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Radio Notes: Conrad historic site loses garage; house doomed

Wednesday, August 08, 2001

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published Aug. 9, 2001) Yesterday's story about the sale of the Wilkinsburg property where inventor Frank Conrad did the experiments that led to the first commercial radio broadcast did not say when it was sold. The transaction was consummated Monday. The buyer plans to build a fast-food restaurant on the site.

A piece of broadcasting history has disappeared from the local landscape. Whether it's temporary or permanent remains to be seen.

Pioneering inventor Frank Conrad had his workshop in a Wilkinsburg garage next to his home. The experiments he did there after World War I led to the first commercial radio broadcast, and the birth of radio station KDKA-AM (1020) here and an entire industry.

Now, the garage is gone.

It's one of those good news-bad news deals. The good: The garage has been torn down, but its individual pieces have been saved. The bad: Conrad's former house will now be demolished and the original historic site lost. The property where the Conrad house, garage and a historic marker stood has been sold to Wendy's, which will build a new restaurant.

A group called the Conrad Project and National Museum of Broadcasting has been trying for years to save the Conrad garage and make it the centerpiece of a broadcasting history museum.

The property previously belonged to the Wilkinsburg Elks, who had used it as their club facility until moving to Forest Hills. It's been vacant for several years.

The NMB tried to buy it, but wasn't able to secure the funding to do so. The original plan was to buy the property and restore both the garage and Conrad's former house.

The garage was saved through a $50,000 donation by Ralph Guild, CEO of the national radio sales and marketing firm Interep, who had read about the ongoing crusade to save the structure. Thanks to Guild's support, the group was able to tear down the garage, brick by brick, and store it for what it hopes will be future reconstruction at a new site.

NMB president Rick Harris said his group was able to go through the house and salvage some significant architectural details, such as mantelpieces and woodwork, which could be used as models if they can re-create a portion of the house.

Now that the garage at least has been salvaged, Harris says, the next step will be to refocus on where and what the museum should be.

Whether or not it makes a comeback is now a question of money and vision. The broadcasting industry and the funding community so far have turned a deaf ear to the Conrad Project. I hope they will reconsider. Maybe someday we'll have more than a pile of labeled bricks and a lost heritage.

Back on the air

Former oldies DJ Dave Justice is returning to the airwaves, although not locally.

Justice hosted the weekly "Radioactive Gold" oldies program on WAMO-AM (860) and later at WMBA-1460 in Ambridge. He was also morning host at the Ambridge station, which he left a year ago.

Now, he's finally living a long-time dream -- syndicating "Radioactive Gold." WTKO-FM in Ithaca, N.Y., is the first station to pick it up. Justice hopes to have it air locally in the near future. The show can be syndicated in one-, two- or three-hour versions.

These days, Justice is running his West Hills Productions recording studio, but he's looking forward to being on the air again.

Former listeners can keep updated at his Web site: http://www.radioactivegold.s5.com/.

Purchasing parodies

WYEP-FM's "Saturday Light Brigade" is soliciting contributions for a "Pittsburgh Parodies" contest between now and Aug. 25.

The parodies are short verses that send up our fair city and its quirks. The only rule is that the lyrics have to be set to the theme from "Gilligan's Island."

"Saturday Light Brigade" host Larry Berger says the entries "can be serious or funny, poke fun at or take pride in our city (or perhaps do both)."

And if for some reason you forget how the "Gilligan" theme goes, the original lyrics, guitar chords, sheet music and audio files are posted at www.slbradio.com.

Entries can be sent to: Saturday Light Brigade, Box 100092, Pittsburgh, PA 15233; or e-mailed to: slb@slbradio.com. Or they can be phoned in to the show between 9 and 10 a.m. Aug. 25 at 412-381-9900. Submissions will be heard that day.

'Radio Odyssey'

The National Radio Club and the DX Audio Service will hold their convention here this month.

DX-ing, or distance listening, is a hobby dating back to the early days of broadcasting, when people would write to the faraway stations they were picking up and receive an acknowledgment from the station. People today still enjoy tuning in far-off stations and sharing information with other DX-ers.

The "2001: A Radio Odyssey" convention will be held Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at the Green Tree Radisson.

Registration fee is $40. Overnight accommodations are available at the Green Tree Radisson. For information, or to register for the convention, call John Malicky at 412-531-5253.

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