UWFox Opens Unique Antique and Vintage Radio Collection Exhibit
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One of the most unique artistic and museum-quality exhibits will be on display in the Aylward Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. The antique and vintage radio collection of Clyde Stephenson will be available for viewing at UWFox from November 2 through December 4. Max Schultz, director of the campus’ Aylward Gallery, and Dr. Joanne Kluessendorf, director of the Weis Earth Science Museum – the state’s official mineralogical museum located on the UWFox campus - have creatively collaborated to plan, shape and produce this exhibit. With approximately 24 of Stephenson’s radios on display, as well as reproductions of vintage graphics and historic sound recordings to compliment the radios, the exhibit promises to be one of the most fascinating art shows to be held in northeast Wisconsin.
Broadcast radio, especially via the AM band, was a powerful force in shaping the history and culture in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Stephenson’s radios and the exhibit’s supporting audio/video will provide a nostalgic tour through that time in our country’s history. “This exhibit is unique in that it showcases a wide variety of vintage radios, highlighting the changing technology and design, as well as discussing the impact that radio had on American culture,” said Kluessendorf. “Radio affected many forms of art, including industrial design, home decor, advertising art, and entertainment, especially music. These various art forms are highlighted in this exhibit, and unlike many art exhibits, they are put into a historical context.”
Stephenson, a retired master electrician who founded (1972) the Fox Cities business, Town and Country Electric, has been collecting a variety of vintage radios for decades. He decided to donate many of the best radios in his collection to the Menasha campus. His collection includes six volt radios from the 1920’s, large standing consoles that were so popular during the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, rare table top radios, and radios encased in beautiful furniture.
Stephenson’s father, Gordon, an engineer, was in the second class that graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), class of 1908. After graduating from MSOE, the elder Stephenson moved his family from Milwaukee to the northern part of the state. The younger Stephenson attended grade school in Arpin, WI and went on to graduate from Oconto HS before briefly attending Oshkosh State Teachers College prior to World War II.
Stephenson decided to enter the United States Marine Corps in 1940, and was stationed aboard the U.S.S. California at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. After the USA entered the war, he was sent to various U.S. Navy radio schools at Camp Lejeune (NC), Wright Junior College (Chicago), Clarksville (AR), and the Naval Research Lab School (Washington, D.C.). He was eventually sent to Peleliu, an island in the island nation of Palau in the South Pacific to serve as a radio technician maintaining the Marines’ aircraft.
He started collecting radios in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and kept adding to his collection until recent years. And not only did he collect them, but he maintained meticulous records about each radio he obtained. As a trained radio technician and highly qualified electrician, he repaired and returned to working order any radio he acquired that needed fixing. Clearly this was a labor of love and a passion for the medium of radio. Stephenson estimates that, at one time, he had collected upwards of “350 radios.”
Stephenson’s personal favorites seem to be those made with the “beautiful cabinets, made between the 1920’s and 1940’s. Before the ‘black boxes’ came along,” he said. What prompted Stephenson to pursue collecting these vintage and antique radios? “It was just a hobby. I enjoyed doing it,” he succinctly said.
His donation and contribution to UWFox goes beyond just passing on the radios. “I’d like to see the radios become a teaching mechanism for the students at the campus. The electrical engineering students can learn from these radio designs, as well as other students who can study and appreciate the historical legacy that these radios represent.”
“Clyde Stephenson has donated a rare and wonderful collection to UWFox. This exhibit affords many educational opportunities for us, from its use in classes on history, sociology, and art, to demonstrating an important part of American society to the public. It will bring back memories to some of our older visitors and surprise many of our younger visitors when they learn that radio impacted society in much the same way as our modern digital age,” Kluessendorf said.
For more information about the Clyde Stephenson Radio Exhibit, contact Schultz, at 920-832-2626 [email: firstname.lastname@example.org] or Kluessendorf, director/curator of the Weis Earth Science Museum, 920-832-2925 [email: email@example.com], or visit www.uwfox.uwc.edu.