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OKI Wanna Know: What's In The Box?

Our new feature, OKI Wanna Know, is a way for you to get an answer to one of life's little mysteries in the Tri-State. It's the story behind those quirky things that make the area what it is. In this edition, WVXU's Bill Rinehart scratches an itch that's bugged him since he first moved to the Central Business District 12 years ago.

Picture a Downtown sidewalk. There's a few trees, a fire hydrant, parking meters and maybe a pole with a triangular black box on top.

That box might have a parking sign on it, and you might hear a noise coming from inside. It doesn't happen often, and it's not very loud, but ocassionally there is a distinct, mechanical-electrical-whirring noise from inside the box. I've heard it at night, and in the daytime, but with no regularity, and without any apparent rhyme or reason.

So, what's in the box? Is it a giant automatic air freshener? Are time traveling aliens adding mind control drugs to the atmosphere? Are they chemical markers for the lizard people?

John Brazina, director of Transportation and Engineering for the city of Cincinnati knows the answer

"That is actually an electrical panel for our streetlights," Brazina says. 

That simple?

"It's that simple."

So what do they do?

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
The black boxes serve a couple of functions, including providing a place for signage.

"We have street lights all throughout the Cincinnati Business District. Those panels that you see, there's about 15 to 20 of them across the CBD, and they just kinda help us manage the street light circuit."


But why was that one making noise? Brazina says he doesn't know specifically why that one was drawing attention to itself, but there may have been a problem with a circuit. He says when there is an issue, crews go out to fix it.

"Those are actually designed to have a little easier access and to be concealed. So we have those and we have some in pull boxes in the ground, and some we have in silver boxes on the poles themselves," he says.

It's a generational thing: every new technology to control street lights comes in a different shape, and gets put in a different place.

So, that's it. Mystery solved. No grand conspiracy. Except, Brazina almost forgot what might be the best part of this story:

"We actually call them cheeseheads because they actually look like a wedge of cheese. So when we talk about them internally we talk about cheeseheads on the poles."

Do you have a question about the area?  Share it with us by filling out the form below, and we may try to answer it. To see past OKI Wanna Know questions, visit wvxu.org/oki.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.