Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Museum Worth Checking Out

Carrie and I hit the road on Saturday for a trip to The Big E, the great fair held annually in West Springfield, MA. We had a great day, enjoying the food and fun.

Driving back towards New York on I-91, we saw a sign for the Vintage Radio Museum. Now as a broadcaster, amateur historian, and lover of all things radio, this museum seemed like a no-brainer to me. Yet I hesitated, not wanting to bore Carrie to tears.

But Carrie was the one pushing me to go. So we turned around and hurried to the museum, located in Windsor, CT. I was aware of them, having seen them at The Big E before. But we were also concerned that we were arriving at 4:15, and the museum (officially the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut) would be closing at 5:00.

That fact did not deter museum director John Ellsworth, who led us on a lengthy guided tour, never even alluding to closing time for the facility. In fact, we didn't walk back out to the car until 5:45.

Inside, visitors will find a large selection of so many things related to the history of communication. Of course there are plenty of radios to be seen (like a 1961 Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris model that was found in a dump or the vintage Crosley Shelvador refrigerator with a built-in radio!). But there are also old Edison and Victrola phonographs, TV's, a teletype, old computers, a phone booth and various telephone equipment, and more. But WAIT! There's more! How about checking out the Morse Code station, or attending one of their classes where one can learn to build a crystal radio? Learn what exactly it means to be "in the limelight." There's even an on-site production studio. There's also a ham radio room for enthusiasts of amateur broadcasting.

Hopefully, you're not short-changing this museum as purely for "techies." The $7 admission opens you up to a world of items that are available to touch and inspect up close, and if you can get John Ellsworth or one of the other passionate volunteers to take you around, you certainly won't be disappointed. Get Ellsworth to show you the Tesla Coil and see the pure power of electricity.

Plus so much of what they have isn't only authentic, but in working order. Try the old jukebox. Or listen to a radio from 1927. Don't simply turn it on and tune to 1490! As John explained to me, one had to know what coordinates to set the various dials to (that's the radio and paperwork shown at the top of this post).

The people there are extremely knowledgeable. Though Ellsworth himself thought that he was "preaching to the choir" as he told me stories (I never let on that I work in the "business"), he still filled in so many details of things I never knew. After knowing that I was aware of the tragic story of Major Edwin Armstrong, Ellsworth filled in the pieces on the inventor of FM radio.

You don't need to be a broadcaster or have an active interest in radio to enjoy this museum. Plus they have ideas to grow and make it an even better experience, such as allowing visitors to do "mock" TV broadcasts that can be recorded to DVD.

This is a place that, if I lived closer, I would be volunteering at. No question about it.

The Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut is approximately five minutes east of I-91 in Windsor, Connecticut. Go, listen, touch, and enjoy.

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