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What's Up Magazine

A Radio-Controlled Trip through Time

Aug 28, 2012 01:34PM ● By Anonymous

“We get everybody from little kids to senior citizens and we give personalized tours depending on the group, it’s a very interesting, wide demographic,” says co-founder, executive director, and curator Brian Belanger. “We have little kids who come in and don’t know what televisions used to look like, or have never seen a radio from the 1940s or an older era, and it’s a new experience, everything is so different. Then we have senior citizens who come in and it’s a nostalgic experience, they’ll say ‘oh, I remember watching that,’ or, ‘my family used to have one of those.’”

The museum is a working timeline of the evolution of radio and television technology and use from the 1920s to today, and it houses a variety of rare pieces. Among them is the first model transistor radio from 1954; a television set from 1931 that features a motor-driven spinning wheel that creates the picture; one of the world’s first wireless remote-control radios from 1939; and a Crosley radio from 1939 that worked like a fax machine and allowed consumers to get their newspaper delivered by radio. In those days, Belanger explained, a newspaper cost about a nickel, and one of the fax-like radios sold for $80. Because that was so much money back then, the contraption didn’t ever catch on, but nevertheless, Belanger says, it’s an interesting milestone in the field of technology. “There are all kinds of interesting things for people to see here,” he says.

And the museum is interactive. Many of the rooms have buttons visitors can push for audio clips of different decades. In the 1920s and 1930s rooms, you can listen to a clip from famous humorist Will Rogers, the Lone Ranger, or the Tommy Dorsey Band. “You can hear what kind of music you would have heard...And get an idea of what people would have been listening to in that era,” says Belanger.

There’s even a sound effect room, where kids can shake a sheet of aluminum foil to make noise like a thunderstorm, or bang on coconuts to simulate the sound of horses hooves. “We give kids a sheet with Morse code so they can try sending their name with code,” says Belanger. “There are a number of things you can do.”

A nonprofit group, the museum opened its doors in June 1999 after a group of antique radio collectors who had formed the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club in Davidsonville, decided to put its collections into an educational format and start up a museum. Once they secured the building in Bowie, they started borrowing pieces from other collectors, and before they knew it, people were calling them to donate. “More than 90 percent of the stuff you see has been donated,” says Belanger. “And not everything is on display. We have hundreds of other things, but the rooms are pretty full, so we have changing exhibits” to keep returning visitors interested.

In addition to the gallery itself, the museum offers a nominally priced yearly membership that includes quarterly news journals with articles on the history of radios of televisions, as well as access to old radio magazines and catalogs that the group scans and uploads online.

Starting in the fall, the Museum will welcome back a series of lectures that break for summer. This past year’s lectures included one on the sinking of the Titanic and the effect that had on radio—“Because the Titanic had radios, they were able to call for help. Had it not been for radio, it’s likely that no one would have survived. That really got people to appreciate how important it was. Shortly after, many countries passed laws that required passenger ships to install radio,” says Belanger. Other lectures included topics like notable women in radio, and a history of the Associated Press in the field of radio.

“We do have a lot of special events, with a fairly regular program of lectures,” says Belanger. “And while we’re only open [weekends], we’ll open up for special groups any day of the week, as long as people call ahead.”

To check it out, swing by. The museum is free to the public (though donations are welcomed) and it’s open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.