WHAT: The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minn.
WHERE: Suburban Minneapolis.
WHEN: You have a couple of hours to spare between flights or meetings.
If Richard Nixon or Monica Lewinsky ever wanted someone to blame for their troubles, here's one answer: Bing Crosby. That's right, it was the Old Groaner who first promoted tape recording in the United States. GIs returning from World War II introduced him to the German invention, and he immediately saw its potential--he could record his national radio show any time he wanted and thus could spend more time on the golf course. (And he could edit out the jokes that bombed.)
You can see Der Bingle's first tape recorder at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minn. This suburban Minneapolis mini-Smithsonian holds more artifacts of entertainment history than even the most ardent radio geek could absorb in one session. There's the recording lathe that cut the disks for the sound track of "The Jazz Singer." There are row after row of Crosleys, Motorolas, Radiolas, Atwater-Kents--all of the magic boxes that would tug you by the imagination and take you to Hollywood, Broadway or 79 Wistful Vista. And from the transmitting end, there are ancient microphones and early television cameras.
A particular attraction these days for the many groups of touring elementary school students is the demonstration of spark-gap telegraphy comparable to the wireless equipment on board the Titanic. In operation, it produces electrical pyrotechnics like Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.
The Pavek also has a functioning theremin that you can play by waving your hands near two metal antennas: one controlling pitch and the other volume (try to duplicate the eerie music of all those cheesy '50s sci-fi films).
Also from the '50s is an operational radio studio complete with a huge turntable that could play the 16-inch vinyl disks that brought many syndicated radio programs to the stations before Crosby blessed us all with magnetic tape. You also may see Rube Goldbergian record changers and juke boxes, ham radio and military communications equipment, and early television sets like the rich family up the street might have owned.
It must be fascinating for the elementary school students. But it also must raise some questions: Vinyl records? Vacuum tubes? AM radio? Black-and-white TV? Jeez, did they have fire yet back then?
How appropriate that here in the land of Cheerios, for many years the sponsor of "The Lone Ranger," there is a chance to "return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse, Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again!" If only in our imaginations.
The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting (3515 Raleigh Ave., St. Louis Park, Minn., 612-926-8198, www.pavekmuseum.org) is about 15 miles from the Minneapolis airport, about a 25-minute drive. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3.