Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Distinctive Museums 3: The Voice of America

Lee Hite gives wonderful tours of River Station. (See Cincinnati Triple Steam.) When he said he had accepted a docent opportunity at Voice of America (VOA), I could hardly wait to visit.

The Voice of America, Butler County, Ohio

The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting is in Butler County, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati or Dayton. While programming originated in New York, the main transmission station stood in the midst of a flat farm near Bethany, Ohio. The video at the start of the tour features stirring testimonials from immigrants who say the VOA changed their lives, helping them envision living in a free country.

At the Entrance to the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting

The marker outside the building presents the history: “During the height of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt turned to the innovative engineers of the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation to build powerful short wave radio transmitters capable of delivering broadcasts overseas. On farm fields near Crosley’s WLW facility, six 200 kilowatt transmitters and 24 directional reentrant rhombic antennas were built and on September 23, 1944, the Voice of America Bethany Station was dedicated.” For over half a century, the VOA broadcast around the globe, so that people living in repressive regimes could have the chance to hear the truth. Adolf Hitler blasted the VOA as “Cincinnati Liars.” Whenever tyrants tried to jam the signal, VOA engineers quickly bypassed the jamming and kept the voice of truth persistent year to year to year. The marker continues, “New technology and budget cuts resulted in the silencing of the Bethany Station in 1994.” The VOA still exists; it is just no longer transmitted from the field in southwest Ohio.

Control Room at Voice of America

In the station’s heyday, over a million and a half watts were deemed necessary to boost a message of hope around the world. Within a radius of some miles, stories abounded of fluorescent lights that stayed lit after being switched off, of farmers’ fences that touched other metal in such a way as to carry the sound of the radio to the cows in the pasture, and of mercury fillings that carried audible broadcasts in people’s teeth. There were VOA employees whose job was to drive wherever there was a report of inadvertent reception and to remedy the situation.

Display Depicting the Grounds of the Voice of America

Frequently, today’s visitors to the museum include citizens originally from other countries that are making a pilgrimage to the facility that gave them the courage to risk their lives to escape oppression. The tears in their eyes are perfectly understandable.

Display Depicting Ship That Retransmitted the Voice of America

The museum is really three or four museums in one. The principal collection tells the emotionally moving story of the VOA. A second archive offers the history of wireless communication. A third area showcases the lifetime collection of Jack Gray, a longtime Bethany Station engineer. Radios in amusing shapes caught my eye. There are radios shaped like french fries, mustard bottles, kitchen products, and—yes—bathroom fixtures. What a hoot! The fourth display (one that I want to return to when I have plenty of time for study) features Cincinnati broadcasting and telecasting. The stations, the shows, and the talent are covered in dazzling detail. Many stars of TV and movies were connected to Cincinnati media: Eddie Albert, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Grandpa Jones, Durward Kirby, and Red Skelton, to name only a few of a lengthy list! My mother listened carefully to everything Ruth Lyons said, especially with regard to products that Ruth endorsed on her TV talk show. The museum’s section honoring Ruth Lyons is filled with plenty of memorabilia to bring back my boyhood memories, including an artificial flower arrangement that decorated her microphone!

Switches at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting

The West Chester Amateur Radio Association runs a station within part of the building, a new section having ample hands-on learning opportunities will open before long, and an array of gifts tempt visitors to take home more than memories alone.

The Only One of Six Transformers Remaining at the Voice of America

As I was walking to my car, I thought again about the opening video and the impassioned thanks of those for whom the VOA was literally a lifesaver.

Exhibit Dedicated to Cincinnati Broadcasting at Voice of America
Bonnie Lou, One of Many Performers Honored at Voice of America


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