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Roots of Radio: Treasures Find a New Home

Guglielmo Marconi likely never imagined developments such as satellite radio, HD Radio, station automation or Britney Spears.

Guglielmo Marconi likely never imagined developments such as satellite radio, HD Radio, station automation or Britney Spears.

But the pioneering inventor would be proud to see that his work and that of others has been lovingly preserved and made available to the public. Many of these relics of broadcasting’s past are part of The Gray History of Wireless Museum, which is getting a new home soon.

“We are relocating to the Bethany, Ohio, Voice of America Relay Station, which was built in 1943 and dedicated in 1944,” said William Strangfeld, president of the board of trustees. “We will still be a separate, tax-exempt corporation, though.”

The VOA facility was decommissioned and the antenna structures were demolished in 1997.

Start here, get there

The museum now resides in the Crosley Telecommunications Center in Cincinnati, home to public stations WCET(TV) and WGUC(FM). It has been there since the 1970, when Jack Gray moved his private collection of gear into that building.

“Back then, this radio equipment we have on display was easy to find, but now it is considered rare and expensive,” said Strangfeld. “After Mr. Gray’s death, the collection was gifted to our nonprofit corporation. And people continue to contribute ham radios, home broadcast materials, big transmitting tubes, field transmitters and other archival material.”

The new location was built by the Crosley Broadcasting Corp. during World War II and included six 200,000-watt shortwave transmitters and 24 highly directional antennas. When that was closed down, ownership of the building and more than 300 acres of surrounding land were given to West Chester Township, north of Cincinnati. The township is redeveloping the site as a public park and museum with sports fields and room for other public events.

Crosley who?

Powel Crosley, after whom Crosley Corp. was named, was an early broadcaster and radio set manufacturer in the Cincinnati area. His WLW(AM) signed on in March, 192,2 and many pieces of his original equipment are housed in the museum. In 1945, AVCO purchased his company.

Clyde Haehnle has been retired since 1976, but his last job was vice president of radio engineering for AVCO Broadcasting in Cincinnati. He helped build the VOA and WLW transmitters and is a board member of the museum.

“I was a close friend of Jack Gray,” said Haehnle. “Gray was the supervisor of VOA and was an engineer, too. He started his collection in his garage and began adding Atwater Kent radios, test equipment, old tubes, iconoscopes, transmitter gear and old microphones. The ‘software,’ i.e. transcriptions and other documents, went to Media Heritage, another nonprofit organization that will also be in the VOA facility.”

Money matters

It takes a lot of funds to create the new home of the museum, but this is an all-volunteer operation with no substantial budget.

“We have a few donors,” said Haehnle, “but we’re trying to raise some additional money. Our display cases have been donated, and those cost several hundred dollars each. West Chester County has picked up some of the cost and one of the prisoners in the West Chester jail is painting the walls on a volunteer basis. It’s an on-going project.”

Strangfeld said that while the museum’s public opening is still 12 to 18 months away, tours can be arranged upon request and periodic open houses are held.

Those interested in volunteering or donating broadcast or communications items or memorabilia can contact him at (513) 948-1071 or via e-mail to [email protected]