By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

The Argonaut Building in New York City at 224 West 57 and Broadway, where first Voice of America (VOA) radio programs were produced in 1942, is now the headquarters of Open Society Foundations (OSF), formerly the Open Society Institute, originally created and funded by billionaire investor and philanthropist  George Soros to help countries move away from communism. According to online sources, OSF signed a 30-year lease for office space in the building in 2011. When the Voice of America used the building as its headquarters from 1942 until 1953, there were both communists and anti-communists among its early journalists and officials. From 1942 until the end of World War II, VOA was under the firm control of Soviet sympathizers and employed a fair number of communists. In a later period, a large number of anti-communist VOA broadcasters worked at the same location in New York.

Alan L. Heil, Jr., former VOA deputy director of programs, noted in his book, Voice of America: A History, that Voice of America had its start in 1942 in the Argonaut Building in Midtown Manhattan:

There was a huge buildup of the Voice staff in the summer of 1942 after it became part of the Office of War Information, with the acquisition of many floors in the old Argonaut Building on West Fifty-seveth Street, in Manhattan, and expansion to sixteen studios, several score program lines, and forty transmitters in distant locations. 1

As stated on the OSF website, Soros began his philanthropic work in 1979 by funding scholarships for black university students in South Africa during apartheid and for dissidents in communist Eastern Europe to study in the West. During the Cold War, his foundations paid for distribution of photocopiers to independent groups “to break the Communist Party’s grip on information.”

Today, George Soros’ foundations give money to groups and individuals in more than 120 countries. A post on the OSF website says that since 1984 Soros has given away $32 billion of his personal fortune made in the financial markets. As reported by the New York Times in October 2017, “George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager and a major Democratic donor, has given $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, one of the largest transfers of wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation.”

A New York Times article by David Gelles pointed out in 2017 that some of Soros’ philanthropic activities have become controversial: “His [Soros’] political focus — including large donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians — has made Mr. Soros a target of criticism from both the Republican establishment and fringe elements of the far right.”

During the Cold War, George Soros used his fortune to support establishment of open societies and democracy in East-Central Europe, in the Soviet Union and in China. The focus of his philanthropic activities in the communist world was then on supporting basic human rights.

Ironically, during World War II, many American and foreign communists working for the Voice of America in the Argonaut Building in New York and spread propaganda in support of pro-Soviet communist regimes in East-Central Europe, including Hungary, where George Soros was born in 1930. It took the Voice of America several years after World War II to reform the management of its programs and to replace pro-Soviet journalists with anti-communist refugee journalists from Europe and Asia, such as Polish anti-Nazi fighter Zofia Korbońska who was hired in 1948 after escaping from communist-ruled Poland. These new journalists eventually changed VOA into a radio station that opposed communism and advanced freedom and democracy.

One of the contributors to Cold War VOA Hungarian programs was former United Press reporter in Hungary Ilona Marton. She was imprisoned by the communist regime and after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution became a political refugee in the United States together with her journalist husband, Associated Press reporter Endre Marton. Their daughter, Kati Marton, is a best-selling author and former NPR and ABC News correspondent.Through her daughter Kati, Dr. Iliona Marton was the mother-in-law of broadcaster Peter Jennings and U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke. 2

Another refugee from communism, Heda Margolius Kovály, was a freelance reporter for VOA Czechoslovak Service in the 1970s when Voice of America headquarters were already in Washington, D.C. She was the wife and later widow of Rudolf Margolius (1913 – 1952), Czechoslovak Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade (1949–1952) in the Soviet-dominated regime. Her husband later became the youngest communist co-defendant in the infamous 1952 Rudolf Slánský trial. He was condemned to death on trumped-up espionage charges and executed. Her VOA radio name was Kaca Kralova.

But Voice of America personnel and broadcasts produced during World War II were completely different from what they became several years after the war. One of the pro-Soviet communists working for VOA at 224 West 57 Street in New York during World War II was American author and journalist Howard Fast—future [1953] Stalin International Peace Prize (worth about $235,000 in 2019 dollars) winner, future Communist Party USA member and future reporter for the Daily Worker Communist Party newspaper. He was recruited in 1942 by first VOA director, future Hollywood actor John Houseman, to become the chief news writer and news director—a position he held until he resigned in early 1944. His patron, John Houseman, who hired many of VOA’s early communist broadcasters, resigned earlier due to behind-the-scenes complaints from President Roosevelt’s foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, and from General Dwight D. Eisenhower. At that time, Voice of America studios were in New York City while VOA’s original federal agency, the Office of War Information (OWI), was in Washington, DC. VOA used the Argonaut Building studios in New York until 1953 when most of VOA’s broadcasting operations were moved to Washington. During World War II, VOA served as both anti-Nazi and pro-Soviet propaganda outlet. It covered up and censored news about Stalin’s crimes.

Howard Fast’s recruitment to become VOA’s first chief news writer and news director is described in his biography by Gerald Sorin,  Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012). Fast also wrote about his work for VOA in his autobiography, Being Red. 3 Fast left the Communist Party in the mid-1950s after Stalin’s crimes were disclosed by new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Former Voice of America journalist and news director Howard Fast, who got his World War II Russia news from the Soviet Embassy and rejected information unfavorable to Russia as anti-Soviet propaganda, later claimed that he had no idea Stalin was a mass murderer.

In his book about Howard Fast, Gerald Sorin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of American and Jewish Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, made several references to Fast’s work for the Voice of America during World War II.  Sorin’s book, Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, received the 2003 National Jewish Book Award in History. His other books include The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880–1920 (Indiana University Press, 1985).

From Gerald Sorin’s biography of Howard Fast:

[Louis]Untermeyer, a former editor of the Marxist journal The Masses, who was writing propaganda pamphlets for the Office of War Information (OWI), suggested that Howard [Fast], instead of aimlessly wandering the streets, apply for the same sort of position. Fast was reluctant, never having done that kind of work before. But during his visit to the OWI building on Broadway and 57th Street, he was impressed with the people he met, especially Elmer Davis, the well-known writer and news reporter who directed the OWI; Joseph Barnes, veteran editor and foreign correspondent for the Herald Tribune, who (along with Walter Duranty of the New York Times), did much to put a veil of ignorance over the worst of Stalin’s crimes; and John Houseman, the [future] Academy Award–winning actor and filmmaker, who worked at the OWI for the Voice of America (VOA). 4

Sorin’s description of early VOA journalists as followers of Walter Duranty is confirmed by declassified U.S. government records of the Office of War Information where VOA broadcasts originated. Duranty who was the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union during the 1930s consistently lied about Stalin’s crimes. He received the Pulitzer Prize and was the model of an activist journalist for many pro-communist early Voice of America radio broadcasters and officials who were U.S. federal government employees. Among them were Howard Fast, Joseph Barnes,  John Houseman,  and Robert E. Sherwood. Described as one of the founding fathers of the Voice of America, Sherwood was FDR’s speech writer and playwright who coordinated U.S. propaganda with Soviet propaganda at the OWI and in his weekly propaganda directives made sure that VOA followed the Kremlin’s line.

While the Roosevelt White House was strongly pro-Soviet, many of VOA officials and broadcasters were far more radical in their admiration for the Soviet Union and their naïveté in accepting Stalin’s propaganda lies as truthful news. In 1950, Howard Fast was compelled to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities but refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), which became a communist front organization. He was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. While he was at Mill Point Federal Prison, Fast began writing his most famous book, Spartacus.

This part of VOA’s history has been hidden from the American public and taxpayers, making oversight and preventing current journalistic abuses at the Voice of America more difficult. I was saddened to see that since about 2016, some VOA reporters and editors have started to present American and foreign Communists, Angela Davis and Che Guevara, as fighters for human rights and revolutionary heroes. The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which now manages the Voice of America, has also became embroiled in a controversy over a TV Marti report about George Soros, produced in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and other critics charged that the report was anti-Semitic. This led to the dismissal of several TV Marti reporters, but higher-level OCB and USAGM managers, some of them appointed during the Obama administration, were not held accountable.

Notes:

  1. Alan L. Heil, Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 41.
  2. Kati Marton, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 225.
  3. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19.
  4. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012), 60.
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A.

April 20, 1943 — Congressman Woodruff warns of Soviet propaganda in Voice of America broadcasts

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

On April 13, 1943, Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine announced the discovery of the graves containing the bodies of thousands of Polish prisoners of war in Soviet captivity who went missing in Russia in the spring of 1940. A few days later, on April 16 and April 17, 1943, the management of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) ordered its Overseas Branch in charge of what were later called Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts to air and promote the Soviet propaganda denial of Soviet responsibility for the murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.

Broadcasts of Soviet disinformation by the Voice of America that the Nazi Germans rather than the Soviet NKVD secret police had murdered thousands of Polish POW officers continued throughout World War II with strong encouragement and support from VOA’s pro-Soviet senior officials and wartime broadcasters. They included at least one key pro-communist broadcaster in the Polish Desk, Stefan Arski (aka Artur Salman), who after the war became a chief anti-American propagandist for the Soviet-imposed communist regime in Warsaw. Central directives came from the top leadership of OWI, but the broadcasters were also enthusiastic and willing propagandists for Stalin.

The propaganda collusion between the Soviets and the officials and broadcasters of the “Voice of America” (the name was not yet officially used for these U.S. government radio broadcasts) did not go unnoticed by the U.S. media and the U.S. Congress.

On April 20, 1943, Congressman Roy O. Woodruff (R-MA) delivered what was one of the early warnings of Soviet influence over the Office of War Information and the Voice of America. Many more such warnings would follow, but they did not produce any changes in VOA radio programs for several years.

 

 
“…reports are constantly reaching me and other Members of Congress that the propaganda activities of the Polish Unit ot O. W. I.’s Overseas Division are destroying rather than building the morale of the helpless Polish people,” Congressman Woodruff told members of Congress.
 
“These reports tell us that much of this propaganda follows the American Communist Party line and is designed to prepare the minds of the Polish people to accept partition, obliteration, or suppression of their nation when the fighting ends. The same is true of Yugoslavia, where. I am told, the name of the great Mihailovitch [Draža Mihailović, a Yugoslav Serb general during World War II executed by the Communists after the war] is blocked out by O. W. I. radicals.”
 
“If It is true that Communists have infiltrated into the O.W.I.’s Overseas Division and are following the party line in their propaganda to Poland, as well as other countries, then it is an outrageous violation of the faith that is reposed in Elmer Davis and Robert Sherwood. If this is not true, then the Polish people in America are entitled to have allayed the rumors which may be enemy inspired.” 1
 

 
 
 

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Congressional Record

PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 78TH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION

VOLUME 89–PART 3

APRIL 6, 1943, TO MAY 13, 1943
(PAGES 2941 TO 4388)

UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, 1943

[April 20, 1943]

3607

 

Mr. WOODRUFF of Michigan. Mr. Speaker, there Is no people for whom the American Nation has a greater sympathy than those of Poland. They have been crushed, pilloried, and persecuted from both sides of their boundaries. And every American on the battle front or on the home front wants to see the day when Poland will again be an independ- ent nation taking its place in a friendly community of nations.

For 3 years the Polish Government in exile has been working to keep morale within Poland alive against the time of liberation. But now reports are constantly reaching me and other Members of Congress that the propaganda activities of the Polish Unit ot O. W. I.’s Overseas Division are destroying rather than building the morale of the helpless Polish people.

These reports tell us that much of this propaganda follows the American Communist Party line and is designed to prepare the minds of the Polish people to accept partition, obliteration, or suppression of their nation when the fighting ends. The same is true of Yugoslavia, where. I am told, the name of the great Mihailovitch is blocked out by O. W. I. radicals.

If It is true that Communists have infiltrated into the O.W.I.’s Overseas Division and are following the party line in their propaganda to Poland, as well as other countries, then it is an outrageous violation of the faith that is reposed in Elmer Davis and Robert Sherwood. If this is not true, then the Polish people in America are entitled to have allayed the rumors which may be enemy inspired.

The best way to find this out is to have all of this propaganda made available here in the United States. The enemy knows all about it, so Americans should not be In the dark.

The press and Congress also should know the names and backgrounds of the people who have the delicate task of interpreting American ideals to foreign lands. I am informed that the man in charge of the Polish Overseas Unit of O. W. I. has not lived in Poland for 15 years and has been active in French Communist circles, coming recently to America.

 

Biographical Directory

of the

United States Congress

WOODRUFF, Roy Orchard, (1876 – 1953)

WOODRUFF, Roy Orchard, a Representative from Michigan; born at Eaton Rapids, Eaton County, Mich., March 14, 1876; attended the common schools and the high school of Eaton Rapids; apprenticed to the printing business 1891-1899; enlisted as a corporal in Company G, Thirty-third Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Infantry, during the Spanish-American War; saw active service and was mustered out; was graduated from the dental department of the College of Medicine, Detroit, Mich., in 1902 and practiced dentistry in Bay City, Mich., 1902-1911; mayor of Bay City 1911-1913; elected as a Progressive to the Sixty-third Congress (March 4, 1913-March 3, 1915); was not a candidate for renomination in 1914; served for two years in the First World War as an Infantry officer, acquiring the rank of major during his service in France; elected as a Republican to the Sixty-seventh and to the fifteen succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1921-January 3, 1953); was not a candidate for renomination in 1952 to the Eighty-third Congress; died in Washington, D.C., February 12, 1953; interment in Elm Lawn Cemetery, Bay City, Mich.

 

 

Notes:

  1. 89 Cong. Rec. (Bound) – Volume 89, Part 9 (January 6, 1943 to December 21, 1943), 3607.
V.

Voice of America History

 

Voice of America is celebrating its 70th anniversary amid devastating programming cuts being imposed by the Broadcadting Board of Governors. One of the programs scheduled for elimination are VOA radio broadcadts to Tibet. The BBG also wants to close down the VOA Cantonese Service.

The VOA HISTORY was written in the early 2000s by the VOA external affairs office.

VOA HISTORY

In 1939, the American playwright Robert Sherwood, who would become a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt and later, the “father of the Voice of America,” predicted the impact of international broadcasting when he said:

“We are living in an age when communication has achieved fabulous importance. There is a new decisive force in the human race, more powerful than all the tyrants. It is the force of massed thought-thought which has been provoked by words, strongly spoken.”

In that year, the United States was the only world power without a government-sponsored international radio service. The Netherlands had been the first country to direct regularly-scheduled broadcasts beyond its own borders, inaugurating shortwave programming to the Far East in 1927. Seeing radio as an instrument of foreign policy, the Soviet Union built a radio center in Moscow and was broadcasting in 50 languages and dialects by the end of 1930. Italy and Great Britain started their respective “empire services” in 1932, followed by France the next year. Nazi Germany built a massive network of transmitters in 1933 and began to beam hostile propaganda into Austria. The same year Berlin started shortwave broadcasts to Latin America. Meanwhile, Japan was using radio to promote its national ambitions in the Far East.

Despite the efforts of many prominent figures, including New York Congressman Emmanuel Celler (who introduced bills in 1937, 1938, and 1939 to create a government station that could respond to German propaganda), the United States entered the 1940s with no plans to establish an official U.S. presence on the international airwaves. The United States’ shortwave resources consisted of just over a dozen low-powered, commercially owned and operated transmitters.

In 1941, several of these private transmitters were leased by the U.S. Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to broadcast to Latin America. In mid-1941, President Roosevelt established the U.S. Foreign Information Service (FIS) and named speechwriter Sherwood as its first director. Driven by his belief in the power of ideas and the need to communicate America’s views abroad. Sherwood rented space for his headquarters in New York City, recruited a staff of journalists, and began producing material for broadcast to Europe by the privately-owned American shortwave stations. Sherwood also talked with officials in London about the prospect for relaying FIS material over the facilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

With Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s declaration of war against the United States, Sherwood moved into high gear. He asked John Houseman, the theatrical producer, author, and director, to take charge of FIS radio operations in New York City.

In December 1941, FIS made its first direct broadcasts to Asia from a studio in San Francisco. On February 24, 1942–just 79 days after the United States entered World War II–FIS beamed its first broadcast to Europe via BBC medium- and long-wave transmitters. Announcer William Harlan Hale opened the German-language program with the words: “Here speaks a voice from America.” The name took hold, and within a few months, it became the signature introduction on all Foreign Information Service broadcasts. From that moment, America had found its “voice” abroad. 
 

LET THE TRUTH BE TOLD

From the beginning, VOA promised to tell its listeners the truth, regardless of whether the news was good or bad. As John Houseman said later, “In reality, we had little choice. Inevitably the news that the Voice of America would carry to the world in the first half of 1942 was almost all bad. As Japanese invasions followed one another with sickening regularity and the Nazi armies moved ever deeper into Russia and the Near East, we would have to report our reverses without weaseling. Only thus could we establish a reputation for honesty which we hoped would pay off on that distant but inevitable day when we would start reporting our own invasions and victories.”

By June 1942, VOA was growing rapidly and had a new organizational home–the Office of War Information (OWI). Twenty-three transmitters had been constructed and 27 language services were on the air when the Allied summit took place in Casablanca. 
 

THE POST-WAR BLUES

As the war drew to a close, however, many of VOA’s broadcast services were reduced or eliminated. Then in late 1945, a State Department-appointed committee of private citizens chaired by Columbia University professor Arthur McMahon advised that the U.S. Government could not be “indifferent to the ways in which our society is portrayed to other countries.” Consequently, on December 31, 1945, the VOA’s and CIAA’s broadcast services to Latin America were transferred to the Department of State, and Congress reluctantly appropriated funds for their continued operation in 1946 and 1947.

The reluctant support for international broadcasting disappeared in 1948. That year, members of Congress were heavily influenced by the escalation of the Cold War and hostile international broadcasting by the Soviet Union and Soviet-controlled countries. The Berlin Blockade in 1948 confirmed the need for an American radio voice to the world. The enactment of the Smith-Mundt Act that year permanently established America’s international informational and cultural exchange programs, a function VOA had already been carrying out for the past six years on its own. 
 

A VOICE OF FREEDOM OR FEAR

For the next two years, officials in the U.S. Government debated the proper role of America’s official international broadcasting service. Was it to report the news and reflect America, or was it to be used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy and as a “weapon” against the Soviet Union? Congress saw it increasingly as fulfilling the latter role. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, VOA added new language services and developed plans to construct transmitter complexes on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

In early 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired several weeks of hearings to investigate programming and engineering practices at VOA and allegations that there were “subversives on the staff guilty of negligence favoring communism.” The inquiry also examined management practices and plans to build new VOA transmitters. While the charges of subversive activity were never proven, widespread dismissals and resignations followed. In the wake of the congressional hearings, VOA’s budget was reduced, the transmitter construction program was halted and a number of language services were terminated. 
 

A NEW BEGINNING

Even before the McCarthy hearings ended, however, a commission appointed by President Eisenhower had begun a review of U.S. foreign information activities, including the Voice of America. The commission, chaired by former President Herbert Hoover, concluded that these programs should be separated from the Department of State. On August 1, 1953, the United States Information Agency was established, and VOA became its single largest element. A year later, VOA moved its headquarters from New York City to its present site on Independence Avenue, S.W., not far from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

The crises in Hungary and Suez, the beginnings of American-Soviet summitry and the dawning of the space age in the late 1950s and the early 1960s offered new opportunities for VOA to provide reliable and comprehensive reporting of world events. New and creative programming reflecting America was introduced. In 1959, VOA inaugurated Special English-slow-paced, simplified English broadcasts-to facilitate comprehension for millions of listeners. 
 

THE STAMP OF APPROVAL

In 1960, USIA Director George Allen endorsed the VOA Charter that had been drafted by VOA staff members between 1958 and 1959 to put in writing a formal statement of principles that would govern VOA broadcasts. It reads:

The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts.

(1) VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive.

(2) VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

(3) VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

In July 1976, Representative Bela Abzug and Senator Charles Percy sponsored legislation making the VOA Charter Public Law 94-350. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation on July 12, 1976. 
 

ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE

A complete roster of the men and women who formed and nourished the Voice of America in its infancy, John Houseman recalled, “would reveal a collection of U.S.-born and foreign luminaries in their various fields-journalists, publishers, executives, actors, directors, economists, philosophers, poets, artists, musicians, educators, and financiers–of such celebrity in their past and future lives that it is almost impossible to believe they were all ever assembled under one ‘roof.'”

Twenty-five years later, former Director John Chancellor wrote, “There’s a peculiar sort of ramshackle excellence about the Voice of America. I came to work there with the standard conceptions and misconceptions of an outsider. I did think of it as a calm and dignified group of broadcasters. To my surprise, I found that I had misjudged the spirit-indeed, the clamor-that exists inside the Voice. It was like walking into a stately building to find the residents holding up the walls with broomsticks while carrying on a terrific argument. There is a fine, antic sense of madness about the place and after a year and a half of taking my turn at the broomstick, I view the Voice and its employees with a feeling of pride and affection.” He continued, “They are, to a remarkable degree, people of spirit and intelligence, whose passion is to represent the United States in the best possible manner.” 
 

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

In the 1960s and 1970s, VOA took giant steps toward becoming the world’s leading international broadcaster. During the tenure of Director Henry Loomis from 1958 to 1965, the VOA Charter was written, and technical facilities and programming for every part of the world were expanded.

When NBC newsman John Chancellor took up the reins in 1965, he promised that VOA broadcasts “would swing a little.” VOA began to produce livelier and more creative programs in both English and its language broadcasts. News-gathering resources were increased, making possible more live, on-the-scene reporting. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, nearly 800 million people were tuned to the Voice or to the hundreds of stations around the world that were relaying VOA’s live coverage. In 1977, VOA became the first international broadcaster to use a full-time satellite circuit to deliver programming from its own studios to an overseas relay station-in this case, the VOA Arabic programs from Washington to the Voice transmitters on the Greek island of Rhodes.

During Kenneth Giddens’ tenure as director from 1969 to 1977, the longest of any VOA director, VOA dramatically enhanced its credibility through its straightforward reporting of two events that traumatized the nation–the war in Vietnam and the constitutional crises posed by Watergate. VOA’s reporting not only drew praise from the American press, but also from listeners in every part of the world, as tens of thousands wrote to express their admiration for VOA’s comprehensive and objective coverage.

The cessation of Soviet and Soviet-bloc jamming, which took place throughout the Cold War; an expanding audience in China; and the introduction of new and expanded programming for listeners in Iran, Afghanistan, and Poland were opening up vast new audiences for VOA. As Giddens had predicted, however, VOA’s potential to reach an ever-increasing number of the world’s citizens was being handicapped by insufficient resources. As the 1970s came to an end, the gap between VOA’s extensive programming requirements and the level of funding had led to serious deficiencies in both personnel and facilities. Almost every language service was short-staffed. It was not unusual to find translator-announcers working two and three weeks without a day off. VOA’s antiquated studios and master control complex were breaking down with increasing frequency despite the best efforts of a dedicated technical staff skilled in fabricating spare parts no longer manufactured.

Listeners in many parts of the world were complaining that VOA signals sounded weak and distorted. By the early 1980s, many VOA transmitters were more than thirty years old and some were over forty. Few were capable of producing the 500,000-watt signals being generated by VOA’s leading competitors. And the competition itself was increasing. In the mid-1980s, some 160 stations were crowding the international spectrum with upwards of 25,000 hours of programming a week. 
 

NO BETTER TIME THAN THE PRESENT

In 1983, VOA launched a $1.3 billion program to rebuild and modernize VOA programming and technical capabilities. However, due to government-wide budget constraints at the time, VOA was forced to reduce the funds devoted to this project. Despite less funding, major new and upgraded radio transmission facilities were completed in Botswana, Morocco, Thailand, Kuwait, and Sao Tome over the next several years. In Washington, nineteen “state-of-the-art” studios were constructed, a new Master Control complex was installed and a Network Control Center was built to coordinate and direct VOA’s domestic and overseas relay transmitter stations.

In 1985, Congress established a special service to Cuba known as Radio Marti, which broadcast news of that country. Although Radio Marti followed VOA editorial guidelines, it operated separately from the Voice and had its own Washington studios. A television service, TV Marti, went on the air in 1990, and in 1996, Radio and TV Marti began to transfer their operations to Miami. The move was completed in 1998.

VOA Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts were increased in 1989 to bring tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of Chinese listeners accurate reports of the pro-democracy movement that filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the streets of dozens of Chinese cities. In the fall and winter, VOA reported the historic changes that were sweeping Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union-changes that some have ascribed, at least in part to the Voice and other western international broadcasters. And with the arrival of the 1990s, VOA Russian covered the attempted August 1991 coup against then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the same year.

Following the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) and the collapse of communist governments throughout Eastern Europe, VOA continued a daily flow of news and information to the region. All of these newly formed governments have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to embrace democracy and its underlying principles. East European leaders such as the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel asked the West to help them understand how to establish the infrastructure of democratic institutions. VOA responded with programming designed to explain how democracy works in the West and how market economies function.

While there was a great need to maintain VOA broadcasts to the C.I.S. and Eastern Europe, the Voice of America continued to provide news and information to people in other parts of the world. On March 25, 1991, VOA launched a 15-minute Tibetan program, which the Chinese government promptly started to jam. Kurdish-language broadcasts to listeners in Iraq and Iran went on the air on April 25, 1992. Somali broadcasts started on December 27, 1992, but were discontinued shortly after the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from that country.

In response to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia into several republics in 1991, VOA divided its Yugoslav Service into two separate language services–Croatian and Serbian–on February 21, 1993. Both services expanded their broadcast hours to the region and, along with VOA’s Slovene Service, maintained a constant flow of news and information to listeners in the Balkans. A Bosnian Service was added in 1996 and a Macedonian Service in 1999.

VOA also established a network of Croatian and Serbian local radio stations to carry VOA-produced programming. On October 1, 1996, Radio 101 FM began to carry VOA Croatian, making it the first station in Zagreb to include programming from an international broadcaster in its schedule. That same year, VOA Serbian increased its daily broadcasts to two and a half hours when it added a 30-minute, medium wave broadcast.

A live 15-minute VOA Bosnian “feed” service, which was transmitted to local radio stations via satellite, was established on April 22, 1996. VOA later increased the Bosnian-language program to 30 minutes and launched the direct broadcasts in Bosnian late the same year.

When the Milosevic government in Belgrade banned broadcasts of Radio B-92 and other independent local radio stations on December 3, 1996, VOA included reports on its newscasts from stringers in Belgrade, many of whom also worked for Radio B-92. Realizing that it could not stifle the flow of information, the Milosevic government allowed Radio B-92 to resume broadcasts two days later on December 5. On the same day that B-92 resumed its broadcasts, VOA began pilot simulcasts on radio and TV of its 11:30 p.m. (Serbian local time) newscast. The program is relayed by Serbian independent TV stations with a potential viewership of four million.

On July 15, 1996, the Voice of America added broadcasts in Tigrigna and Oromiffa–its 49th and 50th languages–for listeners in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Tigrigna is one of the working languages of the independent nation of Eritrea, and Oromiffa is spoken by the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. The two languages joined VOA Amharic, which has been on the air since 1982.

On the same day, VOA introduced Kirundi- and Kinyarwanda-language programming for listeners in conflict-ridden Central Africa. VOA, which was already broadcasting in English, French, and Swahili to the region, increased its audience. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the two services–VOA’s 51st and 52nd languages–went on the air on July 15, 1996 with a 30-minute weekday program. The following November they expanded the show to seven days a week and one month later increased their Saturday and Sunday programs to one hour.

VOA also established refugee hotlines in both the Balkans and Central Africa in 1996. VOA Serbian and Croatian launched their hotline on August 14, and Kirundi and Kinyarwanda on November 30. VOA language broadcasts to both regions offered listeners a means through which they could be reunited with friends and family separated by war and personal hardship.

When citizens in Tirana and other Albanian cities protested the proliferation of illegal financial schemes in February 1997, VOA Albanian broadcasts were a prime source of news for the people of that country. By March 1997, the crisis had deteriorated into civil conflict, and the Albanian government cut off VOA Albanian program feeds to local affiliate stations in Tirana, Elbasan, Gjirokaster, Shkoder, and Kukes for a short time. VOA expanded its broadcast hours both on shortwave and medium wave at the height of the crisis to provide the maximum news possible to the people of Albania.

In 1997, an agreement signed between the International Broadcasting Bureau and Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company (AsiaSat) gave the Voice of America and other U.S. Government civilian international broadcasters access to AsiaSat 2, a satellite with a footprint reaching more than sixty percent of the world’s population. Now, by satellite, VOA, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service to listeners and viewers in more than 53 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and much of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Affiliated stations and listeners and viewers using small satellite dishes are able to receive stereo radio and television programming. 
 

THE CHANGING FACE OF INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING IN THE 1990S

Starting in 1990, all U.S. Government international broadcasting services began to work more closely together. That year the U.S. Information Agency, then VOA’s parent Agency, established the Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate its three broadcasting services–the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio and TV Marti–into one cohesive and efficient element, supported by a single Office of Engineering and Technical Operations.

In 1991, the Bureau created the Office of Affiliate Relations and Audience Analysis (later renamed the Office of Affiliate Relations and Media Training in 1996) to establish and maintain a network of “affiliated” radio and TV stations around the globe that would broadcast VOA- and WORLDNET-produced programs. Today, more than 1,200 radio and TV stations receive programming through the Office of Affiliate Relations.

The Office of Business Development was established in 1994 to work with the private sector on a wide range of ventures, including the possible privatization of VOA language services, procurment of corporate underwriting for broadcasts, co-productions with major broadcast networks and fundraising from various foundations. (These initiatives benefit not only VOA, but also WORLDNET Television and Film Service and Radio and TV Marti.) From 1994 through 1996, the office raised $4 million.

U.S. Government international broadcasting was consolidated even further when President Clinton signed the International Broadcasting Act (Public Law 103-236) on April 30, 1994. The legislation established the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) within the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all non-military U.S. government international broadcasting. The Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service and Radio and TV Marti–the three federally-funded services of the former Bureau of Broadcasting–along with the Office of Engineering and Technical Services, comprise the IBB. The bipartisan BBG includes the USIA Director (ex officio) and eight members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The first Broadcasting Board of Governors was sworn in on August 11, 1995.

The BBG oversees VOA, the WORLDNET Television Service, Radio and TV Marti, and the Office of Engineering and Technical Services along with two grantee international broadcast services–Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA). (RFA was established under the 1994 legislation.) RFE/RL and RFA are private, non-profit corporations that receive annual congressionally appropriated grants from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The International Broadcasting Act also centralized the Office of Engineering and Technical Services within IBB, making it responsible for planning and maintaining broadcast facilities for VOA, WORLDNET, and Radio and TV Marti as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia. Transmitter sites that had formerly broadcast RFE/RL programs to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were integrated into a single network operated by the IBB Engineering.

In 1998, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act (Public Law 105-277), mandating the the Broadcasting Board of Governors become an independent federal entity on October 1, 1999 and giving it supervisory authority over the International Broadcasting Bureau, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia. The legislation also abolished the U.S. Information Agency, whose functions were merged into the U.S. State Department.

INNOVATIONS FOR A NEW CENTURY

Although historically an international radio broadcaster, VOA began to simulcast programs on radio and TV in the mid-1990s. The first, China Forum TV, aired on September 18, 1994. This one-hour Mandarin telecast was beamed into the Peoples’ Republic of China by satellite. Two years later, VOA’s Arabic Branch teamed up with WORLDNET Television Service and the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) in London to launch Dialogue With the West. The success of these two programs encouraged VOA, with the assistance of WORLDENT Television, to build the new TV Studio 47 at its headquarters. The first program telecast from Studio 47 on October 18, 1996 was a Farsi simulcast. Today, VOA simulcasts programming in Albanian, Bosnian, Chinese (Mandarin), English, Farsi, Serbian and Spanish.

In 1994, the Voice of America became the first international broadcaster to offer its material through the Internet. Initially, the site offered information through two simple text-based formats, and in 1996, VOA added a Web Page. Today, the VOA Web site offers the VOA newswire, program schedules (times, frequencies, and satellite circuits), VOA Chinese-language program scripts, and background information about VOA language services and other civilian U.S. Government broadcast services. The site also contains audio files for all 53 VOA language services. 
 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

VOA will continue to examine new technologies and refine its programming to reflect the needs of its listeners. One goal remains, however, for the hundreds of professionals who make up the Voice of America-to deliver comprehensive, timely truthful information. The VOA will continue to broadcast the sounds of freedom and serve as a beacon of hope for its millions of listeners around the world. 
 

VOICE OF AMERICA DIRECTORS

The Voice of America’s first organizational home was the U.S. Foreign Information Service, which later became the overseas branch of the Office of War Information. FIS’ first director was Robert E. Sherwood; Joseph Barnes was his deputy and chief of the New York Office. 
  
  

JOHN HOUSEMAN 
February 1942 – July 1943

LOUIS G. COWAN 
August 1943 – August 1945

JOHN OGILVIE 
September 1945 – January 1946

CHARLES THAYER 
January 1948 – October 1949

FOY DAVID KOHLER 
October 1949 – September 1952

ALFRED MORTON 
October 1952 – April 1953

LEONARD ERIKSON 
July 1953 – April 1954

JOHN R. POPPELE 
May 1954 – July 1956

ROBERT E. BUTTON 
July 1956 – July 1958

HENRY LOOMIS 
July 1958 – March 1965

JOHN CHANCELLOR 
August 1965 – June 1967

JOHN CHARLES DALY 
September 1967 – June 1968

KENNETH R. GIDDENS 
September 1969 – April 1977

R. PETER STRAUS 
July 1977 – October 1979

MARY BITTERMAN 
March 1980 – January 1981

JAMES CONKLING 
August 1981 – March 1982

JOHN HUGHES 
March 1982 – August 1982

KENNETH TOMLINSON 
December 1982 – September 1984

GENE PELL 
June 1985 – October 1985

RICHARD W. CARLSON 
November 1986 – September 1991

CHARLES UNTERMEYER 
September 1991 – January 1993

GEOFFREY COWAN 
March 1994 – November 1996

EVELYN S. LIEBERMAN 
March 1997 – May 1999

SANFORD J. UNGAR 
June 1999 – July 2001

ROBERT R. REILLY 
October 2001 –

This official VOA History was written in the early 2000s.

VOICE OF AMERICA LANGUAGE SERVICES

Today, VOA broadcasts in 53 languages to listeners in every world region. Other language programs are produced for transmission via satellite to foreign stations. Languages that predate February 1942 began under the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs and the Foreign Information Service.

* indicates a language currently on VOA’s broadcast schedule.

** indicates a VOA feed service, which provides VOA-produced programming to local radio stations

Afan Oromo* 1996 to present 
Afrikaans 1942 to 1949 
Albanian* 1943 to 1945; 1951 to present 
Amharic* 1982 to present 
Amoy 1941 to 1945; 1951 to 1963 
Annamese See Vietnamese 
Arabic* 1942 to 1945; 1950 to present 
Armenian* 1951 to present 
Azerbaijani* 1951 to 1953; 1982 to present 
Bangla* 1958 to present 
Bosnian* 1996 to present 
Bulgarian* 1942 to present 
Burmese* 1943 to 1945; 1951 to present 
Byelorussian 1956 to 1957 
Cambodian See Khmer 
Cantonese* 1941 to 1945; 1949 to 1963; 1987 to present 
Chinese See Mandarin and Cantonese 
Creole* 1987 to present 
Croatian* 1943 to present 
Czech* 1942 to present 
Danish 1942 to 1945 
Dari* 1980 to present 
Dutch 1944 to 1945 
English* 1942 to present 
Estonian* 1951 to present 
Farsi* 1942 to 1945; 1949 to 1960; 1964 to 1966 (radio feed service); 1979 to present 
Finnish 1942 to 1945; 1951 to 1953 
Flemish 1942 to 1945 
French* (to Africa) 1960 to present 
French (to France) 1942 to 1961 
Georgian* 1951 to present 
German 1942 to 1960; 1991 to 1993 
Greek* 1942 to present 
Gujarati 1956 to 1958 
Hakka 1951 to 1954 
Hausa* 1979 to present 
Hebrew 1951 to 1953 
Hindi* 1951 to 1953; 1954 to present 
Hungarian* 1942 to present 
Icelandic 1944 
Indonesian* 1942 to present 
Italian 1942 to 1945; 1951 to 1957 
Japanese 1942 to 1945;1951 to 1962 
Javanese See Indonesian 
Khmer* 1955 to 1957; 1962 to present 
Kirundi* 1996 to present 
Kinyarwanda* 1996 to present 
Korean* 1942 to present 
Kurdish * 1992 to present 
Lao* 1962 to present 
Latvian* 1951 to present 
Lithuanian* 1951 to present 
Malayan 1951 to 1955 
Malayalam 1956 to 1961 
Mandarin* 1941 to present 
Macedonian* 1999 to present 
Nepali 1992 to 1993 
Norwegian 1942 to 1945 
Pashto* 1982 to present 
Persian See Farsi 
Polish* 1942 to present 
Portuguese* (to Africa) 1976 to present 
Portuguese* (to Latin America) 1941 to 1945; 1946 to 1948 (contracted private radio stations to produce and transmit programs to Latin 
America); 1961 to 2001 
Portuguese (to Portugal) 1942 to 1945; 1951 to 1953; 1976 to 1987; 1987 to 1993 (VOA-produced programs for placement on local radio stations) 
Romanian* 1942 to present 
Russian* 1947 to present 
Serbian* 1943 to present 
Shanghai (Wu) 1944 to 1946 
Slovak* 1942 to present 
Slovene* 1944 to end of World War II; 1949 to present 
Somali 1992 to 1995 
Spanish* (to Latin America) 1941 to 1945; 1946 to i 948; and 1953 to 1956 (VOA contracted private radio stations to produce and transmit programs for Latin America); 1961 to present Spanish* (Radio Marti) 1985 to present 
Spanish (to Spain) 1942 to 1955; 1955 to 1993 (VOA provided placement programming for local Spanish radio stations) 
Swahili* 1962 to present 
Swatow 1951 to 1953 
Swedish 1943 to 1945 
Tagalog 1941 to 1946 
Tamil 1954 to 1970 
Tatar 1951 to 1953 
Telegu 1956 to 1958 
Thai** 1942 to 1958; 1962 to 1988; 1988 to present 
Tibetan* During 1950s on VOA Mandarin broadcasts; 1991 to present 
Tigrigna* 1996 to present 
Turkish* 1942 to 1945; 1948 to present 
Ukrainian* 1949 to present 
Urdu* 1951 to 1953; 1954 to present 
Uzbek* 1958; 1972 to present 
Vietnamese* 1943 to 1946; 1951 to present 
Wu See Shanghai

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ayish, Muhammad I. “The VOA Arabic Service: A Study of News Practices and Occupational Values.” Gazette, 40, no. 2 (1987): 121-130.

Borra Rajan. “The Problem of Jamming in International Broadcasting.” Journal of Broadcasting II, no. 4 (Fall 1967): 355-368.

Browne, Donald R. “The Voice of America Policies and Problems.” (Journalism Monographs, no. 43), Lexington, KY, Association for Education in Journalism, 1976.

Carlson, Richard W. “No More Static.” Policy Review (Winter 1988): 80-83.

Chancellor John. “The Intimate ‘Voice.'” Foreign Service Journal (February 1967): 19-22.

Coffey, Fred A. “Voice of America: A Viable Communications Instrument of Foreign Policy and National Security?” Research Paper, National War College, 1977.

Elliott, Kim A. “Too Many Voices of America.” Foreign Policy (Winter 1989/90): 113-131.

Fitzgerald, Merni Ingrassia. The Voice of America. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987.

Grey, Robin (pseud.). “Inside the Voice of America.” Columbia Journalism Review, 21 (May/June 1982): 23-30.

Handlery, G. “Propaganda and Information: The Case of U.S. Broadcasts to Eastern Europe.” East European Quarterly, 8 (January 1975): 391-412.

Houseman, John. Front and Center. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Inkeles, Alex. “The Soviet Characterization of the Voice of America.” Columbia Journal of International Affairs, 4, no. 1 (Winter 1950): 44-55.

Jurey, Philomena. A Basement Seat to History. Washington, .D.C.: Linus Press, 1995.

Kelly, Sean. “The VOA Correspondent: Journalist or Diplomat?” Foreign Service Journal, 44 (April 1978): 13-15, 39-41.

Kretzmann, Edwin M. J. “McCarthy and the Voice of America.” Foreign Service Journal, 44 (February 1967): 26-27, 44-49.

Matlack, Carol. “America’s Voice.” Government Executive, 23, no. 7 (July 1991): 10-11, 13.

McKenna, Paul R. “Vagabond Able.” (“Vagabond Able” was the S.S. Courier; a Coast Guard cutter stationed in Rhodes, Greece from 1952-1964, as a floating VOA radio station. It transmitted programs in sixteen languages to the Middle East and behind the Iron Curtain.) Naval History (Spring 1991): 25-29.

Piresein, Robert William. “An International Radio History… the VOA.” Foreign Service Journal, 44 (February 1967) 23-25; 50.

Piresein, Robert William. The Voice of America: a History of the International Broadcasting Activities of the United States Government 1940-1962. (Originally presented as the author’s thesis, Northeastern University, 1970.) New York: Arno Press, 1979.

Roberts, Chalmers M. “New Image for Voice of America.” New York Times Magazine (April 13, 1980): 107-112, 114.

Shulman, Holly C. “John Houseman and the Voice of America: American Foreign Propaganda on the Air.” American Studies (1988): 23-40.

Shulman, Holly Cowan. The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy 1941-1945. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Solzehitsyn, Aleksandr. “The Soft Voice of America.” National Review (April 30, 1982): 477-481.

“Voice of America at the Crossroads: A Panel Discussion of the Appropriate Role of the VOA.” Panel Proceedings. Washington, D.C., Media Institute (1982): 70.

Washburn, Philo C. “Voice of America and Radio Moscow Newscasts to the Third World.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 32, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 197-218.

Wada, Hadiza I. M. “Voice of America: an Inside Look at Its Africa Division.” M.A. Thesis, University of Kansas, 1989. 
  
  
 

The Voice of America–along with WORLDNET Television and Film Service, Radio and TV Marti, and the Office of Engineering and Technical Services–comprises the International Broadcasting Bureau, under the authority of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The Broadcasting Board of Governors is a nine-member board, eight of whom are presidentially appointed, that oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau and two non-profit grantee corporations-Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia. 
  
  

Produced by the 
Voice of America 
Office of External 
Affairs 
Writer/Editor 
George Mackenzie 
Art Director 
Carmelo Ciancio 
Designer 
Pat Hutteman