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"Remember, the Iron Curtain is not soundproof"


Jazz musician and bandleader William "Count" Basie (left) visits the RFE studios during his 1956 European tour. Jazz, which the Soviets dismissed as capitalistic, was an important component of the Radios' programming.

Jazz musician and bandleader William "Count" Basie (left) visits the RFE studios during his 1956 European tour. Jazz, which the Soviets dismissed as capitalistic, was an important component of the Radios' programming.

We've found and dusted off a few old Cold War-era RFE/RL public service announcements and and film clips, which we managed to dig up from Stanford University's Hoover Institution and YouTube. They provide some illuminating historical perspective on what RFE/RL's operations were like during the first few decades of the Cold War. We think they're pretty entertaining, and we're pretty sure you will too:
Ronald Reagan's 1955 "Crusade For Freedom" PSA
In this PSA from 1955, a young Ronald Reagan explains the mission of Radio Free Europe, and encourages Americans to contribute to the "Crusade for Freedom." The Crusade was a donation drive run by the National Committee for a Free Europe during the 1950s which, in the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sought to "fight the big lie with the big truth."


Also: note that the address shown on the large sample letter, which Reagan holds up to let viewers know where to send in their donations, contains no numbers. U.S. postal ZIP codes were not introduced until the 1960s.

Radio Free Europe Advertisement (1971)
This 30-second television spot highlights a young Hungarian journalist and his "news with a beat" broadcasts to his countrymen in communist Hungary:


This Is Radio Free Europe (1964)
This 30-minute film gives a fascinating look at Radio Free Europe’s day-to-day operations, audience research, technical production and transmission capabilities in the early 1960s.


Highlights:

  • Clips of broadcasters reading the news in various languages, including Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, and Bulgarian (2:20-3:15).
  • From 13:00 to 14:20, you can see a video clip of the the "American-Exile Planning Board" meetings, which were held every morning. We still have daily Editorial Meetings, though they do look a little different nowadays.
  • A clip of a Polish pianist playing his "original RFE composition, based on a Polish folk song" live in an RFE studio (15:47-16:21).
  • The closing line -- "Remember, the Iron Curtain isn't soundproof. Radio Free Europe gets the truth through." (26:47)

The Most Incredible Challenge (1965)
A far more emotionally evocative and artistic effort than This Is Radio Free Europe, this 30-minute film warns of the danger that the creeping communist threat poses to the free world, and especially the American way of life. After describing the sinister nature of the communist enemy, the narrator says: "In an era where war is unthinkable, perhaps the only recourse against such opponents is to change them -- the most incredible challenge of all."


The film then goes on to describe the "heroic, selfless" efforts of Radio Liberty employees who broadcast uncensored news, commentary, and analysis to the Soviet Union:

"Indeed, Soviet listeners can get more news programming from Radio Liberty than from all other Soviet stations combined. But its not only news -- it's commentary and analysis too. For the right to know requires a free forum for ideas. Radio Liberty provides this forum by helping listeners to think for themselves, by providing facts and insights denied them by their rulers." (15:40)

Also of interest is the film's description of the upside of Soviet efforts to jam Radio Liberty's signal:
"Jamming. Around the clock. More than 200 Soviet stations worth...but jamming has its benefits too. It excites listener curiosity about programs being jammed, increases suspicion of the authorities' motives for jamming, and supports the people's faith in what Radio Liberty has to say." (23:05-23:40)

The film ends with rousing music accompanied by an on-screen quotation from the New Testament: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32)"


For more vintage photos of RFE/RL operations, check out our "History" slideshow.

--Alex Mayer and Zach Peterson

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