My broadcasting and ham radio friends will drool over a place Colleen and I visited Thursday evening.
We were guests of the Alabama Historical Radio Society, whose members invited us to their Christmas party in downtown Birmingham.
This was my first visit to the Society’s workshop, which is a large facility housing a collection of radio equipment and memorabilia that is simply amazing.
The Society also runs a museum in the main headquarters of Alabama Power.
There are radios of every size and design you could imagine, but there are also radios here I’d say you can’t imagine, too—like a Coke bottle radio, and another radio made of cardboard.
Dave Cisco, W4AXL, is one of the driving forces behind the Society. He is very proud of the Society’s library, and I can’t blame him.
This place has an incredible collection of vintage amateur radio and broadcasting publications. For starters: Every single QST magazine since 1915, every single CQ magazine and every Ham Radio magazine.
There’s enough to keep you looking for a long time, including broadcasting year books, and even a Signal Corps handbook from World War I.
So, what are you likely to run across in this vast collection? “Just about anything you can think of that’s related to radio,” Dave says.
The Society has one of only two known surviving Superflex radios in the world. Superflex is a broadcast radio receiver made in the 1920s by a company in Birmingham.
If you’re a broadcasting geek like me, the Society’s radio studio will impress.
Assembled by the late Joe Dentici, a legend of Birmingham radio and engineering, the equipment—mostly from the ’50s and ’60s—was saved from the dumpster.
“Joe had this studio in his home,” Cisco said. “He made it up from stuff being thrown out by various stations he worked at. He would salvage it from scrap and rebuilt it.”
The Society decided that Dentici’s studio should live on in a new setting, and, it does, thanks to the work of volunteer radio enthusiasts. The studio is complete right down to the Gates 12 channel broadcast console, ITC Delta and BE cart machines and two QRK turntables with Gray tonearms.
And here’s the best part: It all works. The studio sure brought back memories for me—I worked in various radio stations during my teenage years, and used to have a Harris Executive console with two Gates CB-77 turntables.
I especially enjoyed the display of studio microphones that aren’t really studio microphones. They’re actually radios, and many are permanently tuned to one station … how’s that for a captive audience?
The museum’s presence in Birmingham is a treasure that permits a fascinating look back across decades of radio history, and into a time when radio was—well, just plain big, or as I like to say, back when radio was real.
The Society has ongoing activities including meetings every Saturday and Tuesday. They’re a bunch of people who are fun to be around. As one of their members told me at the party, “we like to get together and swap lies.”
If you want to know more about the Society, visit them on line at their website.
I asked a few members at the party if there is a collection like this anywhere else around.
No one was really sure.
Regardless, we are lucky to have something like this in Birmingham…