The Toledo Show Bids Farewell

Print this articlePrint this article

Written by Rachelle Haughn
The End of an Era for a Well-Loved Trade Show
As seen in the April 2021 issue of Model Aviation.



Including fewer exhibitors, a steady drop in attendance, the remodeling of a hotel, and a global pandemic, a list of factors fell into place to create the death blow for a longtime,well-loved hobby show, The Toledo Show: R/C Model Expo. As fate would have it, in a year of uncertainty, loss, and the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced in 2020 that the show would no longer be held—ending its 65-year run.

For the event’s organizers, making the final call was a tough one. For those who faithfully attended the show each year, the news was disappointing. But some knew the end was drawing near and that they had to accept it.

"We just said … that enough’s enough," said Rick Lederman, codirector of the trade show.

"Part of me was just stunned, but part of me expected it to happen someday," stated Keith Shaw, who had attended the show since approximately 1961. He added that he was "bordering on a being lifer" of the show.

Ralph Warner, owner of Ram Products, last exhibited at the 2016 Toledo Show. He said he had a feeling that trade shows in general would soon be a thing of the past. "The handwriting was on the wall for the shows at that point," he added. Before the Toledo Show ended, other big hobby trade shows, such the Westchester Radio Aero Modelers (WRAM) Show and AMA Expo, also ceased.

Mark Lanterman, who had attended the show nearly every year since 1981, noticed a drop in attendance earlier than Ralph. "Once the recession hit [2007], that’s when things started to change," Mark said. "[The show previously] had great crowds at SeaGate [Convention Centre]. There was always a wait list for vendors until the recession hit."

Art Pesch, who retired from Hobbico before it was sold to Horizon Hobby, said that he wanted to continue enjoying it during his retirement. "I was hoping to go back one more time, but I loved it. It was great," he commented. "It was like Christmas—you waited each year for Toledo," he added.

brochure toledo
02. Brochure, Toledo Show, 1976 (Source: #0001 AMA Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives).

The History of the Toledo Show

Before The Toledo Show: R/C Model Expo reached its final years, the event was held in multiple locations, had different names, and was originally operated by the Radio Control Club of Detroit. The Toledo Weak Signals club began participating in 1957, and the Detroit club bowed out before the 1959 show.

The show typically took place during the first weekend of April each year. The following information includes the locations of the show throughout the years and some of its name changes, according to Model Aviation archives and Rick Lederman, a longtime codirector of the show.

1955: Detroit Golf Club, Detroit; operated by the Radio Control Club of Detroit (RCCD). The one-day show was called the Mid-Winter RC Convention.

1956: Rough Recreation Center, Detroit; RCCD.

1957-1958: Trilby Log Cabin, Toledo, Ohio; RCCD and the Toledo Weak Signals club.

1959: Miracle Mile Ballroom, Toledo; Toledo Weak Signals club. The show expanded to two days.

1960: Trilby Log Cabin.

1961: Miracle Mile Ballroom.

1962: Sunnydale Golf Course, Ohio.

1963-1964: Champion Hangar at Toledo Express Airport, Toledo.

1965-1974: Lucas County Recreation Center, Maumee, Ohio. The show was called the Annual Mid-Winter RC Conference.

1975-1991: Toledo Sports Arena, Toledo. The show was known as the Toledo RC Exposition.

1992-2019: SeaGate Convention Centre, Toledo. The show was called The Toledo Show: R/C Model Expo.

jay burkart of graupner
03. Jay Burkart of Graupner holds an early foamie at the 1998 show in this photo published in the August 1998 issue of Model Aviation. Photo by Jim Haught.

Rick shared some of the reasons why the show’s committee decided it was time for the event—which began in 1955 at the Detroit Golf Club—to come to an end.

One of the big reasons that the show ended had to do with numbers. In 1978, roughly 16,000 people attended the show when it was held at the Toledo Sports Arena in Ohio. The number fluctuated until 1992, when the show was moved to the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio. That year, there were again 16,000 attendees. By 2019, the figure had dropped to 4,453.

In terms of exhibitors, there were 227 of them in 2000. Before the committee decided to cancel the 2020 show, there were only 97. "How do you put on the world’s best show when you don’t have exhibitors?" Rick asked. One of the largest hobby manufacturers, which also had one of the largest booths at the show, was Horizon Hobby. "Horizon called and said their employees would not get on an airplane [because of the COVID-19 pandemic], so they were not coming."

Rick added, "The next day, the government shut the state down" because of the pandemic. "We started to look at next year [2021]." The committee members soon learned that the hotel next to the SeaGate Centre had been sold and would be closed for remodeling until 2022. The committee and the Toledo Weak Signals club had used part of the hotel as a headquarters for previous shows.

"If it had not been for COVID-19, we would have had a show in 2020," Rick stated. "It just didn’t make sense to take a chance anymore."

"The pandemic was the final nail in the coffin," Ralph added. He attended his first Toledo Show in 1977.

Hank Hankinson of Sonic-Tronics said he believed that changes in the industry, such as discount mail order products and the internet, are why trade shows in general are dwindling. His first Toledo Show was in the late 1960s, where he represented Accutronics engineering.

Seeing the show end was tough for Rick. "I was on the [show’s] committee for 46 years—35 years as codirector," he said. To end the show "was devastating to me," he stated. "We had a responsibility to showcase RC to the world, yet it no longer made sense."

Showcasing RC and aeromodeling to the world was exactly what the Toledo Show did before it came to an end.

"There’s a bazillion memories that go along with this," Rick stated about the trade show. "It was an amazing thing to be a part of."

Keith recalled his first visit to the Toledo Show. "My jaw hit the floor. There were endless rows of airplanes." He was a teenager at the time and went to the expo with fellow members of his Cleveland aeromodeling club. "Growing up, no one else [in my family] was obsessed with model airplanes, and I was in a room with 5,000 people [who were], and suddenly I fit in."

"The first couple of years that I was there, for me, were the coolest because I got to meet everybody who was in the books and magazines," Mark said. "I just remember it being so cool to see everything that I’d been looking at and reading my entire life."

Art and Rick largely remember the years when the show was jam-packed. In fact, the crowds are what Art remembers most about the show. "The biggest thing was the crowds. In the early years, the crowds were just phenomenal," Art said.

lanier rc was one of the first
04. Lanier RC was one of the first companies to sell a model that was the closest thing to what is today called an ARF. Haught photo.
codirector rick lederman
05. (L-R) Codirector Rick Lederman, Miss Weak Signals (who was also Miss Ohio) and longtime codirector Wayne Yeager pose in their best attire in 2004 at the show’s 50th anniversary. Wayne passed away in May 2018. Photo provided by Rick Lederman.
this photo of the 1989 show
06. This photo of the 1989 show at the Toledo Sports Arena shows "The incredibly claustrophobic packing of humanity in one small section of one building," Keith Shaw said about this photo that he provided.

Keith said that one of the best-attended shows he remembers was at the Toledo Recreation Center. "That was literally the most packed show. There was a flow pattern and there was no way to go backward. And it was just insane," he stated with a laugh. "Except for the end aisle areas, you could not see the carpet."

"It was absolutely packed," Mark stated about the first few years that he attended the show while working for one of the vendors, World Engines. "As vendors, we got there early. There were people wrapped around the building waiting to go in."

Shortly after college, Art got a job with a company that made target drones for the U.S. Army. The company lost its contract to Carl Goldberg Models and he was sent to the Toledo Show to sell off the company’s remaining inventory. He remembered that year. "[We were] in under the grandstands, under racetracks or something. We drove all night to get there."

Art was later hired by Carl Goldberg in the mid-1980s to oversee a military contract. Carl sent him to the Toledo Show and other trade shows. "I didn’t miss a Toledo until 2016," Art said.

One of his memories of the show is from when it took place at the Toledo Sports Arena. This venue also served as a hockey arena. Exhibitors and attendees had an unpleasant experience on one day of the show each year. "On Sunday morning, they started pumping [what would become] ice into the concrete underneath. Our feet got cold," Art said. Mark also remembered how cold the floor became.

modelers check out the static
07. Modelers check out the static display at the 2011 show. AMA photo.
a panoramic view
08. A panoramic view of the 2011 show. AMA photo.

After working for Carl Goldberg, Art was hired by Hobbico, where he was employed for more than 25 years. One of his roles with the company was as the booth manager for trade shows. His wife, Carol, whom he met while working for Carl Goldberg, also got a job with Hobbico and worked in the company’s booth at trade shows. "When she worked the trade show, men ignored her, but she knew as much as I did about the industry and products," Art stated.

Art, Keith, and Rick shared several highlights of the show. One aspect that Rick and Keith enjoyed was the flying demonstrations. Rick remembered one that took place in 1974 at the Lucas County Recreation Center. "We only did it [that year] to empty the building to let more people in," he said.

Keith also fondly recalled the outside flying demonstrations. "I remember many of those and being amazed at what they could do. They tried to fly aerobatic [aircraft] off the snow and had to hand launch them [instead]. They [also] ran quarter-midget. Some of the guys from Cleveland came and flew. They were flying Pylon racers in 20° temperatures," Keith stated.

a panoramic view
09. Bill Northrop holds two books, Full Size Plans from Model Builder Magazine 1971-1996 and Scratch Builder’s Almanac. Bill Northrop’s Plans Service booth, Toledo Show, Toledo OH 1998. (Source: #0001 AMA Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives. Photograph original source is the AMA and Model Aviation magazine.)
the radio south booth
10. The Radio South booth was one of the mainstays at the Toledo Show. Pictured in this 1990s photo is O.J. Stillman. (Source: Tony Stillman, #0410 Tony Stillman Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives.)

In the National Model Aviation Museum’s archives, there are photo slides of the show’s outside runway being cleared by a snow blower. The flight demonstrations were later moved inside when the event changed venues.

Rick shared some of the show’s other features throughout the years. "We always had symposiums. We had world-famous speakers, display models, trophies, and cash for static displays," he said.

The event also had some special, famous guests. In addition to big names in model aviation, such as Carl Goldberg, Bill Cannon Jr. (the first person to develop and market a micro four-channel proportional RC system), and Hazel Sig-Hester, there was singer Roy Orbison, who was rumored to have later died while working on model aircraft for his nephews, Rick said. The show also had a model each year who was dubbed The Queen of the Exposition or Miss Weak Signals.

Keith remembers Dieter Schlüter, the inventor of the first RC helicopter kit, traveling to the show from Germany in roughly 1970 and demonstrating his heli.

One of the most obvious features of the show that must be mentioned is, of course, the products. "Toledo was to RC like Detroit was to cars," Keith said. "People went to Toledo to release products." Before the days of the internet, magazines and the Toledo Show were virtually the only way modelers could find out about the latest and greatest products. In the early years of the show, manufacturers were not allowed to sell products unless they were a small company in the swap shop. That rule was changed when the show moved to the SeaGate Convention Centre.

a birds eye view
11. A birds-eye view of the exhibit hall at the Toledo Show in 1981. (Source: #0001 AMA Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives. Photograph original source is the AMA and Model Aviation magazine.)
the hobby lobby
12. The Hobby Lobby International booth, Toledo Show, Toledo OH, February 1972. (Source: #0001 AMA Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives. Photograph original source is the AMA and Model Aviation magazine.)

"That’s where the customer used to go to see new products," Hank said of the Toledo Show. "That was the big thing of the year."

At the show, you could "get your hands on stuff you’d never seen before," Mark added.

Keith agreed that the show was a big deal. He stated that each year, his calendar revolved around it and the outdoor flying season. He began building a static model for the show in the fall before to ensure that he had it finished in time, then he got his other models ready for the flying season. Throughout the years, he built 31 models for the static competition.

The static displays are one of the things that Ralph said he would miss most about the trade show. "You’d see those and go home and burn yours," he stated with a laugh.

Ralph remembered that in the early years of the event, Toledo club members were practically begging vendors to come to their show. This later evolved into exhibitors being on a wait list for two or three years. "The show, at that time, was just single guys in a booth," Ralph stated about the early shows. "The real show was each of these guys with this little widget. That’s how I started." Ralph brought only one product to display at his first Toledo, an airboat. Today, he has 200 products, and some of those are thanks to suggestions by those who visited his booth at trade shows.

The widgets for sale are some of Keith’s favorite aspects of the expo. "The way the companies got a foot in the door was in the swap shop. They could buy a table and could sell stuff. I really enjoyed all of the little stuff," he said.

"The entire second floor of the SeaGate Centre was a swap shop," Rick explained. "We had 500 tables set up [during] the first few years. They spilled out into the hallways and walkways to the parking garage."

When asked what his favorite find in the swap shop was, Keith replied, "In 1967 or 1968, I saw the first Kraft Gold Medal proportional equipment. I was stunned at how smooth and powerful the servos were and how professionally [the radio] was built and packaged. Up until then, most people had to buy the transmitter from one company, the receiver from another, and the servos/actuators from the third, and then come up with some sort of battery packs and plug system to tie it all together. The Kraft Gold Medal was presented in a box with everything wired, including the batteries, and supplied with a charger for both transmitter and receiver. [It was] possibly the very first Plug-and-Play RC set."

Keith also recalled the exhibitors going through several fads. "Long before ARFs, everything was kits and plans. The most technological was a fiberglass fuselage. That was almost looked at as cheating, but was as much work as wood," he commented.

The first airplane that was the closest thing to an ARF at the show was from Lanier RC with a 6-foot wingspan, Keith stated. "You took them out of the box, put your equipment in there, and flew them. That got to be a big thing to see how long you could get your Lanier to fly." Keith added that sailplanes were big at the show in the 1960s. Free Flight remained steady each year, then 1/2A-size aircraft seemed to take over, followed by Giant Scale. "A lot of the early Giant Scale [aircraft] were crude—big was the thing. They couldn’t fly well," Keith commented. "When [electric-powered aircraft] happened, some of the original manufacturers went away."

Like the fads, the Toledo Show is now just a memory for those who loved it, volunteered for it, and faithfully attended it. For them, April 2021 looks much different from April 2019.

Hank said that when he found out that the show was permanently canceled, "I was slightly depressed." He said the show was a place for hobby manufacturers to enjoy fellowship and work to make the hobby better. When asked what he would miss most about Toledo, Hank answered, "The progress in the industry, the rapport with customers, and the fellow manufacturers."

a couple of founders
13. A couple of founders in RC, Duke Fox and Walt Schroder, are with a Miss Weak Signals model. Photo provided by Lederman.
a line of people wrap around
14. A line of people wrap around the Sports Arena, waiting to enter the Toledo Show, Toledo OH, in 1981. Mark Lanterman remembers crowds such as this. (Source: #0001 AMA Collection, National Model Aviation Museum Archives. Photograph original source is the AMA and Model Aviation magazine.)

Rick has turned his focus from the show he had been a part of since he joined the Weak Signals club in 1971 to holding a swap shop at the club’s flying field and a fall fly-in.

Art plans to continue enjoying retirement. In the winter, he keeps busy building aircraft to fly from snow and water, but he can’t deny that he misses the Toledo Show. "I got to know a lot of modelers at the show. That was a real treat. It was almost like a reunion each year, and I will miss that the most," he stated.

Keith wants to keep Toledo’s static show alive by setting a goal to build a new model and finish it around the time that the show normally would have been held. He plans to hold a "virtual Toledo" online with his modeling friends to show off his intricate builds.

this panoramic photo of the show
01. This panoramic photo of the show when it was held at the Toledo Sports Arena was taken by Mark Lanterman while he worked for World Engines. In the far left of the photo is a blimp that floated above the World Engines booth. Mark said he flew the blimp, made by Peck-Polymers, around the arena.

Bonus Content


Flickr Album

The Toledo Show Bids Farewell, as seen in Model Aviation


The Toledo Show R/C Model Show

Model Aviation Digital Library

National Model Aviation Museum Digital Collections


I seen trade shows slowly disappearing because of less and less RC pilots decades ago. I tried to warn people, but no one would listen. Members still are in denial that the hobby is slipping away. There used to be large trade shows in Canada, but the same thing happened there. There is still a chance to save the hobby, but I don't think it will happen.

Very Sad, I have not missed one show since 1973. All I have now is the show patches and the printed programs. Fly high "Toledo".

Add new comment