Voices of Cincinnati’s Past – Digitizing Cincinnati Museum Center’s Rare Radio Show Collection

By: Arabeth Balasko, Curator of Photographs, Prints and Media

Cincinnati Museum Center is fortunate enough to care for and permanently house a rare collection of original Cincinnati radio transcription discs from local radio stations, including the well-known WLW-WSAI Broadcasting Corporation.

Over the years as access to media formats have changed, these transcription discs have been saved and preserved on reel-to-reel tapes and audio-cassette tapes. This transfer process was done for accessibility to remain intact during the media shifts of the 20th century. As media continues to develop and evolve at its current rate, it is vital to get older media formats digitized, as access to older audio equipment can become scarce or even obsolete. Digitization can help to ensure that these audial stories and voices can be accessed for decades to come.

In late July 2023, 13 audio-cassette tapes from CMC’s Sound Recordings Collection, containing an assortment of historic 1940s radio programs (one is even recorded entirely in Spanish!) were sent to a Covington, KY organization, Scene Savers, to be digitized for accessibility. Now, for the first time, these recordings will come back to life 75-80 years after their initial broadcasts – just in time for the museum’s popular 1940s Day.

To get a sneak preview of some of the radio programs that can be heard at the museum’s 1940s Day, check out these clips from The BlueBird Club – Cincinnati’s first “stay-at-home” radio show hosted by Kay Irion below:

“Bill “Bojangles” Robinson,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

“BlueBird Club Certificate,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

“Clair Shadwell and Kay Irion, BlueBird Club 1st Anniversary,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

“Hal Le Roy,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

Kay Irion’s “Stay-at-Home” Studio, WLW-WSAI,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

Kay Irion’s “Stay-at-Home” Studio, WLW-WSAI,” SC#259 Kay Irion Collection; CMC

In addition to the clips heard above, other programs and snippets listeners can look forward to are:
Hearts in Harmony” a 1940s soap opera sponsored by Kroger – there will also be authentic 1940s Kroger radio spots and commercials that listeners won’t want to miss!

The Studio A Coffee Club, which was recorded in the H. & S. Pogue Company department store, had everything from schtick and slap-stick humor to popular local musicians singing live with an orchestral accompaniment.

Collect Calls From Lowenthal hosted by Ruth Lyons and Frazier Thomas bring a mixture of women together in a live-studio audience and a call-in audience format answering trivia questions in an attempt to win war stamps and a new fur coat and discounts at Lowenthal’s, a popular boutique in Cincinnati.

The Burger Waltz Time, was a popular show in the early 1940s sponsored by the Burger Brewing Company of Cincinnati and highlighted the joys of Burger Beer and slow dancing.

Other clips featured include the broadcasting of “Your Sons at War,” which featured wartime letters and dramatic reenactments, as well as interviews with local Cincinnati military personnel – including Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) members.

All these programs are truly unique and special, and some of them may be the only remaining copies in existence. Upon listening to the staticky noises heard in the recordings background, the clips cannot help but possess a feeling of nostalgia.

To hear the recordings “live” please stop by the History in the Making Classroom (HITM) at Cincinnati Museum Center on Saturday, August 26, 2023 for our 1940s Day celebration! Come and sit for a while and listen to the loud voices booming out of the speakers and be instantly transported back in time – back to a time when radio waves ruled the world.

Posted in Cincinnati History, History objects and fine art, Photograph and Print.