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Charles Thayer (1948-1949)

VOA Director Charles Thayer (1948 - 1949)
VOA Director Charles Thayer (1948 - 1949)

Charles W. Thayer, son of a Philadelphia society family, served as Voice of America’s Director from 1948-1949. Thayer’s career in diplomacy began with a leap of faith, when he travelled to Russia without any prior knowledge of the country or the language, with the belief that being in the right place at the right time would yield a position at a new, not-yet-confirmed U.S. embassy in Moscow. His big risk paid off, sparking a diplomatic career that would lead him across the world, and learning to speak no fewer than nine languages. Aside from English, he was fluent in Russian, French, German, and Spanish, and was skilled in Italian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Slovene, and Farsi. His talent for languages, strong work ethic, and “ready wit” led him to continuing to advance in rank, eventually becoming the chargé d'affaires, the second in command, of the new U.S. Legation (later Embassy) in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1942.

In 1948, he was named Director of the Voice of America, where he had just established the Russian Service in February 1947. The Smith-Mundt Act was passed in the early days of his directorship. That legislation authorized continued VOA broadcasting with the proviso that VOA broadcasts were to be directed solely to external audiences. Thayer believed strongly in VOA’s mission, writing in his book Diplomat that international broadcasting and the foreign information program “are essential to our defense. That it will develop into a powerful auxiliary arm of American diplomacy depends on whether its leaders and Congress understand its proper role, its limitations, and its need not for numbers (of Staff) but for qualified personnel.”

Thayer returned to the Foreign Service after his time at Voice of America, serving in several consular positions in Germany until 1953. He was forced to resign from government service through the efforts of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare and Lavender Scare campaigns. A prolific author, he remains the only VOA director to have written fairly regularly for Sports Illustrated, usually about hunting.