UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING SERVICES DURING THE COLD WAR

"They are jointly known as the 'black heavens'...historians have still to elucidate fully the vital role played by these Western radio stations."
-- Karl Nepomnyaschi. A correspondent during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.



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  • By the end of 1945, the United States government was debating the value of continuing Voice of America (VOA) services now that World War II was over. Many deemed the radio station a weapon of war, and no longer a necessary part of foreign policy. However,the actions of one of the United States' World War II allies reincarnated U.S. government international broadcasts.

    The Soviet Union made it apparent after WWII that it intended to extend its reaches across all of Eastern Europe. The Soviets rapidly transformed from an American ally to a Communist enemy. In 1947, VOA once again expanded coverage to include a Russian language service. The U.S. government was optimistic that radio would be as successful penetrating the "Iron Curtain" as it had been in undermining German efforts in World War II.

    By 1949, extreme fear of a communist infiltration was running rampant in the United States government. That year, Congress passed the Central Intelligence Agency Act. Aside from establishing the CIA, this act also set forth plans for a new public diplomacy project -- a new radio service. An organization called the National Committee for a Free Europe was designed to handle the concerns of Eastern European exiles. With secret funding from the CIA, this group created Radio Free Europe (RFE) in 1950. The station began broadcasting in July of that year from a transmitter in Germany.

    Three years later, Radio Liberty (originally named Radio Liberation from Bolshevism) was developed by a similar group of exiles. This service was put on the air to target the Soviet Union. Also broadcasting from Germany, the Radio Liberty (RL) signal was jammed by Soviet leaders from day one.

    Jamming is described by VOA as broadcasting noise, programming, or any other source of interference on the same frequency as a signal. During the Cold War, this technology was used by the Soviet government to prevent American radio signals from reaching its citizens

    Over 30 years of radio wars passed before the United States government implemented another station. In 1985, the United States began to battle the closest communist threat -- Cuba and Fidel Castro. This Spanish-language service named Radio Marti continues to broadcast to the island nation from a radio tower transmitter in the Florida Keys. Castro learned from Soviet policy and commenced jamming of the signal from the first day of broadcast.

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