A Note On Hoover History

Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Original floor plan of the Hoover Tower, including the Radio Room. Hoover Records, Hoover Institution Archives.

Recently, the Hoover Tower’s exterior was cleaned and thus brought closer to how it looked when it opened in 1941. The interior? Not even close. After all, we don’t have a radio room any more.

Radio room? Yes, the Hoover Tower was built with a radio room in the blueprints. Funnily enough, none of us was aware of this until a few years ago; when we were preparing an exhibit on the Institution’s 90th anniversary, I found a recording that mentioned it was produced in “the radio room of the Hoover Tower.”

Why did we have a radio room? Good question. From the records we’ve been able to search, the room was there, at least in part, because of World War II. It seems the room’s purpose was to listen to and record foreign broadcasts, in concert with the military. Over the years, its purpose began to change, with radio programs being produced in the room, including Wealth of the West, a McLaughlin-Group-like program of the day’s issues. This change prompted Stanford to build a production studio across the street in Memorial Hall. (Fun Archives fact: in the Wealth of the West recording on which the radio room was name-checked, one of the guests mentioned an event at the Commonwealth Club of California.)

Do we still have any of these recordings? Another good question. No, but we have something close.

When the room was spec’d out, the records indicate that the broadcasts were intended to be recorded onto cylinders. This doesn’t quite jive, though, because, by the late 1930s, cylinders were an obsolete format. The tower opened in 1941, and it seems odd they would use a format that can record only five minutes at a time when technology of that era (discs) got up to twenty minutes at a time. In any case, there are no cylinders in our stacks that I’m aware of.

We do, however, have a lot of lacquer discs cut in 1942 of English-language, American-audience-intended shortwave broadcasts from Tokyo, Chungking, Bangkok, and Australia. These discs were cut in San Francisco and accessioned by Hoover in 1958. As it happens, I’m currently working on preserving these discs.

So what happened to the radio room? Yet another good question. I don’t know except that the area in which the room used to be is now the wheelchair entrance to the Tower.

And so the mystery remains.