Vintage console donated to history center

MARQUETTE – The Marquette Regional History Center has grown by about 115 pounds, but those pounds contain a lot of history.

Jim Gleason, who formerly worked for WDMJ AM, has donated a 1948 Gates Radio Model SA50 dual-speech input console used at that station to the center.

Gleason, now chair of the Electronic Media/Broadcasting Department at Delta College in Bay City, said although it was time to reduce clutter at his home, it also was time to bring the vintage machine back home to Marquette.

The Lake Superior Broadcast Company started radio station WBEO in Marquette in 1931, which was purchased in 1942 by The Mining Journal. WDMJ AM now is owned and operated by Northern Star Broadcasting.

Gleason had the console for about 26 years, with his involvement dating back to this days at Northern Michigan University. He worked for WDMJ back in the 1980s when he was a student at NMU, using that console board when the station broadcast talk radio.

He left WDMJ, but came back when it joined with WJPD in the early 1990s. By that time, the new management had a new board.

Gleason asked what happened to the old one and was told: “It’s in the basement if you want it. Get it out of here.”

The console probably was going to be thrown away, he said, so he took it home.

“I had been restoring old radios from ’30s and 40s at that point,” Gleason said. “So I cleaned it up, patched it up, painted it, and have had it ever since.”

Gleason said the console probably wasn’t the original board from WDMJ since it had started a few years earlier. However, it had been in use constantly from 1948 through at least 1989-90.

Since consoles now are digital, obviously, it has outlived its useful, practical – but not necessarily historical and educational – life.

“This is tremendously old school,” Gleason said. “It’s tubes, it’s vacuum tubes. Everything’s kind of hard-wired in there, and that’s why it’s so durable. It’s made of very, very heavy metal as well.”

In its heyday, he noted, the console acted as an operations board with a conduit for announcers and disc jockeys to make their broadcasts.

“When I worked on it back in the ’80s, we had the ability to bring in some satellite feeds they had patched into this,” Gleason said. “We would broadcast Tiger games through the station, or Red Wing games through there.

“We would play local spots and music and news and the like, so this had the ability to have multiple inputs whether it be a turntable – you can see that there’s different ones on there – or cart decks back at the time, microphones as well, and then send the output to the amplifier and to the transmitter.”

Jo Wittler, curator at the history center, said there are no immediate plans to put the console on display. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t fit into another exhibit at some point.

“We do have a small display area that talks about broadcasting and communication,” Wittler said.

Items also are periodically taken out for programs, she said, so the console could be used on those occasions.

The console, she acknowledged, does have historic value, especially when it involves watching how technology continues to advance.

“Technology keeps evolving,” Wittler said, “so things, they don’t seem old sometimes, even 40 years old.”

The console is a bit older, originating in 1948, but since the advent of the digital age, that technology is downright archaic.

However, that doesn’t mean people can’t appreciate all old-fashioned dials.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.