Meet the Telecruiser

Chuck Conrad finally has a home for his old broadcast toys — at the Texas Museum of Broadcast & Communications
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Texas Museum of Broadcasting & Communications, Telecruiser

The Telecruiser — How many buses have their own website? Photo by David Temple

East Texas radio man Chuck Conrad has done what every broadcast equipment collector/pack rat wants to do — start his own museum for his collection.

Radio World:What is the Texas Museum of Broadcast & Communications?
Chuck Conrad: The museum is an outreach of Chalk Hill Educational Media Inc., an IRS-recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of broadcasting’s electronic past.

Our Mission Statement: The Texas Museum of Broadcasting & Communications shall collect, preserve and showcase the history of electronic communications, educate and entertain patrons of all ages and maintain a library of historical documents and media.

Our Vision: The museum will use the inventions and innovations of the past to inspire interest and foster imagination in the fields of electronics and communications.

RW: How did you get involved in the museum?
Conrad: I’m the museum’s founder. For years, I’ve been collecting old broadcast equipment, old audio equipment, old radios and old TVs. It’s a fun past-time shared by many others, especially in the broadcast industry. One day I noticed that I had accumulated over 50 TV cameras from various eras. (The collection is over 70 now). This revelation forced me to ask the question “What am I going to do with all this stuff?”

I’ve served on the Board of the Classic Car Club of America Museum for about 15 years, including a couple of years as its president. That experience directed me towards the idea of establishing a museum. It’s one of those ideas that had been incubating for a long time. One day, several unrelated events came together, which lit the fuse.

One was my friend Warren Willard, who lives nearby. Like me, he has a significant collection of early radios and TVs. It seemed to both of us that our collections complemented each other. About the same time as we were contemplating what we might do, the city of Kilgore was trying to find a good use for an abandoned movie theater. In a casual conversation with the city manager, I asked if maybe a museum would be a good use for it. He was intrigued, but for a variety of problems, including not enough space, an asbestos abatement problem and extensive remodeling costs, the idea was shelved.

But the conversation continued. One day he called me up and said “I know a building that might work.” The building in question was a former Chevrolet dealership in downtown Kilgore. It’s a huge building with about 19,000 square feet under the roof.

We made contact with the owner who thought the idea of repurposing it for a museum was a terrific idea. He and his family made a significant donation which got us off and running. For the last eight or nine months, I’ve been splitting my days between my radio stations, KZQX(FM), KDOK(AM/FM) and KEBE(AM/FM), and the museum. Bringing things up to current code requirements has been a time-consuming and expensive job, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We hope to open to the public on or about Sept. 16.

RW: What is the driving goal of the museum?
Conrad: The museum will use the inventions and innovations of the past to inspire interest and foster imagination in the fields of electronics and communications. It is especially important that young people have an understanding of the past. Most have never known a time without the internet, or without a smartphone or tablet. They have no idea how things were done in the past.

Texas Museum of Broadcasting & Communications radio equipment exhibit

In the Studio at the Texas Museum of Broadcast & Communications

RW: How big is the radio component of the museum?
Conrad: Radio is a large portion of the museum. We have well over 100 radios on display, spanning an era from about 1910 to the mid 1980s. There are also two functional radio studios. One is a re-creation of a late 1950s top 40 studio, complete with turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel tape recorders, a vintage console and vintage mics. The second studio is a 1980s talk radio studio featuring a large PR&E console and a talk radio desk. We plan to use this studio to allow visiting students to record radio plays and other programming. We also have on display a 1950s tube-type RCA AM transmitter, a variety of processing equipment of all eras, lots of microphones and a large collection of reel-to-reel tape recorders from Ampex, Magnacord, Otari, Tascam and others.

RW: What is the best item of the museum?
Conrad: I suppose that depends on what aspect of broadcasting interests you the most. My personal favorite is our 1949 DuMont Telecruiser remote TV van (aka OB truck). It has its own website.

Restoring it has been a 10-year personal adventure. This bus-like vehicle was delivered new to Dallas’ KBTV Channel 8 (Now WFAA) in 1949 at a reported cost of $94,000. That was a LOT of money in 1949. This was the first such unit sold by DuMont Labs. It is serial number 101 and can be found on the cover of the 1949 DuMont Broadcast Equipment Catalog. It is now fully restored and actually makes TV pictures using an original DuMont camera. WFAA kept this vehicle in service until 1972. It has seen a lot of history. It was one of two remote trucks WFAA used in their national coverage of the Kennedy assassination in 1963. My friends at WFAA have provided me with some video of the J.D. Tippet funeral. He was the police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. The Telecruiser provided the national pool feed of that event and may have been used in other coverage as well.

RW: Do you have many radio people involved? Are there any radio engineers involved?
Conrad: Quite a few radio engineers have donated vintage equipment, advice and technical support. Since I own and operate three radio stations, I’ve done a lot of the basic installation and hook-up of our equipment. I’ve been working with audio and video equipment since I was in high school in the mid to late 1960s. There is still a lot to do. Engineering help is always welcomed.

Having a group of enthusiastic employees at my radio stations has certainly helped to get things done. Without them, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are. I also have a lot of friends at various TV and radio stations that have been quite helpful too.

RW: Does the museum refurbish equipment?
Conrad: Absolutely. We have a large restoration shop area with appropriate test equipment to handle most of this early equipment. The building was originally a Chevrolet dealership, so what was once the body shop is now turning into a wood shop. It also has what passed for a spray paint booth back in 1950, complete with fire doors and a large exhaust fan. This has been useful for refinishing and painting. We don’t plan to ever use it for much more than “rattle can” paint jobs, but it is handy to have a dedicated space to do this without getting over-spray on something else in the room.

RW: How can interested people help?
Conrad: We are always looking for volunteers to help. That can range from engineering and repair to fundraising and business management. We even need volunteers to be docents during the museum’s operating hours.

Understandably not everyone who is interested in this type of venture lives within an easy commute of Kilgore, Texas, but we welcome memberships from everywhere. One year is only $25 which includes free admission all year. A Life Membership is also available for a donation of $500. We also cheerfully accept monetary donations of any amount and consider donations of equipment and memorabilia that would be useful to our mission. We can be found by mail at Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications, P.O. Box 998, Kilgore, TX 75663, or online at www.txmbc.org. We are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/txmbc/. We are a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization. All donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed under IRS code.

Texas Museum of Broadcasting & Communications radio equipment exhibit

One of the Texas Museum of Broadcast & Communications’ Radio Exhibits

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