Dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of television and radio programs, the center possesses a collection of nearly 150,000 television and radio programs and advertisements covering radio and television history. Virtually every broadcast form is represented here—news, documentaries, performing arts, advertising, children's programs and international programs—many of historic importance: Mercury Theater's version of H. G. Well's War of the Worlds; William L. Shirer's broadcasts from Nazi Germany; Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon; President Richard Nixon's resignation speech; CNN coverage of the Persian Gulf War; a plethora of classic sitcoms; and so on. Most can be viewed or heard at individual consoles and are quickly accessible through a computerized catalogue, the records of which are also available online.
Founded in 1975 by William S. Paley (creator of the CBS radio and television network), the museum opened in its new tower, designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, in 1991. A play on the shape of old-fashioned radio cabinets, the building houses two theaters, two 45-seat screening rooms, 96 consoles for individual viewing/listening and a room dedicated solely to historic radio programs.
The museum offers Re-Creating Radio workshops every Saturday for children ages 9 to 14. This program, designed to introduce participants to the workings of classic radio programs, provides the opportunity to read scripts, operate sound-effects equipment and bring stories to life in the tradition of Superman, The Shadow and The Lone Ranger. Participants receive copies of the recording following the workshop.
Using programs from the collection, museum educators lead classes that encourage active observation and critical thinking about issues and events that have shaped contemporary history. While the medium is television or radio, the subject may be advertising, science fiction, ecology or the changing role of women.
The Paley Center has no lunchroom facilities, and no eating or drinking is allowed on the premises.