By Dawn Nolan
For West Virginia South
From the 1920s to the early 1950s, radio was the primary medium for home entertainment. Families would gather each evening to listen to their favorite programs.
This activity was particularly enjoyable around the holidays when readings of classic tales such as “A Christmas Carol” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” aired. Similar to present-day holiday gatherings, these moments were a time for togetherness and bonding.
Radio’s “Golden Age” has long since ended. Yet, for some, the appeal of this piece of electronic equipment and the feeling of nostalgia it brings has not. For those individuals, there is treasure tucked away on the back roads of Huntington.
Credited as “the largest antique radio museum in the eastern United States,” the Museum of Radio and Technology displays an expansive collection of historic radios, televisions and other devices used throughout the 20th century in the former Harveytown Elementary School.
“We have over 10,000 square feet here with about 2,000 radios, televisions, telegraphs, CBs and military items,” describes Geoffrey Bourne, the museum’s curator. “We receive loans and donations from our members that live all around the country, and for a while we were even finding things that were being left on our doorstep.”
In what was once the school’s gymnasium, visitors can view a collection of novelty radios, replicas of the RCA dog and a dress owned by singer Molly O’Day.
“The dress is actually one that Molly wore for a performance at the Grand Ole Opry,” said Bourne.
The museum is made up of 11 major display areas, each showcasing a development in electronic communication.
A special replica of Antique Radio Club member Frank Lynch’s radio sales and repair shop is on display in the 1920s/1930s sales room.
“Our goal is to remodel the entire room so that it resembles a 1920s store,” explains Bourne.
Other show items include several Edison and Victrola phonographs, a working crystal radio set, horn speakers, early AC radios and an early 1930s tube tester.
The 1940s radio classroom is used for instructional lessons about HAM radios and restoration clinics that are scheduled throughout the year. It features a live radio circuit board, children’s erec-tronic sets and a single needle telegraph. At the center is an RCA TV camera that was used during the 1939 World’s Fair.
Visitors can view more HAM radios as well as a number of shortwave radios in the Communication Radio display room.
“Most of these still work with some minor adjustments,” adds Bourne.
The museum is also home to a HAM radio station, WV8MRT.
An assortment of table, portable and console radios line the 1940s/1950s sales room.
“During this time, radios were getting smaller and produced in a variety of styles,” explains Bourne.
Early television sets, including a 1949 RCA projection TV, a Gilbert toy collection and a variety of wire recorders and transistors fill the rest of the space.
Inside the Broadcast Studio is a 1930s Western Electric 5000 watt broadcast transmitter and power supply, as well as two unique pieces of television history. In the front of the room sits a display of the famed NBC chimes.
“The chimes play the notes G, E, C which stands for General Electric Co.,” said Bourne.
Toward the back, visitors will find the TV camera that turned Arch Moore “green” during his gubernatorial debate with Jay Rockefeller in 1980.
The Vintage Hi-Fi room shows the progress of sound quality.
“In the 1950s, high fidelity came into the picture,” said Bourne.
Its purpose was to enhance audio and improve distortions. A collection of tube amplifiers, tape recorders, tuners, turntables, speakers and other equipment sits on several shelves.
One of the museum’s largest areas is the computer display room. It features a large 5-megabyte hard drive, an Osborne, a vintage Macintosh and a number of other older computers.
On the opposite side of the room is a wall of CB radios and the military communications area complete with a generator set, a World War II Japanese transceiver, a “Gibson Girl” emergency radio.
The museum is also home to the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to television and radio personalities from around the state. Notable members include Don Knotts, Dagmar, Bob Denver, Soupy Sales and Little Jimmy Dickens. The first induction ceremony was held in 2006.
“The first year we were sort of playing catch-up,” explains Bourne. “We named about 60 people then.”
The induction process has gotten more selective each year. The most recent ceremony, held Oct. 27, honored 12 individuals including radio personality J.B. Miller and former WSAZ anchor Debra Thomas.
Before ending your visit, browse the research library for vintage electronic-themed books and magazines and shop for souvenirs at the gift shop. Sales are a major fundraiser for the museum.
Since opening in 1991, the Museum of Radio and Technology has played host to a variety of guests wanting to relive radio’s golden age. Some of the most common are fellow radio enthusiasts (the Tri-State Amateur Radio Association holds its monthly meetings at the museum), schools, and families.
“Grandparents will often bring their grandchildren to show them what Grandma and Grandpa used to listen to,” said Bourne. “It’s a nice way to remember their past.”
The Museum of Radio and Technology is located at 1640 Florence Ave. in Huntington. It is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. on throughout the year except certain holidays. There is no charge for admission, but donations are accepted. To learn more about the museum and take a virtual tour, go to http://www.mrtwv.org.