Jack Dominic found himself having a good laugh on a recent morning, a little more than a month on the job as the executive director of the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting in West Chester.

The former executive vice president of WCET, Cincinnati Public Television, Dominic was compiling an agenda for a museum board meeting when he ran out of staples.

“Normally what would you do?” asks Dominic, still laughing. “Go to the supply cabinet and get more. Well, guess what? We don’t have a supply cabinet! So on my way back from lunch today, I’m going to buy staples.”

Dominic, the museum’s first and only employee, says the VOA’s former Bethany Relay Station on Tylersville Road, is still a work in progress. But he has no doubt the art deco building has an important story to tell.

“The bones of this place could be a really cool museum. We just need to get it up to shape,” says Dominic. “The story of the VOA and the significance of Cincinnati in its development and the development of the broadcasting industry in general is extraordinary. These stories and examples can help us understand the importance of free and open communication.”

Communication today is the stuff of smartphones and social media, but he says it’s important to understand how early shortwave radio technology, much of which was developed in Cincinnati, was used to spread America’s message from World War II through the Cold War. It is also important to know how Cincinnati helped shape the history of U.S. broadcasting.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the opening of the VOA Bethany Station. In the midst of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was determined to counter Axis propaganda by broadcasting U.S. news and information overseas. The U.S. government ended up turning to Cincinnati entrepreneur and radio pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr.

In the 1920s, his Crosley Broadcasting Corp. created WLW, billed as “the nation’s station,” it was the first radio station to broadcast at 50,000 watts and the only station to broadcast at 500,000 watts for a time in the 1930s.

Crosley’s engineers created a shortwave radio transmission system from scratch in West Chester, just down the road from WLW’s transmission tower. Remarkably, it took only about a year from the time the first shovel of dirt was turned until the switch was turned on, Dominic says.

The building, with its four-story tower resembling an airport control tower, contained six massive 200-kilowatt transmitters that generated the short cycle radio broadcasts. The radio waves bounced off the ionosphere and across the oceans via acres of antennas on the once 640-acre property. The facility continued as part of the VOA network until 1994, when it was decommissioned and the property was given to West Chester Township with the proviso it be maintained as a historic site.

A small group of volunteers has been working for several years to convert the building into a museum. More than a year ago, West Chester approved a five-year lease to the nonprofit museum and about $1.8 million has been spent on restoring the exterior of the building, installing a new roof, windows and doors.

The building also includes the Media Heritage Museum, a collection of Cincinnati radio, television, film and media history begun by Mark Magistrelli and Mike Martini. “People are surprised by the number of entertainers who got their start here,” Dominic says. “Outside of New York or Chicago, this is where you came if you wanted to break into radio.”

In 2001, the Media Heritage Museum received the Frederic W. Ziv Archive, a collection of more than 11,000 recordings, photographs and other memorabilia belonging to Ziv, who was the largest syndicator of radio and television programs in the 1940s and 1950s.

The VOA also houses the Gray History of Wireless Museum, a collection of antique radio equipment assembled by Middletown native Jack Gray, a wireless radio pioneer and former VOA engineer.

The Gray collection, Dominic says, has some items “the Smithsonian would kill for.”

The museum is also home to the West Chester Amateur Radio Association (WC8VOA).

“What do they have in common?” asks Ken Rieser, VOA Museum board chairman. “They all have a connection to Cincinnati’s long history in the U.S. broadcast industry. Our job is to tie it all together into a single experience.”

One of Dominic’s main jobs will be to raise the estimated $12 million to $15 million needed to create the fully-functioning interactive museum envisioned by a planning study undertaken several years ago by a consulting team led by Jack Rouse Associates.

Dominic says the museum hopes to begin a major fundraising effort late this fall aimed at corporations and private donors with an interest in broadcasting.

Plans call for restoring the interior the way it looked back in 1944, including removing a glass-enclosed control room and acoustic ceiling added in the 1960s. This would reveal a mezzanine overlooking the “Great Concourse,” a room with 25-foot ceilings behind the building’s lobby that housed the transmitters. Dominic says the museum would also like to put an addition on the back of the building with modern amenities to house interactive exhibits and displays.

In the meantime, Dominic would like to restore the building lobby and create a community meeting room to show off the building’s potential.

Dominic says it may take three years or so to finish the fundraising and complete all the renovations, but he doesn’t doubt it can be done.

“I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think so,” he says.

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