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Iowa Public Radio Restores Its 1918 Steinway B

In 2020, Iowa Public Radio will celebrate 100 years of providing quality public radio service to the state. We are still using at least one piece of equipment that is as old as our broadcast signal, and we've recently restored it to its original glory thanks to a grant from The Dahl Trust.

To the best or our knowledge, Iowa Public Radio's 1918 Steinway B piano came into our possession in 1942. In those days, the University of Northern Iowa was still Iowa State Teacher's College, and the radio station licensed to the college was under the direction of Herb Hake. He purchased the piano for $700.

In addition to being the name of one of our music services, Studio One is also a physical location and has been home to the Steinway piano since the building was built in the 1970s.  

In the last few years, it had been getting harder and harder to tune. The soundboard had a significant crack down the middle, and it needed to be replaced. Over the winter, the 100-year-old instrument was loaded into an itty bitty elevator and transported to be repaired in an old pole barn in Walker at Premier Piano Services. 

"The rest of the piano is really mechanical parts – levers and pedals," explains Iowa Public Radio's recording engineer Phil Maass. "Our soundboard was cracked, which is why it would go out of tune so quickly. The new soundboard is made of sitka spruce. I think that is one of the most interesting parts of the process. Soundboards are made too big for a piano, and then they sit in a drying room for a month. Then it gets cut to what they think is the correct size, and then they let it moisten up again. At that point, an arch develops, which is what you want."

Maass says that he's really looking forward to having it back.

"Once the piano gets broken in, it will be a much more stable instrument," he says. "We won’t have to get to tuned before every single performance in studio, and it will be easier to play."

Catch the next performance on the newly restored piano on May 30 when Nalani Proctor joins Studio One Tracks live.

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer