The Voice of America broadcast center, now a museum, countered Nazi propaganda in suburban Cincinnati
West Chester, Ohio — At a crucial moment in World War II, Nazi Germany suddenly found itself and its propaganda opposed to a very loud and powerful voice emanating from around Cincinnati.
This voice was the voice of America.
Today, the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting, 8070 Tylersville Road, occupies the site from which the service originally broadcast its message around the world. Known as Bethany Station, the broadcast center operated for 50 years from 1944.
The museum tells the story of Voice of America and Bethany Station and remembers the people who made them possible.
The founders of Voice of America include President Franklin Roosevelt, actor and director John Houseman, and Cincinnati entrepreneur Powell Crosley Jr., who worked together to counter Adolf Hitler’s shrewd use of radio as a weapon of propaganda and create a worldwide news service for the American people. and democracy.
Bethany Station was built on 640 acres next to the tower broadcasting Crosley’s WLW, a Cincinnati commercial radio station that is still on the air.
At the time, WLW was broadcasting with 500,000 watts, the highest ever allowed. And Crosley, who also operated a commercial shortwave broadcast station, had access to the engineers, technicians and equipment that could give Voice of America the ocean reach it needed.
This global reach was achieved with 1.5 million watts of power produced by six state-of-the-art transmitters, each the size of three city buses.
Part of the museum is devoted to the imagination and legacy of Crosley, a revolutionary business visionary and marketer. Crosley looked like a brilliant mix of Thomas Edison and PT Barnum, said museum executive director John Dominic, himself a former Cincinnati television station executive.
Crosley’s businesses included car manufacturing, an airline, and a range of kitchen and electronic appliances, including, of course, radios. A Crosley’s failed venture was the very first electronic newspaper, delivered by radio signals overnight to an early version of a fax machine.
WLW was also a development hotbed for broadcast talent in the mid-20th century, helping to launch the careers of artists such as singer Rosemary Clooney, comedian Red Skelton and, imagine, if you will, Rod Serling, who went on to produce and host “The Twilight”. Zone television anthology.
Voice of America programs originated in Washington, DC, and were sent by telephone line (and later by satellite) to Bethany and other relay stations. Houseman, the first director of Voice of America, insisted that programs resist the temptation to veer into propaganda, instead of maintaining credibility by telling the story bluntly.
But Hitler, who wanted only his side of the news to be known and who knew the power of Bethany Station, repeatedly called the Voice of America “Cincinnati liars.” Today, the museum celebrates the epithet with “Cincinnati Liars” T-shirts in the gift shop.
After World War II, the Voice of America continued to deliver American-style news, English lessons, and entertainment around the world, especially to places like the Soviet Union, where governments oppressive limited information.
But with the advancement of technology, the Bethany station has become obsolete. It was mothballed in 1994 and reopened in recent years as a non-profit museum.
Visitors can view the original control room and much of the original equipment, listen to archived and current Voice of America programming, and learn about the lives touched around the world by these programs.
Many visitors who listened to the Voice of America while living under oppressive regimes have visited the museum, Dominic said. “People who remember listening where it was forbidden come here with tears in their eyes,” he said.
Some said they risked imprisonment or death just to listen to real news and real voices from the outside world, he said. “The length they would go to listen is amazing,” Dominic said.
More information: The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting is open Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is $10, under 16s free. See: voamuseum.org.
Steve Stephens is a freelance writer and photographer in Columbus. He can be reached at [email protected].