In 1942, a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Crosley Corporation was commissioned by the federal government to engineer a radio installation powerful enough to reach a global audience. By 1944, the first Voice of America station capable of reaching out to the world was in operation in West Chester Township, Ohio (then Union Township).
It was then called the Bethany Station because of the Bethany phone exchange that served this part of the Township. The actual VOA messages were delivered to the Bethany Station by telephone line from Washington D.C. and New York; and then distributed to the world via the revolutionary and complex transmitters, switching gear and antennae systems developed by the amazingly innovative and spirited engineers of the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation.
The Voice of America, in West Chester, was deemed so important that for many years it had direct communication lines to the White House and the ability to redirect all electrical power from Cincinnati and Dayton in order to fulfill its mission. For nearly 50 years, no one was even permitted on the 600 acres surrounding the facility without permission.
With the advent of newer satellite-based technology, ground stations like VOA Bethany Station were no longer needed, and the facility was decommissioned in 1995. Shortly after, dozens of radio towers and curtain antennae structures on the property were razed at the West Chester location.
Through the Federal Lands to Parks Program, the Voice of America Bethany Station building was given to the care of West Chester Township for historic monument purposes and the 600 + surrounding acres were divided as such:
• The Building and 22 associated acres – West Chester Township for historic preservation
• 320 acres – West Chester Township for park use
• 200 acres – Butler County MetroParks for park use
• 20 acres – Miami University for an educational center
• 75 acres – Sold by the federal government to pay for dismantling antennae, etc – now the VOA Retail Center.
Facts after West Chester Township took Ownership
In 1999, MetroParks announced a 200-acre golf course on its portion. This, of course, didn’t happen; nor did many of the other initial plans.
West Chester launched a visioning process for the park property utilizing a design team from Human Nature. Public input was gathered in a series of events and a design was revealed that combined active and passive recreational assets designed in a manner that celebrated the history of the facility.
A 1.95-mill park levy placed on the ballot in November 2003 which would have developed VOA Park and supported other Township park investments was defeated.
West Chester Township’s 320+ acre Voice of America property continued to see significant use and some development through contributions etc. even without the benefit of a dedicated levy. The property was home to the Airwaves Kitefest, DogFest, Freedom Fest and the Wine and Food Festival for several years.
Wiggly Field was dedicated around 2005, constructed with donations. Cross country teams from throughout the region had meets at the park. There were some baseball and soccer fields developed and the property was designated an important birding area by the National Audubon Society.
It became apparent, however, that development of the VOA Park would require greater financial investment and in February 2007, West Chester transferred 245 of its 320 acres of VOA Property to MetroParks of Butler County for Park development.
West Chester retained ownership of the Bethany Station and its 22 acres, as well as property adjoining the retail center.
The transfer hastened the development of great recreational amenities as a result of the dedicated funding from the county-wide parks levy and the commitment of Butler County Metro Parks. The VOA Park now features a tournament quality athletic complex and fieldhouse, walking paths, a lake and lodge and much more. A Vision Plan inspires future development of the Park.
The VOA Museum
At the time, West Chester Parks Department staff offices were in the VOA Building and people off the street would stop by with great interest in the building. It was really great to see all the interest once the site was decommissioned and no longer so secretive. Park staff enjoyed impromptu visits from long-time residents who had experienced interruptions to their phone and radio service due to the VOA transmitters and antennae. It was especially impactful to have individuals stop by who experienced the VOA message while living overseas in communist countries. Some would break down in tears talking about how important the station was to them and their families and how dangerous it would have been for them to be caught listening to the VOA broadcasts.
Some of those who supported museum efforts from the beginning, were engineers who helped build and develop the transmitters for Crosley back in 1942 and operated the station until it closed. These innovators were tireless and relentless in their efforts to get Bethany Station operational – fighting the war on the communications front – and they wanted nothing more than to have the work of the VOA remembered by future generations.
The veterans of the community were the first to step up and want to play a role in the development of the VOA Museum and the preservation of the building. The VOA had been so important to them when serving overseas and they wanted to do their part again in this effort. These veterans (primarily from West Chester VFW post) formed the Veterans Voice of America Fund (VVOAF) to raise money for the effort, working alongside the Township.
The VVOAF was joined by The West Chester Amateur Radio Association, the Gray History of Wireless Museum and Media Heritage.
Through these organizations West Chester Township worked to gain support from State Legislature and the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission to receive grant funding that allowed for the replacement of the building’s facade and roof, electrical and HVAC work.
They worked tirelessly for the cause (pancake breakfasts, craft sales, etc); but the greatest achievement of the VVOAF was perhaps its evolution to the current The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting Board of Directors. The VVOAF dissolved in 2006 and in March 2007 the West Chester Board of Trustees established Executive Board of The National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting as the official governing body of the museum, approved use agreements, bylaws and appointed the first members of the Executive Board.
The Executive Board has evolved and thrived over the years and has made great strides in preserving the building and Legacy of The Voice of America Bethany Station. T
The VOA Museum and Park are truly a national treasure rich with history and full of promise for future generations. We are fortunate to have and enjoy these amenities in West Chester Township and they’re just another reason why West Chester is one of the “Best Places to Live in America”.
If you haven’t visited the VOA Museum in a while, please checkout www.VOAMuseum.org to learn more about tours and events.