Chicago Photo Tribute #5: the Museum of Broadcast Communication

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover nearly two months ago:

[This coming] weekend is the fourth annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (that “C2E2″ thing I won’t shut up about) at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, which my wife and I will be attending for our third time. As a tribute to this fascinating city, and an intro to C2E2 newcomers to provide ideas of what else Chicago has to offer while they’re in town, a few of this week’s posts will be dedicated to out experiences in the Windy City when we’re not gleefully clustered indoors with thousands of other comics and sci-fi fans.

…To be continued! Eventually. We’re out of time before C2E2 kicks off tomorrow, but I have a few more Chicago galleries in store, once my annual C2E2 mania subsides.

Now that C2E2 2013 is essentially over (except for one final entry I keep procrastinating), I’m resuming the Chicago Photo Tribute miniseries mostly so I can finish what I started, and partly to get back into the swing of MCC’s travel-minded side in honor of our upcoming 2013 road trip.

During one of our previous Chicago visits, my wife and I took a quick tour of the Museum of Broadcast Communication, currently housed in the first three floors of a former parking garage, with additional floors available for future expansion. The MBC is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of things related to TV and radio, initially on a modest budget by all appearances, but not without a few charming pieces if your expectations are modest and you’re truly interested in specific bits of entertainment history.

Our first sigh upon entering: original doors from the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the talk show hosted for twenty-five years by one of Chicago’s most famous living personalities.

Oprah Winfrey set doors

I understand the MBC has experienced some controversy and birthing pains since its inception — relocation, funding issues, and arguable design deficiencies in its current spacious home. Since we’re not really locals, any behind-the-scenes drama bounced off us harmlessly. Gossip and fiduciary negotiations are far less appealing to visitors than, say, this compacted pyramid of A/V devices and players from various decades. Just because they can.

TV radio pyramid pileup

I’ve since read a review or two that nitpicked the spartan accommodations and uninspired decor. I’m not sure any object deserves signage in authentic ’70s disco font. On the upside: boomboxes! Lots of ’em. Because of nostalgia for an era when pedestrians listened to music on portable devices without earbuds. Before the advent of rechargeable power sources, some American neighborhoods used up D batteries by the metric ton on a weekly basis.


In addition to wall-mounted CRT TVs playing old-time programming in infinite loops (e.g., the famous “Vitameatavegamin” scene from I Love Lucy), the MBC also contains physical objects in display cases, such as these original costumes from WGN’s local-hero classic Bozo’s Circus, starring Bozo the Clown as a clown named Bozo. Bonus points if you recognize components from the GRAND! PRIZE! GAME!

Bozo the Clown, Bozo's Circus

Also authentically preserved is the legendary Charlie McCarthy, world-renowned ventriloquist dummy. Alas, Edgar Bergen was unavailable for display, so Charlie’s obscure cohorts keep him company. I’ve never even heard of the one on the right.

Charlie McCarthy, ventriloquist dummies

The largest of the interactive exhibits was this souvenir set from Sunday morning’s own Meet the Press, the longest-running TV show in American history, now 65 years old and eligible for Social Security benefits. I’ve never seen a single episode. I’m sure it’s good at whatever it does.

Meet the Press set

TV fans may appreciate the opportunity to stand close to an Emmy award, unless you’re bitter that Emmy voters have snubbed all your favorite shows ever since you were born. Even then, you can gaze upon it and wonder to yourself how much shinier this would’ve looked in Joss Whedon’s clutches.

Emmy award

When I referred above to our “quick” tour, that wasn’t because we were short on time, but because the museum was a work in progress, so to speak. One floor is devoted almost entirely to a project-within-the-project called the National Radio Hall of Fame, a series of plaques honoring various DJs, newscasters, sportscasters, and other forms of radio personalities from the last several decades. Walls and walls of nothing but plaques to walk past, with occasional stops to read the fine print for the names and faces you recognize.

I found names I expected to see such as Alan Freed, Don Imus, and Wolfman Jack. I freely admit I never would’ve guessed that their lineup of radio hall-of-famers would include a young Ronald Reagan, ages before he transitioned from his original career track into the political realm.

Ronald Reagan, sportscaster

Starting June 26th the MBC kicks off a Gary Coleman retrospective, which sounds like a Simpsons joke now that I’ve typed it out myself. If customer support and/or corporate donations keep it alive, I hope future special events, expansions, and acquisitions will bolster its offerings and provide a more robust experience. As we found it, it was an affable way to spend an hour or so, playing several rounds of “Remember this one thing?”


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