KILGORE – Just off downtown Kilgore in the 400 block of East Main and tucked away in what was once a car dealership there is a treasure trove of broadcast equipment dating all the way back to Thomas Edison.
The Texas Broadcast Museum is currently using 18,000 square feet of building space, but the all-inclusive collection could fill at least anther two buildings.
“When we started this, I had about half of the amount and Willard (Warren) had about half,” said Executive Director Chuck Conrad. “Now, it’s about 25% him and 25% me and the rest of it is right here.”
Conrad says there is a fine line between collecting and hoarding.
Over the past three years or so, people from around the area just stop by with equipment donations ranging from carry-in boxes to a 24-foot moving truck.
“So people come in and say, ‘I was cleaning out my grandfather’s house and found this and thought you folks might want it. I’m just going to toss it otherwise,’” Conrad said.
What could be a 90-minute cursory walk through of the different rooms could easily turn into two-and-a-half hours of “What’s that?” and “Where did that come from?”
Conrad believes his oldest piece of equipment is an old Thomas Edison cylinder phonograph that dates back to the last 1880s.
In the early days of television, there was no other way to record an image other than on movie film, said one of the many info-cards in front of a particular display.
None other than Jackie Gleason of “The Honeymooners” television program suggested invention of the DuMont Electronicam.
Gleason wanted to record the program for additional distribution, so he suggested to the engineers at DuMont that maybe they could combine a film camera with a TV camera. The films would record everything the camera saw, to be edited later together to resemble the original live program.
The Electronicam in Kilgore is believed to be one of two remaining examples in the U.S. today.
In the same vicinity is a camera from “American Bandstand,” which was a popular dance a music show spanning four decades from the 1950s to late 1989. It launched Dick Clark’s career and his production company.
There are also rooms dedicated to radio broadcasting, which was the original form of family entertainment prior to television.
There are several examples of sound studios and engineering rooms. There are huge 16 and 24-track recording tables that weigh a couple hundred pounds.
One of the museum’s heaviest products that should be portable is a 300-pound analog high definition television set that was made for DirectTV. The resolution was about 380p, which pales in comparison by today’s standards of 4K and 5K televisions.
There are two very large mobile production vehicles in the building. One is the ESPN mobile 327 unit, which measures 13.5 feet tall and 27 feet long. It was one of the earliest vehicles used by the company that housed about six people.
There is also the 1946 DuMont Telecruiser. A similar unit was used to cover the John F. Kennedy procession in Dallas, also the site of his assassination.
Not only are there rooms dedicated to broadcast radio, there is an entire room dedicated to the radio receivers that range from portable handhelds to tabletops, and grandfather clock and radio combinations to stereo Hi-Fi cabinets.
From the museum’s promotional material, “Kilgore’s Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications spotlights the people and equipment of broadcasting’s Golden Age, featuring working televisions and radio studios, a vintage equipment restoration facility and archives available for research.”