Road Tripping Visits the National Capital Radio & Television Museum


Hello. Welcome to another edition of Road
Tripping with BCPL. I’m your host Regina Rose. Today, we’re in Bowie, Maryland at the National
Capital Radio and Television Museum. I’m standing in front of a 1920s boom box. Yes, people
used to take this with them to the beach and picnic so they could have music. In fact,
this entire museum is filled with materials dedicated to the history of a medium that
has changed every aspect of our daily lives. The museum has been around since 1999. It
was started by a group of us who were members of the group called the Mid-Atlantic Antique
Radio Club which meets locally in the Washington Baltimore area. A very active club – currently
has more than 600 members of people who are interested in particularly in preserving antique
radios and studying the history of radio. We’ve been looking for a place to have a museum.
We heard about this building which is owned by the city of Bowie and at the time was empty.
We made a proposal to the city of Bowie that if they were willing to lease us this building
at reasonable costs, we would install a museum here which would bring a lot of visitors into
the city of Bowie. And the city liked that idea. And so we moved in of June of 1999 and
we’ve been here ever since.How important was radio to families in the
30s? Well it was extremely important. I’m old enough
to have grown up in an era before radios. So my family like many families had a big
floor model radio in the Livingroom. And in the evening after we finished the dinner dishes
– of course in those days nobody had any dish washes. So Mom and Dad and I would get the
dinner dishes done and we would all go into the Livingroom and turn on the radio and sit
there – listen to the radio in the evening as family entertainment.I can hardly wait until tomorrow morning to
get out here Molly to get here. Boy oh boy on days like this break over Gillian Lake
I’ll be mowing down the mally. What’s a mally dear? Nothing, what’s a mally with you?For example, I might be putting together a
jigsaw puzzle or playing on the floor with my electric train or my mother might be knitting
or something like that – so you could be doing other things while you are all sitting together
as a family listening to the radio. We particularly loved the comedy shows “Jack Benny” “Fibber
McGee and Molly” – we would sit together and laugh as a family. It was a wonderful experience.
And of course with news – for example when Pearl Harbor took place – everybody in this
country was glued to their radios to hear the war news – find out what was happening.What are people going to discover when they
come to this museum? Well, we’re trying to tell the story of radio
and television in the American home. So we talk about how radio got started, how it evolved,
how radio then grew into television, how television has changed. Our emphasis is from the beginning
of radio up until – oh perhaps about – the 1960s. And as time goes on, we hope to acquire
more things from that period to the present so to be able to tell the whole story. I think one of the things people are amazed
by is how heavy and bulky the old equipment was – we showed you folks what we call our
1920s boom box – portable radio from 1924 that is extremely large and made out of solid
wood with a steel chassis filled with very heavy batteries so that – so to carry around
this radio it’s like a carrying very heavy suitcase around with you. But that’s what
people did. What are you really excited about having the
collection. Just right behind you is a device called a
Crosly redo from 1939 which is sort of like a fax machine that works by radio that allowed
people to have newspaper broadcast to their homes by radio just prior to WWII. The other
thing which is a very recent acquisition. We recently purchased a 1940 electronic television
set a very rare one that we’ve been wanting to have something like that. So there is just
a very small number of items like that – that we purchased but everything else has been
donated. Tell us about some of your programs and activities. We have an interesting program for kids – elementary
school aged kids. It was designed for the idea of brownie troops and Cub Scouts – children
of that age. We bring them in. It’s ah – it’s ah a program that we do during hours when
we’re not opened to the public. That way we can devote our full attention to the children.
Ah, we teach the kids about sound waves and radio waves and how they work. Ah, allow the
kids to see their voice on an oscilloscope so they can understand how the human voice
looks as an electrical signal. We talk about coding schemes like Morse code and we show
– we let them listen to a radio program from 1936 – a “Little Orphan Annie Show” where
the announcer provides a secret coded message that they can decode with their “Little Orphan
Annie” decoder badges. We’ve made a reproduction of those – the Little Orphan Annie decoder
badges which each kid who participates in the program gets one of those to take home
so they see if they can decode the secret message of that day. We have had visitors from all 50 states and
24 foreign countries. And of course ah, some of the people who have come from far away
come because they have heard about the museum and want to come see what it is. In addition to having the museum, I also understand
you repair things? We have a workshop here where we repair radios
and TVs that we use to demonstrate here in the museum. But also for anybody who is a
member of the museum, we will repair your old vintage radio. We charge people for the
actual costs of parts and ask them to make a donation commensurate with how much labor
went into it. And we’re able to fix just about any old radio. What is one of the biggest challenges here? Well our biggest problem is space. I know
when – when we first started this museum some people said, “Where are you going to get all
the old radios and TVs?” I kept saying that’s not going to be the problem. The problem is
that we’re going to run out of space quickly. Which we have – we’re like the Smithsonian
– we only have about 10% percent of the collection on exhibit at any given time. We have a storage
building – a remote storage building where we keep things – that’s ah getting pretty
full now too. So we do have rotating exhibits. What does the future hold for the museum? Well, we clearly need a much larger building
and of course with real estate costs – that’s pretty expensive. We hope someday we’ve be
able to expand into much larger quarters. One of the concerns that we have it that it’s
a 2 story building without an elevator. We have a lot of visitors with disabilities who
can’t climb stairs. So someday we really hope we can have a building that either’s all on
one floor or that has an elevator so that everyone can see every part of it. When are you open to the public? We’re opened Fridays, from 10 – 5, Saturdays
& Sundays, from 1 – 5 and we’re willing to open up any day of the week for a special
group. We welcome groups almost any day of the week with advance notice. Thank you for joining us today at the National
Capital Radio and Television Museum. If you would like to find out more about the history
of broadcasting, there’s some titles available at BCPL including: Cover Me Boys I’m Going
In: Tales of the Tube From a Broadcast Brat; Orson Wells, War of the Worlds and the Art
of Fake News; That’s the Way it Is: The History of Television News in America; and Radio Wars:
The Historic Battles That Redefine Radio. All these titles and more are available at
your local BCPL branch. For Road Tripping with BCPL, I’m Regina Rose.

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