packing boxes and pallets. (The accumulation of big rig components was sometimes referred to as “the world’s largest Erector set” or “the Heathkit from hell” by those involved in its relocation.) Making things all the more challenging was a mandate attached to donated transmitter by the General Services Administration, manager of the Delano site after it was vacated by the VOA, that required the transmitter to be reassembled and on display within 12 months of its acquisition.

TOGETHER AGAIN
I’m pleased to report that the 821A-1 transmitter — as well as the VOA’s Delano transmitting station control room where the facility’s aggregation of high-power quarter-megawatt rigs were monitored and controlled — are both back together now, looking very much as they did in their California location.

Everything was made ready in time for a viewing at this year’s annual AWA conference in mid-August, though according to the AWA’s deputy director, Bob Hobday, the official opening is still a couple of months away.

“We were rushing quite hard to have the transmitter available for the conference members,” said Hobday. “We still have to put up some displays and walls around it. This needs to be done before we can open it to the general public as part of the museum.”

Hobday said in late September, “Our hope is to have the grand opening in early November. The construction is well underway.”

He said that visitors arriving at the museum prior to official opening would still be allowed to view the new exhibit.

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The Delano “big rig” now shares space in the AWA’s new museum facility with a range of yesteryear’s communications equipment.
Photos by James E. O’NealYOUR SUPPORT IS NEEDED
Hobday stated that, while costs associated with relocating the VOA gear — some $20,000 — had been covered by donations and other funding, financial assistance is still needed.

“The fundraising effort is still ongoing,” said Hobday. “We’ve paid for the expenses [associated with the move and reassembly]. However, to put the transmitter in a museum setting we’re incurring some additional expenses. If anyone wants to get in on the support of the project, we sure would appreciate their help.”

Additional information about the VOA transmitter/control room project and how readers can support it may be found at antiquewireless.org.

The AWA Museum was established more than 60 years ago, and in 2013 moved from its previous home a few miles west of here to the present 10,000-square-foot facility in Bloomfield, N.Y. In addition to the VOA transmitter, the collection also includes early spark transmitters, amateur radio gear, a wide range of consumer radio and television receivers, military electronics and more. The AWA has some 1,800 members worldwide.

For more on this topic read our March 2014 story “VOA Delano Station Goes on the Block” and our February 2015 story “AWA Saves Piece of Delano Station” at radioworld.com.

James O’Neal is a frequent contributor to Radio World who often writes about the history of broadcast technology.

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