Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Crosley Personal Computers

Before anyone gets excited: no, there are no Crosley computers. But can you imagine if the Crosley Corporation had been around for the personal computer revolution--with Powel or someone with his marketing outlook in charge?

For openers, the Crosley PC would have cost less than any other computer, low price being one of the basic tenets of Powel's school of marketing. And where Apple tried to get people hooked on its computers by giving them to schools, Crosley would have responded by putting his PCs in the hands of high-power celebrities, just like he did with his radios in the 1920s. Photos of the rich and famous with Crosley PCs would show up in newspaper stories and magazine ads.

The computer itself would have been really different. The first Crosley PC would have come with a (small) color monitor. The disk drives would have been on top of the monitor, and the computer would have more knobs and switches than necessary, plus a keyboard with 18 function keys, and a Crosley mouse that you could clip to your wrist and wave (patented by Crosley, of course). All in the interest of giving people more for less--just as with Crosley radios, appliances, and cars--and being different to get attention.

Crosley might have had its own OS early on, but Powel would have seen DOS and Windows as a practical direction. He may have tried to emulate the Mac, just to cover all (marketing) bases. And he might have lost a lot of money and a lawsuit trying to do that. Or, he may have won the suit, as he did with the Armstrong patent.

You can bet the Crosley PC would have been in Macy's and department stores across the country, as well as any shop that sold Crosley radios. With 17,000+ distributors and tens of thousands of dealers already in place, the Crosley PC would have overwhelmed the market.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reviews of Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation

For those who are interested, here are some Web sites and publications where you can find reviews of CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation:

Paul West


Antique Radio Classified

Gentleman Agitator

The Chief's Forum

Check the August, 2007, issue of Road & Track at your local library or used bookstore for yet another review.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Crosley Automobile History

The December 16, 2007, edition of the New York Times has a nice writeup on the Crosley automobile, complete with illustrations from Crosley brochures--in color! Click here to see it.

(Note: I earlier posted the wrong date for my signings this weekend. They will be held on SUNDAY, December 23 in Cincinnati at Northgate Mall and Tri-County Mall. Click here for full info.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

How Close Can You Park to the Door?

(Photos courtesy Tom Miller)

Yesterday I did a signing for Crosley and my new book, Blogging Heroes, at the Borders store in Mason, Ohio--the home of WLW's transmitter and famous tower. It was a busy three hours, and Tom Miller brought out his 1948 Crosley wagon. You can see it on the left, the nose poking into the entranceway.

Originally Tom parked it on the walkway in front of the store, but the shopping plaza management complained, so he placed it in the tiny lobby of the store. It was a tight fit, to say the least. This photo will give you some idea how little space their was.

The Crosley didn't impede the flow of customers. Nearly everyone stopped to look at it. And, conveniently, the first thing they saw coming into the store were my books. Click photos for larger images. Click here for a slideshow of the event!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Congratulations, Susan!

Congratulations to my daughter,
Susan Banks, on her graduation
from Northern Kentucky University
December 15!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Powel Crosley's Office

It's 1934. You're the head of the Crosley Radio Corporation, manufacturer of radios used all around the world, appliances like the Shelvador, and a host of other top-selling consumer products. You've built airplanes and own a few, an airport to keep them in, and one of the city's most elaborate estates, among other properties. You also run the world's most powerful radio station, WLW. What's your office like?

The photo here shows just one corner of Powel Crosley, Jr.'s huge office in the tower of the Crosley factory building at 1329 Arlington Street in Cincinnati. (Powel's private dining room was one floor up.) The office is equipped with a working fireplace (the tiles are rumored to be Rookwood). There's a Crosley temperator to heat or cool the air on the sideboard to the left, along with an intercom and water pitcher and glasses. The cabinets under the sideboard feature a bar. The desk features a pen set decorated with elephants, a fancy blotter, and ashtrays for both the boss and guests. The photo facing the boss' chair is one of his wife. There's a single telephone set on its own table just behind the desk.
The huge console to the right is a custom-made Crosley radio receiver. The candle-like sconces on the walls hold electric lights. The wall panels are thick, solid wood, with brick behind them. The door with the arched top (you can see part of it at the far right) is several inches thick.

What about the rest of it? I'll show you more another time, as well as what it looks like today. (Don't forget to click the image to see a larger version.)
--Mike mike at michaelabanks.com
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crosley and Spring Grove Cemetery

(I can't believe I misspelled "cemetery" in the original header!)
I recently had reason to check some records in the online genealogy section of Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetary, where Powel Crosley and many of his family are interred. When I did a search for the name "Powel Crosley," none came up. Powel's wife, brother, mother, and others are there, but Powel, his father (Powel, Sr.), and son Powel, III are no longer listed.

"Might this be the result of the Crosley book?" I asked myself, thinking the popularity of this book may have led to too many queries for Crosley.

I contacted Phil Nuxhall, the official historian of Spring Grove Cemetery, and Phil consulted with the company's Webmaster. The four Powel Crosleys are now restored. There had been a problem with the fact that each was listed with a variant of the last name: Crosley Jr, Crosley IV, and so on. Now you can find them at http://www.springgrove.org/sg/genealogy/sg_genealogy_home.shtm

If you want more information about the Crosley family plot (Section 17, Lot 6 at Spring Grove), see Find a Grave. You can also leave virtual flowers and a comment.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Signing in Mason, Ohio, this Sunday, December 16!

I'll be signing both CROSLEY and my brand-new book, Blogging Heroes, this Sunday from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM at Borders in Mason, Ohio (5105 Deerfield Road). Click here for directions.

Mason is the home of WLW's transmitter and famous Blaw-Knox diamond antenna tower. You can see it as you drive into town. (While you're here, click the antenna photo and you'll see a larger version of it.)

Come on out: I'll have some special free handouts for everyone, whether you buy a book or not! Bring a copy to be signed, or buy a copy for your Crosley fan friends or blogging relatives as a holiday gift!
Note: Tune in 700 WLW (XM-73) Tuesday, December 11, at 5:40 PM to hear me on the Gary Burbank Show.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Correction: WLW-TV Mobile Unit

In an earlier post I mis-identified the silverside bus shown in the accompanying photo as a 1948 model. The bus, which served as WLW-TV's mobile unit was actually a 1947 GM coach. It carried two cameras, and was jam-packed with all the transmitting and monitorinig equipment the engineers could fit into it. The roof was equipped with a reinforced deck (for cameras and operators), fold-down railings, and a transmitting dish that lay flat during transit.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Television, Ruth Lyons, and Sunday Book Signing

As implied by previous posts, we'll be talking more and more about WLW-TV (as well as WLWC, WLWD, and WLWI) in the future. A Ruth Lyons dot com Web site is also on the way.

In the meantime, stop by and see me on Sunday, December 16, at the Cincinnati Borders bookstore in Mason (5105 Deerfield Blvd.) from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. I'd like to hear your Ruth Lyons stores, and will be autographing Crosley and my new book, Blogging Heroes.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Change Coming in Radio?

I've been interviewing a number of people in the broadcast business, in connection with a book I'm writing. I've collected an interesting set of opinions on where radio is going--AM radio in particular. Just about everyone I talked with expressed the thought that the AM radio talk show with its "angry white men" has been overdone, and that something new is going to emerge. Problem is, nobody can say what that might be.

Thinking about it, one of the reasons the call-in talk show format got popular is because it is live programming. Radio listeners didn't just start demanding people screaming and saying shocking things--though many of them were certainly looking for a way to get on radio and speak their piece. I believe that the live element is what grabbed listener interest. Consider the success of Gary Burbank on WLW. He's not one of the angry white men--but he is live.

Live programming is, of course, where radio started. (That's live, as opposed to automated stations and chatterers playing music.) It makes one wonder if more live programming--of a different type--is waiting in the wings as the angry white men duplicating one another's shtick fall away. It seems as if everything comes back if you wait long enough ...
For some interesting background on all this, have a look the book Something in the Air, by Marc Fisher. You'll find my review of the book here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The OTHER Cincinnati Reds Betting Scandal

The Pete Rose baseball betting scandal has to be the longest-running story of its type, what with its near-annual revival in connection with Pete not making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But it wasn't the first betting scandal to hit the Cincinnati Reds. That may go back to 1951 and Powel Crosley's involvement in betting on horse raises.

Early that year, when it was discovered that Crosley was breeding thoroughbreds at a farm in Kentucky, baseball Commissioner Ford Frick demanded that Crosley get out of racing entirely, citing Mountain Landis's contention that "baseball cannot get along with gambling, and horse racing can't get along without it. So the two just don't mix!"

Even though National League President Warren Giles (and former Reds' manager) defended him, Crosley gave up his racing interests.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Crosley History (and more!) on CD

There are precious few audio archives from the heyday of Crosley Broadcasting, from the 1920s through the 1940s. A lot of what exists isn't available, including The Nation's Station: Cincinnati Radio (1921-1941).

Fortunately, WGUC, Cincinnati's public radio station, makes available two great audio archive/tribute CDs. (And they have great prices--at least ten bucks less than I've seen one of these for sale at eBay and Amazon.com.) Shown above, the CDs are:

P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Monday, December 3, 2007

Joe Nuxhall

As many reading this know, Joe Nuxhall was the youngest major-league baseball player ever. He was 15 when Powel Crosley's Cincinnati Reds hired him in 1944. The war made for a shortage of players, but that wasn't the only reason the 15 year-old made the team. He was a talented pitcher, as his record showed. He played in the major leagues from 1952 to 1967, wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform for all but one year.

In 1967 Joe Nuxhall went to work as a voice of the Cincinnati Reds, and broadcast games for the next 38 years. He retired a couple of years back, and passed away in November, 2007, at the age of 79. WLW-TV has made available its tribute to Joe Nuxhall on YouTube. Click here to watch WLW-TV's "Good-Bye to Joe Nuxhall."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Crosley Broadcasting Programs Online!

More and more old television programs are popping up on YouTube, including some old Crosley Broadcasting shows (or portions thereof) from WLW-TV. Produced in Cincinnati, these were broadcast over the WLW network, which included WLW-C (Columbus), WLW-D (Dayton), and WLW-I (Indianapolis) in addition to the Cincinnati station.

The most popular of these was Ruth Lyons' 50-50 Club, which ran from Noon to 1:30 PM every weekday afternoon. (The audio was simulcast over WLW radio.) WLW-TV has uploaded part of a 1951 episode of The 50-50 Club to YouTube. Click here to watch it.

Middletown native Jim Witt has kindly provided the original WLW-TV newscast aired the day Ruth Lyons died here:, along with the WLW Ruth Lyons special tribute (hosted by Pat Barry) broadcast a couple of nights later.

There's another set of Ruth Lyons excerpts here. In the future I'll post info on more Crosley Broadcasting radio and TV programming online.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Another View of the 1937 Flood

Here's another look at the aftermath of the Flood of '37. The vantage point here is the third floor of the main factory, looking north toward the burned-out and collapsed Building K. The straight "pathway" in the middle is actually the roof the the second-story enclosed bridge between the main plant and Building K, which contained a conveyor along which completed radios moved. The sets were packed for shipping in Building K, and then loaded directly onto railroad box cars.

The sign at the bottom-left reads "The Crosley Distributing Company." This was a company formed by Crosley to enable it to go around its distributors and sell direct to large wholesale accounts. As with the photo in the preceding post, this was supplied by retired engineer Robert S. Butts. (Click on the image to see it full-size.)
Copyright © 2007 Michael A. Banks
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1937 Flood and Crosley

Anyone who's been around Cincinnati for more than a couple of years has heard about "the Flood of '37." That was the year the Ohio River reached an all-time high and flooded out most all of downtown, and left much of the city without water. There were also a number of fires. Some of the most dangerous fires were caused by giant gasoline and fuel oil storage tanks. These tanks were torn away by the river and began floating around the neighborhood, so to speak.

Fires sprang up, and putting them out was a harrowing job. Matters were complicated by a fire at the main Crosley factory building, apparently touched off by an electrical short-circuit.
Crosley's "Building K" a shipping/warehouse only recently completed, was completely burned out and flooded. The photo here shows a view of the damage looking over where Building K was at the Crosley factory on Arlington Street. (If you know the area, Spring Grove Avenue would be directly behind you.) You can just make out the WLW sign to the left and below the WLW antenna tower. Thanks to former Crosley engineer Robert S. Butts for this photo.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Crosley in YouTube Videos

Thanks to the Crosley Automobile Club mailing list, I learned of a neat video on YouTube that focuses on micro cars at the Madison, Georgia Microcar Club meet earlier this year. Along with a Morris Minor, Isetta, and others, there's a dark blue Crosley station wagon. Click here to see the video on YouTube.
Also on YouTube:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lowell Thomas at Crosley Car Introduction

When Powel Crosley, Jr. introduced the Crosley automobile in April, 1939 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he had a number of celebrities on hand, including several Indy drivers. Someone who wasn't mentioned was Lowell Thomas, world traveler and news commentator. Thomas was there on behalf of the NBC radio network, and you can see him to the right of Powel Crosley in the accompanying photo, just behind the NBC microphone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

1930s WSAI Women's Softball Team

Here's a fun photo from the 1930s someone shared with me at a signing. This is WSAI's women's softball team. The coach on the far right is undoubtedly a Crosley employee. The batboy in front is probably someone's little brother.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WLW's World Globe Microphone

In the early--and latter--days of broadcasting, broadcast engineers would often make their own microphones, either as a challenge or because what the engineers wanted wasn't available. I don't know whether the world globe microphone shown here was bought or made by WLW's engineering staff, but there probably weren't too many like it. (The "ear of corn" mic made for WLW's "Everybody's Farm" program, may well have been unique. It was cast of aluminum, with a mold made from a real ear of corn.)

This photo is from the late 1930s, and that's world traveler Lowel Thomas at the mic.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Crosley Shirts, Part 1

For those of you who haven't been to a Crosley book signing, here's one of the two "author" shirts you might see. This one is a Cincinnati Reds' jersey. It's collarless and buttondown, and has the Reds' emblem on the left front, full size. "Crosley NYT" translates to "Crosley New York Times," in commemoration of the book making the New York Times bestseller list. "35" is the number at which the book made the list.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Proximity Fuze Cutaway View

Readers of Crosley know that the Crosley plant in Cincinnati manufactured the top-secret proximity fuze during World War II. Crosley Corporation was one of five companies turning out millions of the device, which used radio to detonate shells when they were within a certain distance of their target. That way, Navy gunners operating 3- and 5-inch guns could knock out attacking aircraft without having to make a direct hit. The gunners' average went 'way up after the proximity fuze was introduced.

You may have wondered what the fuzes looked like inside. The photo above (click for larger image) shows a breakdown of a 3-inch projectile.
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, November 10, 2007

1936 WLW Mobile Unit Revisted

Many thanks to Robert S. Butts for the accompanying photo (click for larger image). As a second-year electrical engineering coop student at the University of Cincinnati, Mr. Butts was hired by Crosley Chief Engineer James Rockwell to work in the Crosley Broadcast Engineering Department. This department built most of the audio equipment for both WLW and WSAI.

Robert Butts worked on several projects, one of which is shown in the photo. I'll let him describe it: "An interesting project was the design and construction of a portable remote broadcast pickup unit consisting of a high frequency (HF) transmitter mounted in a Dodge car with reinforced springs and a generator in the truck for power. It was used for remotes of all sorts, parades, soap box derbies, and even driven aboard the Island Queen for moonlight dance cruises. A receiver atop the Carew Tower was always on to pick up the HF transmissions and relay them to the studios by telephone line." (Note: The Island Queen was a paddlewheel riverboat that regularly cruised between downtown Cincinnati and the Coney Island amusement park.)

"Another remote broadcast device," Butts continues, "was a backpack HF transmitter used primarily for interviews, notably 'Fans in the Stands' with Dick Bray at Crosley Field." The photo (taken at the Indianapolis 500 race) shows Robert Butts, Dave Conlon, and Bob Booth. Conlon is holding the backpack transmitter.

I'll be sharing more from Robert Butts in future postings. Thanks, Robert!
P.O. Box 175, Oxford, OH 45056

Thursday, November 8, 2007

David Sarnoff: Method, Motive, and Opportunity

I have written elsewhere--online and off--about some of the fast ones that David Sarnoff pulled during his career. He rewrote history to cast himself as a "hero" of the sinking of the Titanic. He stole the most important patent in radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong's super-regenerative circuit, from the inventor. Later, he tried to take over FM, another Armstrong invention. When that failed, he ruined Armstrong by deft political manipulation--and Armstrong committed suicide.

(Perhaps Armstrong would have taken a dive from a skyscraper anyway, but with what Sarnoff pulled on him, one can't help but wonder if Sarnoff was the last straw.)

Sarnoff also beat Philo Farnsworth out of his television patent. And he tried to knock Crosley out of the radio business--but failed. When RCA lost its lawsuit against Crosley Radio, the suit claiming that Crosley was using the Armstrong patent without license--when Crosley really owned a license and was paying royalties per the standard schedule--it must was one of the greatest failures of Sarnoff's career.

With his ego, Sarnoff must have been mortally offended. But there was more. Crosley had not only "stolen" form Sarnoff and outmaneuvered him in the halls of justice; he had succeeded where Sarnoff failed. Seven years before Crosley introduced the Harko, the radio that sparked the radio revolution in 1921, David Sarnoff had tried to get his superiors at RCA to bring out a low-cost radio and do what Crosley ended up doing.

But Sarnoff was rejected. And so while Sarnoff was worrying over phonograph sales and juggling patents, Crosley was fulfilling the role of the Prometheus of radio that Sarnoff had wanted. Hence, it was Powel Crosley and not David Sarnoff who started the radio revolution.

To add insult to injury, Crosley was the reason that the radio patent pool was established--leaving Sarnoff bereft of something he had stolen.

But there was nothing David Sarnoff could do about it--or was there? How is it that Powel Crosley, Jr. almost disappeared from history? Crosley, the man who built the most powerful commercial radio station in North America? The creator of one of the first 100 radio stations in the U.S., a man who consistently led in breaking the barriers to higher power for more than a decade, and who almost single-handedly established the market for radios and touched off the broadcast industry.

It makes no sense that a man of such achievement could simply be forgotten. But neither Crosley nor his creations are mentioned in most radio histories. Historians seem to ignore Crosley's accomplishments, including his place as the biggest radio manufacturer in the world. Powel Crosley, Jr. inventor, ace marketer, pioneering broadcaster, automaker, and so much more is referred to as an inventor in a garage in the most celebrated chronicle of the Radio Age, Empire of the Air, by Tom Lewis. And Crosley is not mentioned at all in the Ken Burns documentary based on that book. (I do recommend the book; the diminuation of Crosley's importance aside, Empire of the Air is a book that every technology and history enthusiast ought to read.)

Not that I blame Tom Lewis, or Ken Burns. I believe that they, like other historians, were not aware of Crosley's importance. This and Crosley being ignored by others may well be an after-effect of David Sarnoff's revenge. Sarnoff, well-known for his ego and today for rewriting history, may well have "helped" Powel Crosley, Jr. disappear from the rolls of radio history--until the beginning of the 21st Century, when I began writing Crosley.

How could Sarnoff have anything to do with it? Well, he was firmly ensconced at the center of the media industry--New York. He outlived Crosley by a decade, and he had the contacts to persuade journalists and book writers to omit Crosley from history. It is easy to see him squeezing out revenge for Crosley having bested him.

Crosley, Wildlife, and Muzzle Loaders

If you didn't mind the label "Company Man," back in the 1930s it sometimes paid to be interested in things the boss was interested in--just like today. In addition to being the Cincinnati Reds' number one fan, Powel Crosley, Jr. was interested in old-time muzzle loaders and--hunter that he was--guns in general. If he were around today, he'd probably be vying with Charleton Heston for Presidency of the American Rifle Association. As it was, he and Walter Chrysler, along with some other famous millionaires, founded the American Wildlife Institute, an organization devoted to preserving wildlife habitats. Crosley had already developed a wildlife habitat of his own in Indiana, at what is today the Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area in south-central Indiana (not far off U.S. 50).

The image above is a center spread from a 1941 "Special W.L.W. Issue" of Muzzle Blasts, the journal of the National Muzzle-Loading Rifle Association, or NMLRA. The W.L.W. Issue was an honor to Crosley and WLW for their continuing support of the NMLRA. One of WLW's early stars, Maurice "Boss" Johnston, arranged many of the NMLRA's national shoots, and served as President of the organization more than once. Johnston also talked Powel Crosley into sponsoring those shoots, providing Crosley radios, Shelvadors, and other appliances for prizes. There was also a Crosley Muzzle-Loading Rifle Championship, with a handsome sliver trophy. The Crosley competition continues to be hosted by the NMLRA today, 70+ years after the first one.

Among the WLW notables in the image are Powel Crosley, Jr. (beneath the "Jr." in his name), WLW Farm Directory George Biggar (top row, under "Boosters"), James Shouse, WLW General Manager (immediately below Crosley) and Boss Johnston, the rugged, square-jawed man just right of Shouse. Several of these Crosley Broadcasting staffers were champion shooters in their own right--a designation that had more meaning then than today.

Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Crosley Radios Afloat

Along with automobiles, airplanes, hunting, and the Cincinnati Reds, Powel Crosley, Jr. had a passionate interest in boating--or yachting, to be precise. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the Sarasota Yacht Club, and several others. He owned more than a dozen craft, ranging from canoes and "Little WLW" up to a 100-foot yacht.

So it should come as no surprise that Crosley was a pioneer in outfitting new luxury watercraft with radios. The accompanying ad (click the image for a larger view) for a Chris Craft Yacht (Model 123) is from 1930. It features an optional battery-powered Crosley Screen-Grid radio, complete with decorative cabinet. The ad notes that this setup is "... not as costly as other similar installations," but at yacht prices, who cared?
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Books by the Banks and Crosley

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of signing a whole bunch of copies of Crosley at the "Books by the Banks" event at Cincinnati's Duke Convention Center. 2,000 readers and over 80 other book authors were there, and mixing with so many readers and writers made for a great time. Plans are afoot for repeating it next year.

Thanks to wearing a Cincinnati Reds jersey with CROSLEY on the back, I found myself in Sunday's edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I also got a T-shirt with the "Books by the Banks" logo.

More than that, I collected more Crosley memories, such as stories of decades-ago trips to Crosley Field that the lady in the Enquirer photo with me shared. Click the logo to learn more about the event, which wasn't named after me, but the banks of the Ohio River.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Crosley's Pinecroft

I meet a lot more people who know about Powel Crosley, Jr.'s South Florida estate, Sea Gate, than have heard of Pinecroft, Crosley's Cincinnati home. The simple reason for this is that Sea Gate is owned by Manatee County, Florida, and is promoted as a tourist destination and event venue. It has also been the subject of restoration efforts for the past 15 years and more. (Sea Gate is just across the way from the Bradenton airport, south of the Ringling art museum.)

Pinecroft, owned by Mercy Franciscan Health Partners, is adjacent to Mercy Franciscan Hospital in northwest Cincinnati. You can see it from the hospital parking lot (look south), and if you ask someone will tell you where Kipling Avenue is. It's a short street and the mansion is easy to find. I'm not sure what the current visitor status is, but in the past one could contact a hospital security guard for a tour. That may change as efforts to get Pinecroft on the National Register of Historic Places, so have a look if you can. I expect that in the next five years or so the 18,000-square foot building will be the site of a number of fund-raising events, and when it has been sufficiently restored it will probably be rented out for events.

The image above is part of a 1934 magazine ad for Iron Fireman automatic coal stokers. Pinecroft was equipped with two furnaces, and two stoker systems. The Crosley mansion was important enough at the time (as was Powel Crosley himself) that bragging rights for working on it were significant. I'll be posting more information about Pinecroft in coming weeks.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Real Reason WLW Fired Fats Waller?

Blues man Thomas "Fats" Waller (of "Ain't Misbehavin'" fame) is among the many veterans of WLW who went on to make it big. He had his own show--Fats Waller's Rhythm Club--for a time, and also played on the stations's nightly Moon River program.

Waller was fired and for many years the story was that he was fired over his drinking. One version, propounded by newspaperwoman Mary Wood, held that he left empty gin bottles around the studio. (Those who thought it made a cuter story said the bottles were hidden behind the organ console, and interfered with the instrument's operation.) Oh, Fats--you devil!

Another tale was that he left of his own accord because his manager had gotten him a three-movie deal in Hollywood.

Now emerges a new story, from the late Bill Angert, Sr., Lewis Crosley's best friend. Lewis revealed to Angert that Waller, who was black, was fired because he was trying to make time with a white woman--a secretary at WLW. Whether Lewis or Powel made the decision is unclear, though Lewis was more responsible for the day-to-day operations. When you consider that the manufacturing side of the Crosley enterprise, the Crosley Corporation, had only one African-American employee from 1922 through the middle of World War II, the story takes on a semblence of reality. Such were the times. And, like so many other talented performers who worked for WLW, Waller went on to greater things.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Friday, November 2, 2007

Saturday, Nov. 3, "Books by the Banks" Event in Cincinnati

In case anyone in the Cincinnati area happens by at the last minute ... Saturday, November 3, I will be participating in the "Books by the Banks" even at the Duke Energy Center (formerly the Cincinnati Convention Center) from around Noon until 6:00 PM. More than 80 area writers are in attendance. If you want to talk about Crosley or blogs, or browse books about Cincinnati and by Cincinnati authors, stop in!

Click here for more information: http://www.booksbythebanks.com/

The Ultimate Crosley Reference List!

When I have time, I'll put together a post about some of the specialized techniques I used to research the Crosley book. I've already written about some of them for The Writer and Online Magazine. In the course of all that research I generated a huge bibliography of sources. If you are a Crosley fan, you may want to get a copy of this list, which I call The Crosley Bibliography. This reference lists the books, magazines, and newspapers I turned up during my research. Each publication cited contains an article, chapter, photo, or other info having to do with Powel Crosley, Jr. The listings are weighted toward Crosley automobiles, but include many articles about Crosley's life as well as some special-interest pieces.

Sources include all sorts of books, and everything from car magazines to The Saturday Evening Post, Time, Business Week, Radio Broadcaster, and more. The Bibliography also lists stories from scores of newspapers around the world. Covering 1911 through 2007, The Crosley Reference contains:

  • 379 books with Crosley information
  • 683 Crosley newspaper stories
  • 496 magazine articles that reference or feature Crosley

That's a total of 1,558 Crosley references. This can help you find those great old articles with photos of Crosley cars and other items you won't see elsewhere. And when you see some article clipped out of a magazine for sale on eBay for too much money, this will identify it and let you find a copy of the whole magazine, for less! This list will help you find original articles and photos available through Web archives, too. Along with the listings, you get a brief, specially written biography of Powel Crosley's automobiles. It contains info not found elsewhere. To get a copy of The Crosley Reference (30+ pages, 4th Edition), send $12.50 to: Michael A. Banks P.O. Box 175 Oxford OH 45056
Or pay with PayPal, sent to the address

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sharing Crosley

I really enjoy book signings and speaking to groups about Crosley. I've met hundreds of good people, and many have shared information and anecdotes. There have been people who knew Lewis or Powel, and former employees of one Crosley enterprise or another. At a talk at Miami University this week I met an octagenerian woman whose mother dated Powel Crosley, Jr. before he became wealthy. (On the whole, she said she was happy that her mother married her father, and not Powel.)

I will be sharing more of the stories here in this blog as time goes by. I also want to share some of the momentos and artifacts people have given me. These include a 1939 World Series program, photos of radios, appliances, and other Crosley appliances, and even a team photo of the WSAI Softball Team from when Crosley owned WSAI in the 1930s. The Shelvador shown in the photo here was given to me by a gentleman who attended a Crosley talk, and has been running for just about 60 years. Appropriately, it has a "Hudy Dellight" sticker on the door. ("Hudy" is short for "Hudepohl," a top-selling Cincinnati beer during Crosley's heyday.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Powel Crosley, Jr. and Medical Research

During the waning years of the Crosley automobile, Powel Crosley went through a brief illness that left him bed-ridden for time. He continued to work from his bedroom on the second floor of his Pinecroft mansion, even seeing visitors there.

One of the visitors, an account executive from the ad agency handling the Crosley Motors account, was surprised to find Crosley stocking a wide variety of patent medecines, and to see that his bed and its canopy were festooned with cotton balls. After Powel's death, his brother, Lewis remarked that Powel was a real nut for patent medecines and oddball cures. Perhaps this is why he backed a Cincinnati inventor's patent medicine, which the Crosley Manufacturing Company bottled and sold by mailorder in the early 1920s. (Dick Perry, writing in Not Just a Sound: The Story of WLW, claimed that the medicine was named "Peptikai," but the real name is slightly different. We also referred to it as "Peptikai" in CROSLEY. I'll post it later when I find my notes.)
Crosley's commercial interest in things medical went beyond the patent med. There was, for example, the Xervac, a hair-restoring machine that the FCC jumped on, forcing Crosley to withdraw claims as to it effectiveness. Powel Crosley also backed a medical researcher in the 1930s and 1940s. The researcher was Dr. George Sperti, who developed "Preparation H," and other cures.

Sperti did extensive work with tropical and sub-tropical plants in Florida, stating that he was on the track of a cure for tuberculosis (which would kill Crosley's first wife, Gwendolyn), and even cancer. He came up with several burn ointments and some citrus by-products. At one point Crosley was going to give his Sarasota mansion, Sea Gate, to Sperti as a research base. This was in 1946, seven years after Mrs. Crosley had died there. For whatever reason, Crosley ended up selling the mansion. Sperti had, by then, gained the support of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This was dropped a few years later, the event surrounded by rumors of misspent money.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Monday, October 29, 2007

Crosley and the American Austin

As many auto enthusiasts know, the American Austin and the American Bantam preceded the Crosley automobile in the pantheon of economy cars in the U.S. The Austin Motor Company of England began making the diminutive American Austins here in 1930.

Powel Crosley, Jr. owned a least one American Austin (the predecessor of the Bantam). He kept the Austin at his Florida estate, Sea Gate. Neill Prew, the son of the realtor who sold Crosley the 63 acres on which Sea Gate was built, remembers that the first time he saw Powel Crosley, the radio magnate was in his American Austin.

Prew, who was 8 years old at the time, remarked that, "He looked like a whole bunch of clowns climbing out of that little car." This confirms that Crosley had some enthusiasm for diminutive autos, and it's easy to imagine him thinking in terms of the novelty value of a really small car. One of Crosley's biggest marketing strategies was to be different, and a tiny car certainly fit that criterion. By 1935, when Crosley was developing the first pre-War Crosley automobile, the American Bantam had supplanted the failed American Austin, but was about to fall on hard times. To Crosley this may have represented a hole in the automobile market--a hole that he felt he could fill and exploit.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crosley Items Ebb and Flow on eBay

For a time earlier this year there seemed to be an increase in the the number of Crosley items on eBay. That includes cars and auto-related items, appliances, radios, books, magazines, etc. The number has dropped by about 20 percent in recent months. I think the increase was probably due to the publication of CROSLEY, which was published in November, 2006.

As the number of Crosley items offered fell off, I noticed a trend toward lower prices. The Simplicity of Radio, by Powel Crosley, Jr., for example, is selling for a quarter of what it was bringing a couple of years ago. It's possible that increased awareness of the Crosley name resulted in more people putting Crosley items up for sale on eBay, and thereby satisfying the market. The diminished market course means less competitive bidding, which knocks the heck out of prices.

I've seen this happen with other books, and I'll be following this phenomenon as other books on collectibles and history (including two of mine coming out in 2008) hit the market. This could lead to a new marketing strategy: if you have a large collection of a specific kind of item, try to get a book for collectors on the market, to increase awareness and drive up demand. If you can't produce a book, keep an eye out for forthcoming books that may affect the demand for your items.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another Auto Accessories Manufacturer Who Switched to Radio

In the late 1920s, the name Atwater Kent was almost as big as Crosley. And it remains a big name among collectors today. Atwater Kent company founder Arthur Atwater Kent was, like Powel Crosley, Jr. a successful automobile accessories manufacturer and marketer before he got into radio. Kent got into electrical manufacturing in 1895 (fans and motors), and in the early 1910s expanded into automotive electrical connectors. He next perfected several automobile ignition systems and other electrical devices that made him wealthy.

In 1924 Kent decided to get into the burgeoning radio field. He took a cue from Crosley and decided make his product really different. He accomplished this by selling radios without cabinets. In the earliest days, nearly all radios had been sold without cabinets, and it was left to the buyer to buy or build a cabinet. The industry was moving away from this in 1924, building radios in cabinets that doubled as fine furniture with complex veneers and trendy designs.
So, a radio without a cabinet was something different. But Atwater Kent radios weren't simply ugly radio components mounted on a board. Kent designed his radios to be objects of beauty, like the one shown here. All the wood, brass, and ceramic components were highly polished, and some were enclosed. The overall effect was pleasing, and expensive. The idea of making his radios really different--along with spending %500,000 on advertising in 1924--put him and his company on the map, and Atwater Kent quickly became a major brand.

Once Atwater Kent radios were established, Kent left the "breadboard" design started building sets in cabinets, like all the other manufacturers. He continued to promote his radios in a manner similar to that of Crosley. He bought full-page ads in newspapers and magazines to tell "The Atwater Kent Story," and even established an NBC Network radio program, "The Atwater Kent Hour."

In the midst of the Great Depression, Arthur Atwater Kent decided to pack it in and retire--no doubt much to the relief of Crosley, RCA, and other manufacturers. He shut down his factories in Philadelphia (where he had been a noted philathropist) and moved to Hollywood, California, where he continued his tradition of philanthrophy and hung out with clebrities until his death in 1949.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Friday, October 26, 2007

Two Pioneers on Similar Paths to Radio

Back in 1898, Powel Crosley, Jr. and his brother Lewis made their first run at building an automobile. As detailed in CROSLEY, they based it on an old buckboard wagon stored in their maternal grandfather’s barn, and powered it with a scrounged electric motor and batteries.

They weren’t the first to motorize a buckboard, as the photo on the left shows. This was California radioman Earle C. Anthony’s first shot at building a car, at the age of 16. (On the right is Powel's 1927 sketch from memory of his electric-powered buckboard. Click for larger image.)

Anthony and Crosley had quite a few things in common in addition to their electric buckboards. Not the least of which was the fact that each was into automobiles in a big way. Both men made a lot of money in the automotive business before turning to radio. Anthony was the largest Packard dealer on the West coast (in fact, he had several dealerships), and eventually owned a large percentage of the Packard company, which put him into automobile manufacturing, where Crosley wanted to be. Crosley, of course, made his first small fortune in the automobile accessories business.

In 1923 Anthony became interested in radio, and followed Powel Crosley, Jr. along the trail the latter had blazed. Already wealthy from Packard, Anthony built a radio transmitter and receiver on his kitchen table, got an amateur’s license, and not long after that he founded radio station KFI in Los Angeles. KFI followed WLW in going to 50,000 watts (though it never reached 500,000 watts). Ironically, Earle C. Anthony passed away in 1961, the same year as Powel Crosley, Jr.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Powel Crosley & the 20th Century Video

Those who live in the Cincinnati area may recall public television station WCET (Channel 48) showing the mini-documentary, Powel Crosley, Jr. and the 20th Century earlier in 2007. The video was produced in 1986 and first aired in 1988, and has the usual percentage of errors that you'll find in most magazine articles and other works about Crosley published before 2006. The folks who put this together seem to have relied on legends and things "everybody knows," rather than doing the necessary research.

Narrated by Bill Nimmo (himself a WLW announcer and local TV legend), the video is a decent summary of Powel's life. The documentary has been shown rarely over the past two decades, and the 2007 broadcast was inspired by the appearance of CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation.

The production values are local-TV grade, which is to say not the best. Producer Gene Walz, perhaps the best in Cincinnati at the time, apparently did the what he could with the equipment and probable small budget he had to work with.

Surprisingly, there is no video of Powel himself--only still shots. (Video footage of Powel Crosley, Jr. does exist.) But the interviews with his sister, Edythe, and grandson, Lewis L'Hommedeau Crosley, are really good, and shed quite a bit of light on Crosley's personality. Segments with Crosley friend, neighbor, appliance dealer, and collector Bill Angert add a lot to the production.

Two slightly overdone fantasy sequences show a slice of life in the 1890s and the origin of the song "Moon River." For the latter, actors and actresses were hired and placed in a shadowy barroom setting to play out a scene in which prostitutes were supposedly reduced to tears by the words to the song as a Crosley employee wrote them. It was a nice vignette, but, unfortunately, the story is a fabrication.

Still, the video is well is worth seeing. It's completely enjoyable. But it's not easy to find. Crosley Automobile Club members can borrow the Club's copy. A few libraries have copies, but nobody is selling it online, perhaps because WCET is the sole distributor and the video wasn't produced in large quantities. WCET itself doesn't appear to be offering Powel Crosley, Jr. and the 20th Century, but if you contact the station you can probably buy one. Last time I checked, the suggested donation was $60.
CREDITS: Producer: Gene Walz. Director: Taylor Feltner. Writer: Thomas Ashwell. Financed by a grant from the Crosley Foundation (now dissolved).
Copyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

Monday, October 22, 2007

Crosley Pomotional Stunts

When Powel Crosley, Jr. was working for auto dealer Carl Graham Fisher in Indianapolis in the early 1900s, he was exposed to some ideas and attitudes about promotion that stuck with him for the rest of his life. Fisher, a bicycle dealer who expanded into automobiles and became one of the country’s largest auto agencies, was famous for doing things like pushing a car from the top of a three-story building to the street below, then driving it away. In another stunt, he floated a car across Indianapolis on a balloon. Eventually, he stunted his way into history as the driving force behind the Lincoln Highway, the Dixie Highway, the Indiapolis Motor Speedway, and the development of Miami Beach. (For more info on Fisher, see this biography: The Pacesetter, by Jerry Fisher.)

Decades later, Crosley was pulling similar stunts to draw attention to his products. Some are detailed in CROSLEY, but most aren't. For example, in the 1920s Crosley bought and rented aircraft to perform “special deliveries” of the latest Crosley radio sets to dealers around the country (in small quantities, of course). The airplanes were bannered -C-R-O-S-L-E-Y- on wings and fuselages, and when newspapers flocked to the photo opportunities Crosley got the free publicity he was after. And in 1947 when Cincinnati’s Terrace Plaza Hotel was being completed, he arranged for a Crosley pickup truck carrying an American flag to be hoisted 19 stories to the top of the building, where the flag was transferred to a flagpole. Crosley also set up less-dramatic stunts, such as the double-parked 1947 Crosleys shown in the accompanying photo, the cop scratching his head over how or if he should ticket a cars for sharing a space.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Crosley Events for October, November, and December, 2007 (and early 2008)

For those who may be interested, I have these speaking engagements coming up in October, November, and December, 2007, and into 2008:
At each talk, I'll be sharing new facts and stories about Crosley autos, radios, the Crosleys themselves, and more. I'm bringing a number of Crosley artifacts from my collection to each program. Looking ahead, here's a partial lineup for 2008:
  • In April, 2008, I will be giving a talk at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio Convention.
  • May 2-4, 2008, I'm doing a Crosley presentation at the Early Television Convention, in Hilliard, Ohio.
  • June 6 & 7, 2008, I am the keynote speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Antique Radio Club's annual gathering (this is a large regional organization). Unless something else gets in the way, I hope to be at the Crosley Automobile Club's annual meet in July.
More to come. In the meantime, listen for me on WLW.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Green Township Branch Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, 7:00 PM. Tom Miller will be there with his 1948 Crosley Station Wagon! (No charge. Call 369-6095 to register.)

Edison Inventors' Group, Fort Myers, Florida

Thanks to everyone who came out for the meeting of the Edison Inventors Group at the Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Myers, Florida, Wednesday October 17. This is an impresive group, with over 80 members at that meeting. They're a real hands-on organization, with lots of experts willing to educate and train others. Anyone in the area who is an inventor or wants to be an inventor should join.
For a map, contacts and additional information, click here. Or call (239)-275-IDEA (4332).\


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Voice of America, Bethany Relay Station

One of Crosley Broadcasting's lesser-known yet far-reaching projects was the construction of the Voice of America (VOA) facility next to the WLW transmitter site at Mason, Ohio. (Actually, it was located in Bethany.) Later on, I'll post an article about the site that I wrote in 1983. For now, here's a photo from the site. The view is looking out from beneath the antenna switching center (hoe handles were used to move giant knife switches) to a portion of the antenna array.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bridge and Whist by Radio!

In the broadcast world of the 1920s, Powel Crosley, Jr. was best-known for WLW. However, he owned two other stations before World War II. One was WSAI.

WSAI was established by the United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati in 1923, as a means of promoting the game of Bridge (along with Whist and other card games). Advertising still wasn't common, but U.S. Playing Card executives were aware of the potential of radio for reaching the masses. So the company applied for and received a commercial broadcast license. Programming alternated between live bridge games and musical acts. Surprisingly, the station helped sell playing cards--enough to more than earn its keep. That is, until 1928, by which time advertising had become commonplace and it was possible to reach farther than WSAI with the NBC network, at less expense. Powel Crosley, Jr. bought the station, whose transmitter was at the site where WLW's 500,000-watt transmitter and the disinctive diamond radiator antenna would be built. (The antenna is still in use, and WLW's current transmitter is on the same site.) The image here is a 1924 WSAI magazine advertisement, requesting listeners to tune in at specific times to listen to a famous foursome play Bridge. Players' initial hands were listed in the ads, too, so listeners could follow along with their own play at home. Whist and other games were played, too. (Click the image to see a larger version.)
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Crosley Program in Fort Myers, Florida, October 17

For anyone who may be in the area, I'll be speaking at a meeting of the Edison Inventors Group at the Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Myers, Florida, Wednesday October 17.
I'll be speaking about Powel Crosley, Jr. as an inventor and entreprenur. The meeting begins at 7:00 PM. For a map, contacts and additional information, click here. Or call (239)-275-IDEA (4332).

The Crosley Amerinola Phonograph (Pre-Radio)

As discussed in this post, the Crosley Manufacturing Company was building phonographs before Powel decided to get into making radio parts and radio receivers. Herewith, two ads for Crosley's phonographs. On the left is an Indiana retailer's ad for the "Amerinola" phonograph. As noted earlier, the name was changed to "Marion" shortly after it was introduced in 1920. The ad on the right, circa 1921, is for the Marion, offered at a dollar down and a dollar a week! Click for a larger image.