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Historical Highlights - 1940s

  • Shayan Rashid

Our Historical Highlights present a listing of significant dates and developments in VOA’s history.

Our Historical Highlights present a listing of significant dates and developments in VOA’s history. For a more detailed discussion of VOA’s overall development over the decades, visit our in-depth illustrated history chapters, which include historic audio clips and photographs. Click on the decade below to find more detailed information about that time in VOA's history.



U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the U.S. Foreign Information Service (FIS) in order to begin international radio broadcasts. Under the leadership of Robert Sherwood, the FIS is headquartered in New York City and begins to produce material for broadcast to Europe by the privately owned American shortwave stations.

December 1941

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war against the United States accelerate the growth of U.S. international broadcast efforts. Sherwood hires John Houseman, the theatrical producer, author, and director, to take charge of the FIS radio operations in New York City. FIS made its first direct broadcasts to Asia from a studio in San Francisco.

February 1, 1942

FIS makes its first broadcast to Europe via BBC medium- and long-wave transmitters. Speaking from New York City in VOA’s inaugural broadcast, announcer William Harlan Hale signs on in German saying, "Here speaks a voice from America. Everyday at this time we will bring you the news of the war. The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth."

March 1942

VOA is broadcasting a six-and-a-quarter hour block of programming, and by April VOA is on the air twenty-four hours a day and adding more languages to its broadcast schedule.

June 1942

VOA grows rapidly and has a new organizational home – the Office of War Information (OWI). Twenty-three transmitters and 27 language services are on the air when the Allied summit takes place in Casablanca.


As World War II draws to a close, many VOA language services are reduced or eliminated. A State Department-appointed committee of private citizens chaired by Columbia University professor Arthur McMahon advises the U.S. Government that it can not be "indifferent to the ways in which our society is portrayed to other countries." Consequently, on December 31, 1945, the VOA’s and Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs broadcast services to Latin America are transferred to the Department of State, and Congress reluctantly appropriates funds for their continued operation in 1946 and 1947.


The Smith-Mundt Act is enacted by Congress to establish America’s international informational and cultural exchange programs, a function that VOA has already been carrying out for the past six years on its own.

January 27, 1948

The U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, also known as the Smith-Mundt Act, is passed by Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Harry Truman, placing international overseas information activities, including VOA, under an Office of International Information at the Department of State.