Ideas born from a place of passion have an undeniable life about them, and you can feel it when you are in their presence. The Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut, located in a ubiquitous brick building, in Windsor, Connecticut, is one of those places.
As part of Music Appreciation Week, we thought it would be a good idea to visit the museum, which is chock-full of radios, record players, TVs, and tape recorders, not to mention the massive transmitters that send the radio waves out over the airwaves. In a nutshell, the museum is chock-full of the sound and music cabinets and living room consoles our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents used to gather around when they listened to music or took a spin on the dance floor.
Founded and maintained entirely by volunteer radio buffs more than 30 years ago, the museum is essentially a love song to all forms of communications gear, some dating back prior to Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of the radio, in 1896.
Organized in sections and aisles sequenced by the decade going back to the mid-1800s, the radios, record players, gramophones, juke boxes, microphones, and tape recorders are wonderful to look at and read about. There are decades of radios, record players, living room entertainment consoles, as well as smaller desktop radios and smaller-yet transistor radios.
Gearheads will truly enjoy looking over large consoles with rows of dials and toggle switches, especially the oldest models. The museum has a large collection of tubes, many of which are available for purchase for restoring pre-transistor radios, tuners, and TVs.
Some of the earliest TVs had circular screens that were only a few inches wide. To make the grainy black-and-white images easier to view, large magnifying lenses were positioned about six inches from the front the screen so more than one person could enjoy the show.
When radios were first introduced, in the late 1800s, not many homes had electricity, which is why many of the earliest radios were battery powered. Though well beyond being serviceable, the museum has a large collection of radio batteries from various manufacturers.
Back in the day, restaurants and bars invariably had big, colorful jukeboxes that spun 45 rpm records for as little as a nickel a pop. Some diners had smaller models at every booth. For restaurants and bars, jukeboxes were guaranteed money makers.
Advertising posters, brochures, signage, and other radio, TV, and communications-related paraphernalia further enrich the experience. And then there’s that subtle musty smell of the past you occasionally note as you peruse the aisles that adds that final touch of authenticity to the exhibits.
Something that’s hard not to notice as you “stroll through the decades” is how music playback systems have come down in size over time. Early on, they were massive cabinets that dominated a room. Before long, larger consoles were replaced by smaller desktop models that were in turn slowly replaced by portable transistor radios, which were replaced by the Sony Walkman, the iPod, and everything that followed. Today we listen to everything and anything wirelessly from our phones.
A fully operational radio station, complete with a Foley sound-effects station, is located in the museum, and it, too, is equipped with original vintage professional broadcast gear. According to Skip Colton, one of the museum’s volunteers who was gracious enough to give me the grand tour of the museum, an older visitor who worked at a recording studio years ago said the only thing wrong with the museum’s replica studio is that the white acoustic tiles on the walls and ceiling weren’t smoke stained; they were too white.
The Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut, located in Windsor, Connecticut, is open year-round. Days and hours of operation are Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The entry fee is $10, $7 for seniors (60+), and $5 for active military personnel, students, and those with special needs. Children under 5 enter free. A splendid time is guaranteed for all!
Have you visited the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut or other regional gems? Share your stories with us in the Comments section, below.
And Check out Music Appreciation Week for more great music-related content.