With the words, “Hello! This is New York calling,” the U.S. Voice of America (VOA) begins its first radio broadcasts to the Soviet Union. The VOA effort was an important part of America’s propaganda campaign against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The VOA began in 1942 as a radio program designed to explain America’s policies during World War II and to bolster the morale of its allies throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. After the war, VOA continued as part of America’s Cold War propaganda arsenal and was primarily directed toward the western European audience. In February 1947, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union. The initial broadcast explained that VOA was going to “give listeners in the USSR a picture of life in America.” News stories, human-interest features, and music comprised the bulk of the programming. The purpose was to give the Russian audience the “pure and unadulterated truth” about life outside the USSR. Voice of America hoped that this would “broaden the bases of understanding and friendship between the Russian and American people.”
By and large, the first program was a fairly dry affair. Much of it dealt with brief summaries of current events, discussions of how the U.S. budget and political system worked, and a rousing analysis of a “new synthetic chemical substance called pyribenzamine.” Music on the program was eclectic, ranging from “Turkey in the Straw” to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” In addition, due to bad weather and technical difficulties, the sound quality for the Russian audience was generally poor. According to U.S. officials in the Soviet Union, Russians rated the program “fair.”
VOA broadcasts into Russia did improve somewhat over the years, primarily because music played an increasingly prominent role. U.S. observers had discovered that the Soviet people’s appetite for American music, particularly jazz, was nearly insatiable. How many Russians actually ever heard the broadcasts is uncertain, but reports from behind the Iron Curtain indicated that many VOA programs, specifically the music segments, were eagerly awaited each night. By the 1960s, VOA was broadcasting to every continent in several dozen languages. Today, VOA continues to operate, bringing “Life in America” to the world. And with “Radio Marti,” which is aimed at communist Cuba, it continues its Cold War tradition.