The Smith-Corona typewriter Larry Lujack used to write his famed “Animal Stories” bits on WLS Radio and Edgar Bergen’s original ventriloquist dummies — Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker — are among treasures on display in a new exhibit celebrating radio’s centennial.
Now in previews, “A Century of Radio” officially opens October 28 at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 North State Street. Admission is free through the end of the year. (Here is the link.)
“Radio has been fueled by creative genius, whether they worked on air or behind the scenes,” David Plier, chairman of the museum, said in a statement. “Our museum will provide the learning platform to the next generation to explore the past, turn a critical eye on the present, and fuel the change for the future.”
Through a series of rotating displays, the yearlong exhibition on the technical, creative and commercial history of the medium will bring to life “the intertwined stories of the business, the science and the culture of an industry that transformed the American experience,” according to the museum.
The lengthy COVID-19 shutdown and a change in management at the museum delayed the opening of the exhibit since plans were announced in 2020.
By most accounts U.S. commercial broadcasting began November 2, 1920, when Pittsburgh’s KDKA Radio carried results of the presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox. Within two years there were more than 500 licensed stations across the country (including Zenith Radio Corporation’s WJAZ in Chicago).
Other artifacts on display include WGN Radio’s original Studio A, once used by Bob Collins, Roy Leonard, Spike O’Dell and Steve King and Johnnie Putman, among others; a 1912 spark-gap transmitter, the first to generate a frequency of electromagnetic waves; and a rare collection of vintage radio premiums.
The official opening October 28 coincides with the 2021 Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Chicago’s Wintrust’s Grand Banking Hall. The Hall of Fame is administered by the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
“Radio offers a rich history of creative work and technological innovation,” said Kraig Kitchin, co-chair of the Radio Hall of Fame. “It’s important that the museum is showcasing to the public all that radio has given us, encouraging the next generation of talent to our industry.”
“A Century of Radio” is scheduled to run through summer 2022.