When RFE was in the air as well as on the air.

Posted: 14 Oct 2009

"In 1989, the most crucial moment in the country’s modern history occurred in then Czechoslovakia, when the Iron Curtain fell. The country is now preparing to commemorate the events that set the nation free. ... The National Museum will host an exhibition ‘Bee Free’. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of the former communist regime - including a hot-air [sic] balloon from which Radio Free Europe dropped anti-communist pamphlets across former Czechoslovakia, or even a typical apartment of that time period." Travel Video News, 13 October 2009.
     "Herbert A. Friedman of has written an extensive piece on Radio Free Europe's Cold War-era 'leaflet campaign' over central and eastern Europe during the 1950s. Friedman writes that the 'leaflets were a major part of the post-WWII psychological warfare battle between East and West...the operation sent 590,415 balloons that carried 301,636,883 leaflets, posters, books, and other printed matter from West Germany over the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland from August 1951 to November 1956.'" Alex Mayer, Off Mic, RFE/RL, 6 October 2009, with link to the undated Friedman article.
     "In mid-October 1989, Radio Free Europe was celebrating the opening of its newest bureau in Budapest, Hungary. It was quite a feat for a network that, not so long ago, had to overcome jamming of its frequencies and intimidation of local correspondents, who filed reports over the phone or through secret messengers. Established at the beginning of the Cold War, Radio Free Europe was modeled after RIAS, a U.S. government-sponsored radio service for Germans living in the American sector of Berlin. With its mission for free speech and the capitalist way, the network had earned loyal listeners, some of whom credited it with keeping hope alive during some dark times. ... While Radio Free Europe could operate freely in Budapest, so could others. 'They have a lot to do these days to compete with Hungarian radio,' student Andrew Deak told the Journal. 'The Hungarian [radio] reporters seem better informed and more critical about about what's going on here." The British Broadcasting Corp. and the U.S. State Department's Voice of America had begun broadcasting over Hungarian airwaves.'" Wall Street Journal, 14 October 2009.
     "Forced to scrape by alongside booming postwar Western economies, the Communist states (particularly East Germany) had their noses rubbed in their failure on a daily basis. Media, from Western propaganda efforts like Voice of America to TV and radio intended for Western European audiences but picked up by audiences behind the Iron Curtain, made the superior consumer goods and political freedoms of the West common knowledge and the subject of much envy and yearning." Laura Miller, Salon, 14 October 2009.
     Some of the history above needs revising. RIAS may have been created for West Berliners, but its mission and audience came to be concentrated on and in East Germany. Even in its early days, I think RFE's audience tuned in for news rather than lectures about "the capitalist way." VOA was not "the State Department's" after 1953. Over the years, VOA became less of a "propaganda effort" and more of a source of reliable news, the latter being the main reason people listened.

Copyright 2006–2020 Kim Andrew Elliott.