Voice of America 

US #1329 was issued for the 25th anniversary of VOA. Click image to order. 

On February 1, 1942, Voice of America provided its first international broadcast.

Prior to World War II, private companies ran all American-run shortwave stations.  These included the National Broadcasting Company’s International Network, which transmitted in six languages, and the Columbia Broadcasting System, with 64 stations in 18 countries.

US #1329a – VOA stamp with tagging omitted.  Click image to order. 

In 1939, the Federal Communications Commission established a new policy stating that “A licensee of an international broadcast station shall render only an international broadcast service which will reflect the culture of this country and which will promote international goodwill, understanding, and cooperation.”  This was intended as part of the State Department’s Good Neighbor policy, though some saw it as a form of censorship.

Before the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, the US Office of the Coordinator of Information was already giving war news to commercial shortwave radio stations.  This information was provided by playwright and speechwriter Robert E. Sherwood through the Foreign Information Service (FIS).  Then a week after the US entered the war in December 1941, the FIS began delivering its own broadcasts.

US #1329 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover.  Click image to order. 

After that, the FIS recognized a need to establish a permanent organization and founded Voice of America on February 1, 1942. That day they delivered their first broadcast to Germany.  That initial broadcast opened with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and was followed by a pledge: “Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war… The news may be good or bad for us – We will always tell you the truth.”  President Franklin Roosevelt personally approved the broadcast.

US #1502 from the Progress in Electronics issue.  Click image to order. 

Later in 1942, the Office of War Information took over the Voice of America’s operations.  They also came to an agreement with the British Broadcasting Corporation to share transmitters in Britain.  And as the Allies succeeded in North Africa, Italy, and the Philippines, they established transmitters there as well.  By the time the war ended, they had 39 transmitters offering service in 40 languages.  They offered over 1,000 programs, broadcast from their offices in New York and San Francisco.  These programs included news, music, and commentary.

US #1502 – Fleetwood First Day Cover.  Click image to order. 

About half of the VOA’s services were discontinued in 1945 before they were transferred to the Department of State. Two years later, they began broadcasting to the Soviet Union to combat their propaganda.  In the coming years, VOA installed a relay facility on a US Coast Guard cutter.  It was supposed to be the first in a fleet of mobile broadcasting ships, but some accused them of being pirate radio ships and the project was abandoned.

US #4199 was issued the year after Ford died.  Click image to order. 

In the 1960s and 70s, the VOA carried some of the most important news of the day overseas, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the moon landing.  In 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded the VOA its charter with its mission “to broadcast accurate, balanced, and comprehensive news and information to an international audience.”

The VOA is still in operation today as part of the US Agency for Global Media.  It provides digital, TV, and radio content in more than 40 languages transmitted around the globe.

Click here to visit the VOA website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I bought a Grundig stereo radio/record player with short wave included. I heard the Voice of America often (this was back in the 70s). By that time instead of playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, they played “Yankee Doodle” for an opening. The World Service of the BBC was really a good source of news and entertainment too. Now these stations have websites, and you get news that normally you wouldn’t hear. For instance Radio Free Asia, if you interested in what is going on there as we all should be.

    1. The VOA brought me memories during my long stay in Africa; along with the BBC, the VOA broadcasts news and commentaries as similar as PBS, always objective regardless who is or was president. The listeners are free to draw their own conclusions. Whenever there was a crises in my host country I draw heavily on the VOA to get the true facts! Thanks for bringing up the VOA, Mystic, which the overseas audience needs more than ever in this confusing world!

  2. A great story, brought back memories. I had the pleasure of touring VOA, Delano Calif. Aka Armed Forces Radio & Television Services back in late 60,s. I was in the control room with my wife when they signed on with Yankee Doodle.

    Either before or after, I can’t remember, they would start with Columbia, The Gem Of The Ocean.

    Jim, WB6RKH

  3. I remember the VOA playing: “Yankee Doodle” back when I used to listen to shortwave radio. Thank you, Steve for mentioning Grundig radio. I almost bought one, but I would have had three radios with shortwave capabilities. Currently I have three, with one being portable. The portable plus three, would have been four. I also made a map of the different countries of the world I received transmissions from. Some of the memorable places were, and may still be: South Africa, Taiwan-in Spanish, Hilversum, Holland, Radio Moscow, Havana, Cuba; to name a few. When we were in Cuba in the sixties, my parents would listen to the VOA for accurate political and international news, rather than the communist propaganda heard through the local stations. I believe they did so in secret, so that no one would know and possibly turn them in.

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