This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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The Museum of Broadcast Communications (A Second Look)
by Editor Jack French, ©2013
(From Radio Recall, December 2013)
In the August 2012 issue of RADIO RECALL, Dan Riedstra, a Chicago resident, reviewed the Museum of Broadcast Communications there. He
provided an excellent overview of this museum
and probably stirred several subscribers to add it
to their "must-see" list if visiting the Windy City.
(You can read Dan's article on our website.)
Your editor recently found himself in Chicago
and, with his now middle-aged son, Brad, a
professional juggler in Illinois, visited the
museum, located at 360 N. State Street ("that
great street") in downtown Chicago.
While the museum does occupy three floors
as advertised, the first floor consists only of the
admissions office and the first steps leading up to
the landing containing a "Tower of Broadcasting."
This sculpture is constructed of parts of old radios
and television sets ... a few of which are operative.
The second floor is dedicated to old-time
radio, although most of it consists of about 175
photos on the wall, all inductees into the "Radio
Hall of Fame". Most of these stars deserve all the
praise we can muster, including Jack Benny, Bill
Conrad, Edward R. Murrow, etc. But a few seem
· to be fringe candidates, although they merit the
same space: Dr. Demento, shock-jock Howard
Stern, and Wolfman Jack. The selection of a
couple of inductees was downright silly, i.e.
Wendy Williams, the busty TV hostess who
apparently once had a radio show.
While a number of interactive "touch" screens
promise to air any show of your choice, virtually
everything selected by my son and I came up
empty ("not available"). Obviously, this floor is a
work in progress .....
There are a few small exhibits with equipment
under glass, including a few vintage microphones.
Also displayed are some 1940s bakelite portable
radios, plus several boom-boxes or "ghetto
blasters" as an informative poster informs us.
There's a gift shop also on the second floor,
but most of its games, books, and assorted
merchandise hark back to TV, not radio, history.
The only OTR book I recognized there was:
Remembering Radio: An Oral History of Old-Time
Radio by David S. Siegel, an MWOYRC member
and my partner in compiling Radio Rides the
Range, which McFarland will publish in
Despite the paucity of OTR audio material on
the second floor, there are two charming OTR
elements. Behind an ordinary door, which has no
label or invitation to open, is a remarkable recreation
of Fibber McGee's closet. When you
open it, a barrage of items nearly fall on you, all of
them mentioned in a McGee episode. So we see
Fibber's mandolin, his Air Raid Warden uniform
and gas mask, his fishing creel, golf clubs, Molly's
vacuum cleaner, and in the very center, a can of
Johnson's Glo-Coat Wax. And to complete the
scene, Molly's voice is heard, imploring him not to
open that closet.
The second is a display window, showcasing
Edgar Bergen's three main dummies. In full
costume are Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd,
and Effie Clinker. (While the listening audience
had to imagine them on the radio, the studio
audience could see them performing with
Trudging up to the third floor, we find where
the real interest of the museum curators lies ... in
the Wonderful Land of Television ! The third floor is
brimming with large screens airing numerous TV
shows, an interactive studio where you can see
yourself giving the weather report in front of a
green-screen, and a variety of vintage and
modern TV cameras. (The ones from the 5O's
look as big as a snow-mobile on a wheeled
There was a gigantic special exhibit
dedicated to Gary Coleman, the pint-sized star of
TV's Different Stokes. In addition to a special
screening room for snippets of every show he
was ever in, we find large glass cases which
display his fan mail, his typewriter, his library, his
favorite toys, his awards, and if I'd looked long
enough, perhaps his favorite slippers.
About half of the entire third floor is a tribute
to Chicago's juvenile TV programs, with entire
sets and complete costumes and puppets from
several shows. Bozo the Clown rates a display at
least 20 feet across, but similar space is accorded
to Garfield Goose, Here's Geraldine, Ray Rayner
and Friends, Elmer the Elephant, and Cartoon
Town with Dusty Dragon. Nearly all of puppets
were the creation of Ray Brown, obviously a
So what's the bottom line? A "must-see" for
an OTR fan? Heck, no. A "should-see" for any
television aficionado? Yup. A "don't-miss-it" for
someone who grew up watching local TV kids'
shows in the Chicago region? OMG, Absolutely
Yes .... Yes .... Yes!