Radio and Television Museum


Editorial Review

A good chunk of old radio technology is on display at the Radio - Television Museum in Bowie. The museum, established by the Washington Radio History Society, landed in Bowie because the city had purchased and renovated an old farmhouse for another group that eventually backed out. It is the only museum in the Washington area devoted solely to radio and TV, and it joins a handful of similar museums around the country. (The Newseum in Arlington includes exhibits on radio as part of its wider collection.)
Radio buffs will find the place fascinating, but laypersons may be left hungry for the stories behind the tubes and wires. Although there are a couple of early televisions - tiny screens in huge, wooden boxes - the museum focuses on radio. The museum's self-guided tour includes lovingly cared-for radios dating back to a spark-gap generator, the familiar Philco "Cathedral" radios, and handcrafted and hand-painted radios, decorated by guilds of women artists. Around the museum walls are print advertisements of the times, which help place the radios in a cultural context. But such context is where the museum could use a little oomph. These radios offer only tantalizing hints of radio's singular inexorable attachment to the American psyche.
This is - at least for now - a museum of things, not ideas. Surprisingly, there is no mention of "War of the Worlds," the seminal radio event, or other landmark moments: The Hindenburg crash, the attack on Pearl Harbor or any of a dozen unforgettable baseball moments. Interpretive placards would help the casual museum visitors, who use radio only as consumers. "Here," such a sign might say, "was the sort of radio that most of the nation was listening to on Halloween 1938, when Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players convinced America that it was being invaded by Mars."
-- Frank Ahrens
This 1906 storekeeper's residence in the village of Mitchellville (now South Bowie) has been home and place of business to the Edlavitch family, Russian Jews who immigrated in 1888, and later to the Harmel family, who operated the store as one of the earliest African American businesses in the area until a 1985 fire. The City of Bowie bought and renovated the structure, which now is operated as a radio and television museum in cooperation with the Radio History Society. Exhibits range from Marconi's wireless telegraph to television.
-- Hank Burchard