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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Radio Praga, Radio Moscow, BBC, Voice of America
Created by John Eipper on 01/21/20 6:09 AM

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Radio Praga, Radio Moscow, BBC, Voice of America (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 01/21/20 6:09 am)

Our esteemed moderator asked me about Radio Praga after WWII.

Following my wartime experience with the enemy BBC broadcasting, which opened with the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven (tun tun tun tuuun), I tried to listen as much as possible to many other radio networks, no matter if friend or foe. In particular, I listened during my long days at sea.

Radio Praga (Radio Prague) broadcasted from the small town of Podebrady, 30 KM from Prague.

It was essentially the official voice of the Italian Communist Party, of course also of "peace, well-being and truth." The transmission was in the evening, both in medium- and shortwaves. It also transmitted at noon on Sundays. Shamefully it dared to open with the melody of "Va Pensiero" by Giuseppe Verdi, a glorious musical symbol of the Italian Risorgimento (resurgence).

Radio Moscow instead was the voice of the Soviet Empire, with much less detail about internal Italian politics. It was dedicated to foreign policy and the Soviet "paradise." However I very much appreciated their excellent classical musical programs. When the USSR imploded, the political propaganda slowed down, but the worst decline had to do with the musical programming. Apparently to show that they were now democratic the lousiest modern Western music was sent through the air.

Radio Moscow at its peak broadcasted in 75 languages, while Radio China International broadcasted in 65, the Voice of America 42 and the BBC 38.

However The Voice of America had an excellent program in "Special English" in a very limited but understandable vocabulary. It was even possible to acquire a book in which all the words were listed. Moreover the speaker spoke very slowly, and any listener with even a basic knowledge of the language could understand. It was the best example of outstanding communication (and propaganda).

From the Communist side there was also Radio China International, which started its Italian transmissions with "Vi Parla Tirana" (Tirana speaks to you). The transmissions came from Albania and were mostly a joke, presenting only exaggerated wonderful versions of the situations.  According to it Albania was the most advanced and well-off nation in the world, especially in the 1960s and '70s. It was pro-China and against both the West and the Soviet Union.

The West was mostly answering through the BBC. It was probably the most reliable, even outstanding when it accused the Israeli forces during the 1967 war of taking away the shoes of the Egyptian soldiers in the desert, letting them go free, but in reality free to die in the hot sand and without supplies. All the other Western radio networks instead spoke of Israeli magnanimity to the surrendering forces. After the BBC broadcast, the rescue of the poor stranded Egyptians was arranged. The other principal networks of the West were the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

If the Eastern broadcasts were mostly lousy propaganda, the West also offered propaganda, with some astonishing consequences.

For instance, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty during the Hungarian insurgence in the fall of 1956 was broadcasting encouragement to keep fighting, letting the Hungarians believe that the West would not leave them to their fate. The insurgents believed this and were wiped out by the Warsaw Pact forces.

The Voice of America had different broadcasts for Europe, Africa, Asia, etc. So during the massacres in Congo after its independence from Belgium in 1960, the Voice of America for Europe supported the persecuted Europeans there, while the Voice of America for Africa was supportive of the independent African guerrillas. Someone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean could easily listen to both broadcasts.

JE comments: Eugenio, your shortwave radio must have kept you connected while on the High Seas. Singularly so, as there was a great variety of transmissions to choose from.

Our beloved WAIS, as most readers know, has a direct antecedent in shortwave radio. In the mid 1950s, Prof. Hilton's KGEI "University of the Air" broadcast as far as Argentina.  Prof. H claimed that at its height, the audience reached 500,000.  Hundreds of listener letters are housed in the RH archives at the Hoover Institution.

I had nearly forgotten that during the Cold War, Albania was the only European country in the Chinese "orbit."  Has this historical relationship yielded any benefits for Albania today?  Perhaps Tom Hashimoto, who for a time was possibly the only Japanese person living in Tirana, can fill us in.


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  • Voice of America's Broadcasts in Simple English (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/22/20 3:44 AM)
    A postscript to my post of January 21st.  In the good old days, the US book of "Special English" was given free of charge. It is probably now no longer available.

    Such an intelligent book and the accompanying broadcasts were great tools to expand very very softly the Empire.


    JE comments:  The "muscular" new America no longer seems interested in effete gestures of soft power.  Meanwhile, China is filling the void with its Confucius Institutes at many of the world's universities.  I still sense that the world's masses would rather learn English than Chinese, but might this mood be slowly changing?

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