A friend of a friend met up with me in Chicago a couple of years back, and offered to be my city guide for an afternoon. We started with lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern, the home of the famous “Cheezeburger” sketch that John Belushi made famous on Saturday Night Live. It was a fitting introduction to our next stop.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications is one of only 3 museums in the USA dedicated to media broadcast history. The lobby houses the Media Tower – commissioned in 2005 by Bruce Dumont, founder of the museum – to act as a signature piece to the museum’s new location on State Street. It took artist Mark Patsfall six years to create the 17’ tall, 1,200 pound tower, which serves as a time capsule of radios, TVs and other equipment, along with 27 video monitors running vintage TV clips.
We saw an extensive section devoted to Saturday Night Live. There were scripts, and personal hand written notes to producer Lorne Michaels from Bill Murray and Steve Martin, and a typed one from Eric Idle. There were cases of costumes from SNL including the 1975 Land Shark costume (SNL’s spoof on Jaws), which was much larger than I thought it was. One case was devoted to the April 22, 1978 episode contained Steve Martin’s King Tut costume, with its plastic jeweled detailing and the black patent leather shoes which I had completely forgotten about. It was SNL’s most expensive episodes at the time, and would become one of its most iconic.
Further on I found the Church Lady costume, a two-piece polyester knit in red and grey, again displayed with the men’s black patent leather shoes that the actor wore. Still other cases displayed the Coneheads, a 4 foot stack of cue cards, and Gilda Radner’s shoes (size 9). Scale models of the SNL stage were really interesting and included notes from the set designers. “The seats were being made for Yankee stadium; they were the only thing we could get FAST”.
The Chicago Television Gallery led us past props and memorabilia from vintage broadcasts that I recalled from my childhood. Bozo’s Circus reminded me how mad my Mom got when I flattened my Bozo the Clown stuffed toy after sleeping on it. Lucille Ball’s blue and white polka-dot dress was in a case along with I Love Lucy dolls and TV Guides. Vintage console TVs like the 1951 Zenith with its round screen, and later versions like the one my grandparents had (the first color TV I ever saw) and this set from the 60’s that looked like it was straight out of The Jetsons.
In the Radio Hall of Fame we found a display case filled portable radios from the 60’s-70’s, including snakeskin and plaid models that looked more like school lunch boxes than radios. Microphones from the 1920’s and an Atwater Kent Cathedral Radio from 1931. Jack Benny’s violin and Charlie McCarthy’s ventriloquist dummies were also displayed here.
An AP newswire machine included the original bulletin announcing President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963:
“President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up on the president’s limo and grabbed Kennedy. She cried ‘oh no’ as the motorcade sped on…”
Reading it sent chills down my spine. it was the first political assassination I remember, and triggered vivid memories to when my 1st grade class was ushered into the school auditorium, and seated on metal folding chairs in front of a black and white AV monitor on a tall wheeled car, so we could watch the president’s funeral.
If you’re a vintage TV fan, it’s worth a visit. You can also check out their archives online which includes vintage commercials, the 1968 Democratic Convention which was held in Chicago, and “Beat the Drums” which focused on the Republican candidates of the 1960 Illinois Primary and specifically on the importance of voting: https://museum.tv/archives-recent.htm.
For classic radio fans, an annual membership of $49 includes a subscription for daily downloads of classic radio shows for 60 days, followed by a free show every month for 10 months. Each download is accompanied by a written history about the program.
The museum itself is somewhat dizzying to visit, and the website is a little clumsy to navigate. But it has a museum store and you can donate artifacts, which makes this museum unique among others I have visited thus far…
The Museum of Broadcast Communications is located at 360 North State Street, 2nd Floor, Chicago IL 60654. They are currently open Fri-Sat 10-5, Sunday noon-5. https://museum.tv/index.htm.
All photography in this article is mine. I have posted additional photos to Pinterest.
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Heather Daveno hails from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught textile artisan by night. In her spare time she is a “hobby historian” and is currently researching the female side of her family history for a book she plans to write, titled: “The Matriarch Diaries.”
You can see her current textile projects at August Phoenix Mercantile and her travels at Daveno Travels.