Vol 2 Num 9, (Sept.) Fall 1996
A Museum for NJARC
By Ludwell Sibley
Discussion at last month's meeting resulted in the exchange of some
valuable input regarding the feasibility of a NJARC museum. In this article,
Ludwell Sibley formalizes some of his ideas. All members' views are both
solicited and appreciated Ed.
1. WHY A MUSEUM?
Apart from a general view that museums are a good thing, people and
organization run them for a variety of reasons. In NJARC's case, the motives
- Build the public's consciousness of "radio" - on whatever
basis they prefer: funky old-time material that they hadn't encountered
before, simple nostalgia. or true historical insight. Subject matter can
be either artifacts (radios) or program material, preferably a mix.
- Draw attention to the hobby of collecting radios and other electronic
- Make the club more visible and thus attractive to new members.
- Preserve historic artifacts and papers for future examination.
- Lend radios and other equipment to other museums and TV/video program
- Provide resources (artifacts and a library) for research by restorers
2. THE TARGET AUDIENCE
It is assumed that prospective museum visitors come from the general
public and are of all ages. Thus is a hard group to satisfy because it
requires both "hands on" displays and more static exhibits. There
is also a need to address more sophisticated visitors - radio collectors/historians,
amateur radio operators, and electronics professionals.
3. THE MONMOUTH COUNTY ASPECT
A strong assumption is that an NJARC museum is to be in Monmouth County.
No state has a richer heritage in radio-electronics development and manufacture
than New Jersey, and one can point out numerous cases where Monmouth County
figured prominently. Examples:
- "First use of radio in North America":Marconi's reporting
of the 1899 America's Cup races off Sandy Hook, using a temporary receiving
station at the Atlantic Highlands towers.
- Pioneering radio research by AT&T (later Bell Labs) at coastal
sites like Deal Beach and Bradley Beach; later, radio astronomy research
and satellite trials at Crawford's Hill (Holmdel). (The radio astronomy
led to a Nobel Prize for W. 0. Baker of Bell labs! )
- Early manufacturing - there wasn't a lot locally, but examples from
1924 are Mu-Rad and Marlodyne in Asbury Park, and Robinson Specialty Co.
in Keyport. Later manufacturing included small defense contractors around
Red Bank, including production of tubes by Bendix at Eaton-town, the Electronic
Assistance Corp. of Red Bank, and the Trad Television Corp. of Asbury Park.
- Early broadcasting: AT&T developers were doing experimental broadcasting
from Monmouth County before WEAF was built. WJLK in Asbury Park went on
the air in 1926.
- Military radio-electronics: Ft. Monmouth figured in radio and radar
development from the '20's. Examples: first Army radars, 193740; moon radar,
1946; Project Echo satellite project, 1960.
- Wireless communications: the reinstalled 1913 Marconi tower at Shark
River, Wall Township, represents a role in ship-to-shore and transatlantic
These are purely Monmouth County examples. It would be reasonable to
cover any number of other aspects of radio history in neighboring counties
or the rest of the state. For example, aircraft radio was developed with
major roles by Western Electric/Bell Labs at Whippany, the Aircraft Radio
Corporation at Boonton, and RCA Victor at Camden. The Boonton area has
been a sort of "Silicon Valley" of electronic test-equipment
manufacture from the '305 to today.
4. SIMILAR OR COMPETING MUSEUMS
There is little museum coverage of radio-electronics NJARC-style in
or near New Jersey. The following is believed to reflect the situation
- The Signal Corps museum at Ft. Mon-mouth is focused on Army communications-electronics.
Its displays are new and quite good, and much of the material exhibited
is unique. However, it suffers from lack of fluids (a staff of one, and
displays are not often rotated), limited operating hours (weekdays only),
and a location away from public traffic.
- The Historical Electronics Museum outside Baltimore is dedicated to
military equipment (mainly radars) of its sponsor, Westinghouse. Its facilities
are new, the displays are fairly good, hours are long, and there are both
professional and volunteer staff. Again, however, the subject is not "civilian"
- The Museum of Broadcasting in New York City has new facilities, good
funding, and long hours. However, its purpose is programming, mostly TV;
there is no coverage of broader aspects of radio-electronic history or
in artifacts. Likewise, the American Museum of the Moving Image in NYC
is tied to film and TV programming, with some TV receivers.
- The Edison Historic Site at West Orange is a "fine tour"
focused on Thomas Edison. It offers long hours and professional staff There
are phonographs and an Edison radio or two on display but, again, no dedication
- The Speedwell Village Museum in Morristown offers unique insight into
the earliest (1838-44) development of wire telegraphy, as well as iron-founding
and other industries. It operates only seasonally. on weekends. Again,
there is no electronic content.
- The Bell Telephone Museum at 140 West St. in New York had unique early
vacuum tubes, telephones, and other treasures. It was apparently crated
up when the company moved to Holmdel in the '60s. Given the leaner funding
of today's AT&T Bell Labs, nothing is likely to be heard from it. (Indeed,
if the material still exists, it might be a source of loaned displays for
- The Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia displays a few AK radios. but
only incidentally to its main mission of displaying Philadelphia history.
It did put on a "Philadelphia Radio" exhibit a couple of years
- MAARC's subsidiary Radio History Society plans to establish a museum
in the Silver Spring area, similar to what NJARC would set up, but well
outside NJARC's drawing area.
Thus it appears that "there is a place" for an NJARC museum.