Shortwave Radio and the Voice of America

International propaganda is information disseminated by a nation to influence the
understanding of people in other nations about causes, activities and political positions.

Shortwave is a radio frequency spectrum that allows the international transmission of radio signals as they reflect off the ionosphere, a high layer in the atmosphere 100 miles above Earth's surface, to be received at distant places on our planet. Broadcasters use shortwave radio to send their program content to people around the globe. It has been used mostly by governments in the past eight decades to distribute propaganda.

BBC Arabic language service

Shortwave radio signals from the Netherlands were received in Indonesia.

Philips shortwave radio receiver 1931

Missionary shortwave radio station HCJB began broadcasting from Ecuador.

HCJB's Reuben Larson broadcasting in 1946

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started transmitting its "Empire Service" by shortwave radio to the world. Today it's known as "BBC World Service" and also transmits television and online programming.   BBC News»

The BBC Empire Service London Calling

Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, propaganda minister for Germany's Third Reich broadcast to the United States via shortwave.

German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels

The U.S. Office of War Information broadcast news to overseas forces via shortwave radio.

U.S. Office of War Information radio poster

The Voice of America (VOA) went on the air 79 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's first broadcasts were beamed to Europe from British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) transmitters.   VOA News»

President Eisenhower broadcasting at VOA

At the end of World War II, many VOA broadcasts were eliminated and its operations were transferred to the Department of State.

VOA logo

Support for U.S. international broadcasting grew along with the Cold War and hostile broadcasting from the Soviet Union at the time of the Berlin Blockade. The United States government enacted an "Information and Educational Exchange Act" (the Smith-Mundt Act) that authorized the secretary of state to "provide for preparation and dissemination abroad of information about the United States."

Globe With Earphones

The U.S. government started Radio Free Europe (RFE) to transmit news, information, and analysis via shortwave to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.   RFE News»

Radio Free Europe

The U.S. government added Radio Liberty (RL) to its RFE shortwave broadcast propaganda operations after "Radio Liberation" was proposed by the CIA-backed organization "American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia." Radio Liberty drew its first large audience when it covered the death of Joseph Stalin.   RL News»

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty
1953 The United States Information Agency (USIA) was created for "public diplomacy," including international shortwave broadcasting.

USIA seal

North Carolina had a key role in propagating American ideals with the Voice of America transmitter site at Greenville the most powerful international broadcaster in the world. The transmitting complex had three sites forming a triangle around the city of Greenville. Two of the sites housed nine transmitters – three of 500,000 watts, three of 250,000 watts, and three of 50,000 watts. The third site was a receiver site and administrative offices. The sites covered 6,193 acres and employed 100 people working around the clock. That doubled the VOA's total transmitter power. The main target areas for the Greenville shortwave broadcasts were Latin America, Cuba, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Greenville NC map

The U.S. government established Radio Marti in Miami, Florida, to transmit Spanish radio broadcasts to Cuba.

Radio Marti

In support of refurbishing the VOA, President Ronald Reagan said, "The Voice of America has been a strong voice for the truth. Despite problems of antiquated equipment and Soviet jamming, the Voice of America has been able to extend its message of truth around the world."

Soviet music jammers

The U.S. government established TV Marti to send news and current affairs programming to Cuba. It was named after Cuban independence leader Jose Marti.

Radio TV Marti

The U.S. government started Radio Free Asia (RFA) as a "private" radio station established by the United States Congress and funded by the federal government. It broadcasts news to countries in Asia.   RFA News»

Radio Free Asia

BBC America launched as an American television network available on cable and satellite.

BBC America

The USIA established a Bureau of Broadcasting to consolidate the Voice of America, WORLDNET Television and Film Service, and Radio and TV Marti. An "International Broadcasting Act" established an "International Broadcasting Bureau" (IBB) in the USIA, and created a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with oversight authority over all non-military U.S. government international broadcasting. The "Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act" made the Broadcasting Board of Governors an independent federal entity with supervisory authority over the International Broadcasting Bureau, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia. Eventually the USIA was abolished with its functions merged into the U.S. State Department.

Broadcasting Board of Governors

World Wide Internet TV (WWiTV) begins linking listeners to international broadcasters that are streaming programming on the Internet.   WWiTV»


Changing listening habits led the BBC World Service to stop shortwave radio transmissions to North America and Australasia.

BBC World Service

Once an extraordinarily powerful outreach tool for nations everywhere, shortwave radio is fading. International broadcasters today use satellites and cable TV for direct broadcasting, Web sites with news, entertainment and streaming audio and video, Facebook pages and Twitter tweets to reach distant audiences. At the Voice of America and most other national shortwave stations around the globe, one over-the-air language service after another has been closed down. Like most other mass media, shortwave media are converging onto the Internet. The BBC, VOA, Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale, Radio Australia, China Radio International and most other international broadcasters have Web and Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

VOA special English app

Many nations are cutting back on the use of analog technology for shortwave broadcasts over the air so they can deliver digital programming over the Internet. The Voice of America has one remaining transmitter site near Greenville, North Carolina. That last of three original VOA sites near Greenville is Site B, also known as the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Center. VOA is experimenting with digital transmission modes. The program is called VOA Radiogram. Many listeners are receiving and decoding it.
For samples of the program content:

VOA Radiogram

News: BBC VOA France Australia Germany China RFE RFA Marti
Facebook: BBC VOA France Australia Germany China RFE RFA Marti
Twitter: BBC VOA France Australia Germany China RFE RFA Marti
Shortwave Radio Station Websites

Learn more: International Broadcasters
Voice of America
VOA Greenville
VOA Bethany
VOA Dixon
VOA Delano
VOA other sites

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© 2013 Dr. Anthony Curtis, Mass Communication Dept., University of North Carolina at Pembroke    910.521.6616    e-mail    home page
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