Conrad Project Overview
Of all of the technological innovations and industries to come out of western Pennsylvania, often overlooked is the one that has had a daily influence on the lives of people worldwide for most of the past century: the broadcasting industry.
Conceived, born and raised here at a time when Pittsburgh was known more as the "Smoky City," broadcasting is today a 55+ billion dollar-per-year industry that is the world’s primary source of news and entertainment.
Although Pittsburgh is not generally regarded as the "broadcasting capital of the world," the National Museum of Broadcasting described in this proposal should help to change that perception.
Most Pittsburghers know something about KDKA and its first radio broadcast in 1920, an achievement certainly worthy of a place in a broadcasting hall of fame. But that broadcast is only one of many significant radio and television achievements to occur locally.
Pittsburgh’s heritage in wireless communications dates back to the turn of the 20th century to the very beginnings of radio itself. Out of Pittsburgh came voice radio, commercial broadcasting, shortwave broadcasting, electronic television, and public broadcasting, along with dozens of documented "firsts" in the industry.
Although so many great milestones in radio and TV happened here, Pittsburgh has been left behind in the race to commemorate these achievements. In recent years broadcasting museums have opened in cities large and small: New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Dallas, even Huntington, West Virginia, to name just a few. Yet Pittsburgh, where radio and television essentially originated, has none.
Since 1986 several Pittsburgh organizations have worked to establish a permanent, major museum of broadcasting here. Comprised of historians, collectors, technicians, broadcasters, and assisted by local, state and federal representatives, these groups made significant advances toward their goal in 1995, the 75th anniversary year of broadcasting.
Leading the effort is the National Museum of Broadcasting (NMB), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation. NMB was founded, in part, to preserve Frank Conrad’s Garage, the Wilkinsburg workshop where broadcasting was born. It has established the Conrad Project to raise funds to acquire, reconstruct and restore the garage as the centerpiece of the proposed museum.
The goal of the broadcasting museum isn’t only historic preservation. Its benefits to the region will include education, increased tourism and economic development.
The proposed museum itself would be a state-of-the-art facility not only in its design but also in its exhibits and presentation to the public. A hands-on, highly-interactive museum is envisioned. Educational yet entertaining displays and programs will greet visitors young and old alike.
In 2001 NMB successfully raised the funds to dismantle Conrad’s Garage and place it into storage. It is actively seeking an appropriate site for the garage and a companion museum.
Several locations have been considered. These include historic broadcasting sites within Allegheny County. So far none of the venues have proven to be suitable for sustaining the museum in the long term.
Since broadcasting began in an industrial setting in the eastern part of Allegheny County, it is NMB’s desire to consider locating somewhere near the Turtle Creek and Mon Valleys. That way, jobs and other economic benefits the museum generates will be returned to the very communities that helped pioneer broadcasting nearly a century ago.
A restored Conrad Garage and National Museum of Broadcasting could be a worldwide attraction, bringing thousands of additional visitors to the Pittsburgh area each year. The tourist dollars infused into the region’s economy could eventually reach into the millions of dollars annually.
As the 100th anniversary of broadcasting rapidly approaches, it would truly be a tragedy not to have this historic garage restored or museum established to honor the world-changing events pioneered nowhere else but in Pittsburgh.