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The Enormous Radio: 1942

June 1942. Washington, D.C. "Broadcast tower at Howard University during commencement exercises." With apologies to John Cheever. 4x5 inch acetate negative by Gordon Parks for the Office of War Information. View full size.

June 1942. Washington, D.C. "Broadcast tower at Howard University during commencement exercises." With apologies to John Cheever. 4x5 inch acetate negative by Gordon Parks for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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behind table against the wall. They're either a phase converter or generator Something used power that was different than supplied to the building.

Kustom Kabinetry

Am fairly certain this is a one-off custom cabinet for institutional Public Address use.

On the right we have a 1938 or thereabouts RCA 810 K1 radio dial - which incidentally was also available at the time as a radio / phonograph combo sold as the U105 console - the chassis of which this unit almost certainly employs.

On the left we have what appears to be a Gray two octave keyboard transmitter - originally invented by Professor Elisha Gray in the late 1800's as a crude musical instrument capable of transmitting music via telegraph wires - but here probably employed as previously suggested as a chime generator.

Above the two-octave keyboard is again what appears to be a custom control panel which looks like it could be an Altec or similar panel allowing various sources to be mixed together.

All enclosed in a beautiful cabinet which was popular at the time, but again, quite custom and probably built by a furniture craftsman being paid according to the amount of materials used.

[More likely built by students at Howard. - Dave]

Lovely Cabinetry

The first thing that struck me is the lovely style of what I assume is veneered Art Moderne cabinetry for both the main unit as well as the bench. The second thing that struck me is that I have no idea what this thing actually does. The third thing is - assuming it was indeed in the Howard University Founders Library - how they got it up there, as it must be ridiculously heavy.

The lady appears to be standing in a platform accessed by stairs, since you can note the edge of the first step in the photo.

Woman looking out the window

Gman77's comment about the height of the window sill and the woman standing on "something" is confirmed if you look closely at the juncture of the floor and the right edge of the large cabinet. You'll see the edge of the platform that the woman is standing on. Always enjoy slowly roaming around all areas or the enlarged photos presented here!

Another 'Burning Question'

Where is that incredible radio today and who made it. The finish and style seem a bit over the top.

Such a Beautiful Thing

Fascinated by the craftsmanship on this apparently custom piece of equipment.

I'm guessing it enabled audio and chime broadcast along with other recordings.

Interesting that there are matches but no cigarette butts. Suggests that the matches were maybe for something other than smoking.

Wonder what's in that room at Howard now.

Chiming In

Wondering aloud whether that one-octave keyboard plays an electronic carillon or church-style bells; one of he first patented synthesizer circuits, supposedly, was immediately employed to substitute for the famous three-note NBC chime signature, so it's not too early for vacuum-tubular bells.

Burning Questions

Why the two-ocatave keyboard?
Why all the matches on the floor???

Transcription Recording?

With the equipment and assumed location, I believe they're prepared to make a transcription recording of the graduation ceremony.

The broken records on top of the box might be level tests that were broken so they wouldn't get included into the final take.

There are cigarette butts matches on the rather scratched up floor indicating this isn't a well kept wing of the building.

The small keyboard may be used to insert some kind of musical bumper between takes or tracks.

Over in the corner is what appears to be a motor/generator set used to produce the proper power (AC?) (DC?) and voltage to a machine located off camera, perhaps a transmitter?

Organ radios

Being rather bulky, they never became as popular as clock radios.

Paul Wittgenstein

Ravel wrote a piano concerto for left hand that might work with that keyboard.

Maybe it's for the NBC chimes.

Six O’Clock

I believe the room that they're in is on the fourth-floor lower level of the clock tower of the Howard University Founders Library.

Enormous Window

Besides being a very large window, it also is a very tall one. The sill must be almost 6 feet off the floor. The woman appears to be standing on something as she peers out.

No more "Pomp and Circumstance" for these Grads

Let's get some Glenn Miller up in here!!

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