Excellent New Crosley Exhibit Open Every Weekend At VOA

Oct 12, 2017

Maybe you have one of those refrigerators with a TV screen built into the door… Or you like reading news stories from TV/radio stations on your tablet or phone…

Well, WLW-AM founder and Cincinnati industrialist Powel Crosley Jr. was way ahead of you. W-A-Y ahead of you.

Shelvador refrigerator with built-in AM radio.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Just look around at the new Powel Crosley Jr. exhibit some weekend at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting on Tylersville Road in West Chester Township. (For the first time, the museum is open 1-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, instead of just once a month.)

In the late 1930s – 80 years ago, before the advent of television – Crosley manufactured Shelvador refrigerators with an AM radio in the door. His Shelvador was unique too – he bought the patent to have the only refrigerator with shelves on the door for years. The VOA has a Model No. 1 Shelvador which needs to be restored before put in the display.

In 1939, Crosley marketed the "Reado," essentially a home facsimile machine that printed out news, weather and sports on a scroll about the width of toilet paper.

The Reado print-out.
Credit John Kiesewetter

The Reado – pronounced REE-aye-doh, sort of like radio – came in a 1-foot cube wood box that connected to the Crosley radio speaker output line. People would wake up in the morning and read the long scroll of WLW's radio news, says Jack Dominic, director of the museum at the 1940s Voice of America Bethany station, 8070 Tylersville Road, West Chester Township.

Crosley began making radios in the early 1920s after he was shocked by the high price for a radio receiver his son wanted. So he made the Crosley Pup, and sold it for $9.75. He followed with all kinds of affordable radios, becoming the "Henry Ford of radio." The VOA has a dozen Crosley radios on display, including a crystal set; one hidden in a hard-bound book; one of the first clock radios; and of course the refrigerator with radio.

In 1922, Crosley started WLW-AM from his home in College Hill. I like to say that Crosley also invented the radio stunt: He played his favorite record, "Song of India," over and over on the radio. That original "Song of India" 78 rpm disc is displayed at the VOA, too.

Powel and his brother Lewis made all kinds of things you'll see at the VOA:

From left: A Crosley TV, Icyball, Shelvador refrigerator and two Xervac machines.
Credit John Kiesewetter

TVs: I'll start with the three TV sets in gorgeous wood cabinets, all made by Crosley employees. One has a record player in it. Crosley engineers conducted Cincinnati's first TV experiments in 1939, nine years before Crosley's WLWT-TV started commercial broadcasting in February 1948.

1937 Xervac advertisement.
Credit Wikipedia

EXERVAC: The short-lived Xervac machine (1937-40) was a suction device sold to balding men. Crosley claimed it would stimulate blood flow and hair growth.

ICYBALL: This heat-based refrigeration system didn't require electricity. It was marketed to rural or small towns, summer camps or roadside stands. "It's still used. People in the tropics who don't have ice still use them," Dominic says.

GO BI-BI: The Go-BiB- (GO-bye-bye) walker for toddlers was made from scrap wood pieces at the Northside plant. It was the prototype for the popular Taylor Tot Scooter walker.

PROXIMITY FUZE:I've read about them, but I'd never seen this glass tube transceiver explosive device shot from a World War II anti-aircraft gun that detonated when it got close to planes, missiles or other targets.

Crosley's Proximity Fuze.
Credit John Kiesewetter

The Defense Department didn't like Crosley making the top-secret device in the Camp Washington Arlington Street plant which housed the WLW-AM radio - too many entertainers and those "hillbilly shows" - so the company moved broadcasting in 1942 to old Elks Lodge No. 5 at Ninth and Elm, and renamed it Crosley Square.

CROSLEY CAR: Crosley also was ahead of his time with the subcompact Crosley automobile. In fact, he sold Crosley Broadcasting in 1945 - three years before the birth of commercial television - to concentrate on his car. But auto production ended in 1952. The VOA has the Crosley motor in the collection, while Dominic tries to arrange for a car to display.

PINECROFT GATES: The iron gates from Crosley's Pinecroft mansion on Kipling Avenue have been restored by the VOA Museum. The gates, with Crosley's "PC" initials on each end, were rusting in a field behind the WLW-AM transmitter and tower east of the VOA on Tylersville Road, Dominic says.

RADIO TUBES: Before transistors and microchips, radios needed vacuum tubes ranging in size from a large to small medicine bottle. Crosley's unprecedented 500,000 watt transmitter (1934-43) for WLW-AM used 5-foot tall tubes. Twelve of them! The VOA has one of the huge tubes from WLW-AM's old 500k transmitter building, located under WLW-AM's diamond-shaped tower.

Dominic notes that "a single tube from the 500k transmitter consumed enough electricity to power 50 modern homes."

The silver ball from atop the WLW-AM tower (right) is displayed next to a tube from the 1934 WLW-AM 500,000 transmitter.
Credit VOA Museum

ANTENNA BALL: My favorite item in the exhibit is a huge silver ball – bigger than a basketball – which sat atop WLW-AM's 747-foot diamond-shaped tower. There are several dozen holes in the ball – from lightning strikes!

Most of us are too young to have grown up with Crosley appliances and conveniences, or to remember WLWT-TV (Channel 5) calling itself "Crosley Broadcasting." So the VOA exhibit is a great lesson in Crosley history, showing how the Cincinnati company was a technology leader in the 20th century.

"What's so cool about these things is that so much of the stuff today we think of as new – like a TV in a refrigerator door, or someone reading news at home on an iPad – Crosley was doing 75 years ago," Dominic says.

If you want to learn more about these and other Crosley items, author Rusty McClure will be at the museum Friday and Saturday Nov. 10-11. McClure, the grandson of Lewis Crosley, will speak Friday about his book, "Crosley: Two Brothers And A Business Empire That Transformed The Nation." Ticket information will be at the announced later this month.

Promotional item for Crosley products.
Credit John Kiesewetter

IF YOU GO: The Crosley exhibit is open 1-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting, 8070 Tylersville Road, West Chester Township.

The museum includes the VOA control room; Gray History of Wireless radio collection; and Media Heritage's Greater Cincinnati and Ohio Museum of Broadcasting with memorabilia from Uncle Al, Ruth Lyons, Paul Dixon, Larry Smith, Jerry Thomas, Jim Scott and others.

Cost is $5 for adults, $1 for children under 12. Information: (513)-777-0027, voamuseum.org