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Historic radio site in Forest Hills gets a boost

Friday, January 12, 2001

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Forest Hills site where the first radio broadcast took place has been named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as part of its Save America's Treasures program.

The designation has rekindled hopes of establishing a museum of broadcasting in the area, where many pioneering research efforts led to the development of both the radio and television industries.

The 13.5-acre site includes a building that served as the former Westinghouse Recreation Center. It was also where KDKA's maiden voyage into commercial broadcasting happened.

"This is really a huge first step for us. This is a really serious designation," said Forest Hills Mayor Ken Gormley. A museum could help build a new image for the borough, he said. "This is where it happened, the first radio broadcast in the world. We could be known as the birthplace of broadcasting."

The property was sold to Forest Hills by Westinghouse in 1999. The building is currently being rented out for weddings and other events.

Save America's Treasures was created in 1998 to help meet preservation needs of historically significant sites. Since then, the group has designated around 700 projects, which have received $95 million in Save America's Treasures challenge grants through the National Park Service, along with $52 million in public and private funding.

The designation doesn't guarantee federal funding, but the program provides information on federal programs and funding opportunities to its designated sites. Only the museum portion of the Forest Hills development would qualify for federal funds. The borough would have to raise money for other aspects of the development separately.

Gormley said the project will be eligible to submit funding applications by next month.

For the past year, the borough and the Conrad Project's proposed National Museum of Broadcasting have been exploring possibilities of establishing a museum on the former Westinghouse site.

Conrad Project Chairman Rick Harris said the historic designation "really helps to validate the national importance of what went on in Pittsburgh in terms of radio and television."

The Conrad Project's mission is to preserve artifacts and structures that are important to early broadcasting. Among their efforts is the preservation of the garage where radio pioneer Frank Conrad conducted his early experiments.

While the group has assembled a considerable collection of local broadcasting artifacts, it hasn't been able to find them a permanent home. "If we don't, a lot of these local artifacts are going to end up dispersed in other areas or private collections," Harris said. "They'd be out of Pittsburgh forever."

Gormley said the project would start small and see how the public reacts. Possibilities include setting up interactive displays, archives and exhibits of technological artifacts at the building.

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