Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Historic Temple of Radio: VOA Bethany Station


“The temple of radio,” so aptly named by its creator, Powel Crosley, stands proudly today among dozens of radio towers and curtain antennae’s, boasting its powerful place in ground radio history. The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting, built in 1944, as the Voice of America Bethany Station, was the first ground radio station to broadcast radio messages overseas.

Located on 640 acres in the then rural community of West Chester, VOA Bethany Station was created in response to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s desire to distribute wartime messages overseas. Under the direction of Powel Crosley, a now famed broadcast pioneer, VOA Bethany Station was a state-of-the-art broadcast radio facility that housed six 200-kilowatt transmitters against the industry standard 10-kilowoatt transmitters.

The top secret technology continued to reach the far corners of Europe and South Africa, and perplexed American rivals, such as Hitler, who commonly referred to VOA Bethany Station as “those Cincinnati liars”. The transmitters and antennae created by Crosley and his team of broadcast radio innovators were so advanced that they remained in service with the U.S. government for the next 50 years.

Not only did VOA Bethany Station house top notch radio technology, the facility its self was recognized as architectural excellence. The building, styled after art-deco influences, features a four-story tower, that during times of national crisis, held armed guards who protected the super secret technology within the walls of VOA Bethany Station. The major parts of the building were referred to as the “Great Concourse” which encompassed a 25-foot celling, a curved balcony, and the six innovative transmitters. During the 1940’s, VOA Bethany Station was regarded as a vision of technology and hence earned it’s title as “the temple of radio” by its creator.

For 50 long years, VOA Bethany station cranked out messages laden of American culture including news and the sounds of Louis Armstrong and other pop culture icons to the nation and beyond. But with the unstoppable force of technology came the advent of newer satellite-based technology and ground stations, like VOA Bethany, across the nation became less and less relevant.

Finally, in 1995, after years of dwindling broadcast successes, VOA Bethany Station was decommissioned, and shortly after, dozens of technology advanced satellite radio towers and curtain antennae were raised, surrounded the now ghostly halls of VOA Bethany station. Shorty after its decommission, the facility and some of its 500 surrounding acres were turned over to West Chester Township and the Butler County MetroParks system to be converted into land for public use. The remaining 20 acres of the once bustling and thriving 640-acre site and the station were eventually given to West Chester Township for the creation of a historic monument that recognized and celebrated the successes of American radio technologies.

Over the next several years, the VFW Post, the West Chester Amateur Radio Association and dedicated citizens worked tirelessly to preserve VOA Bethany Station as a broadcast museum. During VOA Bethany Station’s conversion into a museum, two other radio preservation organizations, The Gray History of Wireless Museum and Media Heritage, were on the hunt for a suitable location. The Gray History of Wireless Museum boasts the largest collection of antique radio equipment in the country and was assembled by Jack Gray, a former VOA Bethany Station engineer. Media Heritage is an organization dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and maintenance of historic broadcast recordings, photographs, scripts, film, etc. of radio and television history throughout the nation.

Both the Gray History of Wireless Museum and Media Heritage were ideal fits as VOA Bethany roommates and were invited to settle among the giant transmitters and open space within VOA Bethany Station. After a $1.5 million dollar grant from the State of Ohio and a lengthy restoration process, the three museums and an operating radio station (WC8VOA) opened their doors in 2011 under the title of the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting. The new fully renovated museum is back in tip top condition is a reminiscent of its 1940’s hustle and bustle of radio technology.

The museum is now open for guided tours every third Saturday of each month. Tours begin at 1 p.m. and are available until 4 p.m. While there is no entrance fee, the museum accepts donations of $5 per adult and $1 per child under 12 to help fund its next renovation project. Do not miss out on this rare opportunity to explore wireless radio history.

National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting
8070 Tylersville Rd. 
West Chester, OH 45069

Tours
Every 3rd Saturday of each month
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
$5 adult / $1 child under 12 donation suggested

 

If you would like to donate to the preservation of America’s rich radio history and the continued preservation of the great National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting, please visit www.givevoa.org

For more information about history in The BC, including walking tours, and historical monuments and sites, please visit www.gettothebc.com/things-to-do/history/

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