Sounds of the Past: Vintage Radios

Vintage phonographs, radios and records are the subject of a new exhibit at the Heritage Museum in downtown Houston. The exhibit chronicles the transition of recorded sound through the twentieth century. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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Big Band music blares out from an old-fashioned console radio at the Heritage Society Museum. The beautiful old wood-cased radio is one of dozens on display through the winter. The collection is on loan from members of the Houston Vintage Radio Association. Bill Werzner is one the members of the group dedicated to the preservation and restoration of vintage radios and electronics. He points to a small brown box with a couple of dials on it.

"The one you see here was built from an old vegetable crate. The young man who built this lived near downtown Houston. He probably bought the parts as a kit, but did not have a box or enclosure for it. It operated on batteries and there is one tube in here as you can see. And he could tune in local broadcasts."

Around that time, in the 1920s, that young man would have been able to listen to KPRC and KTRH, the only two radio stations in town.

"I understand during the 1920s and '30s that KTRH would actually lower a microphone down to people on the street in front of the Rice Hotel and would get their opinions on various things of the day."

Radio has come a long since then, but looking at some of these examples brings a nostalgia for the technology of the past. Most of these pieces are beautiful: walnut veneers, gold knobs, glass dials, huge horn-style speakers. They conjure up images of whole families crowded around the radio...

"Sitting in a dark living room with maybe just the dial glowing and the family sitting around listening to The Shadow or to maybe a spooky program of some kind around Halloween. You can imagine - your mind wanders. You can picture these things happening in your mind - Mr. & Mrs. North, World War II you could imagine, you could hear the bombs going off in the background when Edward R. Murrow was broadcasting from London."

And don't forget one of the most famous radio broadcasts, The War of the Worlds.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, following on the news given in our bulletin a moment ago, the governor of the meteorological bureau has requested the large observatories of the country to keep an astronomical watch on any further disturbances occuring on the planet Mars."

You can hear that broadcast, along with some of Bill Werzner's boyhood favorites like The Green Hornet, and see a variety of vintage radios at the Heritage Society Museum in Sam Houston Park downtown. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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