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Radio: Frank Conrad's garage may get lost in static

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

While the big dream to build new sports stadiums moves on, a smaller proposed regional asset may be quietly slipping away. That would be the National Museum of Broadcasting in Pittsburgh.

This well-intentioned project has encountered more ups and downs than any Kennywood thrill ride. The project is in limbo, and at this point, anything could happen. Or worse - nothing will.

The Conrad Project - the group behind the museum - has scouted several prospective sites for the radio and television museum - all with historic significance to the radio industry.

They're trying to save the Wilkinsburg garage where Westinghouse engineer and amateur radio operator Frank Conrad conducted experiments and the first public broadcasts, laying the groundwork for commercial broadcasting.

The building is owned by the Wilkinsburg Elks, who are moving and have put the property up for sale. The Elks agreed to donate the garage to the proposed museum. Last fall, the museum launched a Save the Garage campaign to raise the funds needed to take it apart and store it. They've raised about $4,000 so far, according to Conrad Project chairman Rick Harris - which is far short of what is needed to dismantle and store the building.

While the Conrad Project has qualified for state funding to establish a museum, they need to match the grant with cash or donated property to receive it.

As far as sites, they had high hopes for the former Westinghouse Recreation Center in Forest Hills. They submitted proposals to CBS to have the property donated for use as a museum and planned to move the garage there.

However, last year, the group learned that the property would go to the Borough of Forest Hills. Harris said one option that was discussed at that time was a clause in the sale that would allow the museum to use a portion of the facility. If not, locating a museum there would be subject to negotiations with the new owner - another time-consuming process. "If we can meet with Forest Hills and work something out, that's fine, we'll still pursue it." Harris says.

Next week, CBS will present the deed to the recreation center site to Forest Hills. Donating it to the borough for a wide range of uses was seen as the best way to serve the community at large, says G. Reynolds Clark, executive director of corporate services and community affairs for CBS-Pittsburgh. "Our feeling is this needs to be a community-wide effort," he says.

CBS is encouraging the borough to continue to work with the NMB group to include them in the facility, which will be used by former Westinghouse employees and other community groups. "We're still strong proponents of the museum," Clark says.

Another option is to buy the Wilkinsburg property and use that, without having to move the garage. Again, they don't have the money or financial support. The Elks are going to move soon, so the clock is ticking for that site, too.

And there's Plan C - to use one of the buildings at Westinghouse's former East Pittsburgh Works in Turtle Creek, which is now Keystone Commons.

Right now, it's a waiting game.

"Time is running out for us. It's unfortunate we can't find some foundation or corporation in the Pittsburgh area to take this project under its wings," says Harris. "It reminds me of the Syria Mosque situation. People didn't get motivated until it was ready to be torn down. We're not quite at that point. That would be such an insult to history if we allow that to happen."

Ironically, this year, the Miniature Railroad and Village at Carnegie Science Center added a model of Conrad's garage to its traditional display.

Let's hope that's not all we're left with.

ALL THAT JAZZ: WDUQ-FM (90.5) and the BSU Radio Network have received a $390,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to use emerging telecommunications technologies to provide jazz programming services to radio stations across the country.

Last year, WDUQ and BSU started a pilot program to distribute jazz formats to public radio stations in Idaho, where BSU is based. That project has evolved into JazzWorks, which now broadcasts 24 hours a day in six states. WDUQ jazz hosts Tony Mowod and Evelynn Hawkins, along with program director Dave Becker and general manager Scott Hanley, all host jazz programming on the network.

The new grant will enable the network to employ technologies including broadcast, computer/Internet and telephone, and to expand to public radio stations in smaller markets.

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