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Group still struggling to meet deadline to save radio broadcasting's birthplace

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The garage where inventor Frank Conrad developed the technologies that launched the broadcasting industry has been on the endangered list for some time. Now the deadline is looming to save it from extinction.

A local nonprofit group called the National Museum of Broadcasting/The Conrad Project has been trying for years to save the Conrad garage/workshop and establish a broadcasting museum here, either at the present Wilkinsburg site or by moving the garage elsewhere.

The property is up for sale and a deal is pending. Now that the Wilkinsburg location is no longer an option, they're faced with the task of moving the garage -- and quickly. The current owners, the Wilkinsburg Elks, have donated the garage to the NMB. Now it has to be torn down, brick by brick, before the deal is closed. The goal is to remove it by mid-April.

The good news: Ralph Guild, CEO of the national radio sales and marketing firm Interep, has made a personal contribution of $50,000 to help save the Conrad garage. Guild has a keen interest in broadcasting history. He's been a major supporter of other broadcasting museums. The Ralph Guild Listening Room at the Museum of Broadcasting in New York was established with his support

"I've been in radio all of my life," Guild says. "Links to the early history are rapidly disappearing. Anything I can do to help, I want to do. The link between Conrad's contribution and the early days of AM radio is very clear."

But the NMB has a way to go before the garage can be saved. Bids for dismantling it have been coming in at about $70,000, according to NMB chairman Rick Harris. And once the garage is taken apart, it will need to be put into storage for an undetermined period. The group is trying to raise the additional funds or find a contractor who will do the job for the money they already have. "Otherwise, it's going to be lost," Harris said.

Conrad's house will be torn down. But the NMB has been able to salvage some details -- old mantels, woodwork -- which could someday be used to re-create rooms.

If and when the garage is salvaged, the group will be able to focus its efforts on finding the right location and concept for the museum.

NMB president Alice Sapienza-Donnelly calls the garage "the Bethlehem of broadcasting. We have approached historical sites, but so far there's been no room at the inn."

The group originally tried to buy the property, which is on the border between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh, and establish the museum there. "When we got nowhere with that, we had to change focus," Sapienza-Donnelly says.

The plan now is to use the garage and broadcasting museum as the nucleus of a larger museum concept, and to find a location where it could be one of several attractions.

To contact the NMB, call 412-241-4508.

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