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Henry Loomis (1958 – 1965)

VOA Director Henry Loomis (1958 – 1965)
VOA Director Henry Loomis (1958 – 1965)

A decorated U.S. Navy veteran, experienced government official, and son of a Depression-era tycoon-turned-scientist, Henry Loomis served an influential and long term as director of Voice of America, from 1958 to 1965.

Loomis’s father Alfred supported early research into radar detection systems and nuclear physics. As World War II approached, Henry dropped out of Harvard University to join the Navy, where he was in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. He became an instructor in radar training school and later served as a radar officer. He taught senior officers to operate a radar system that had been developed at his father’s laboratory. (Harvard later awarded him his undergraduate degree in physics, crediting his work in the Navy.) After the war, he continued his work in physics at the University of California at Berkeley. Before being named Voice of America director, he worked with the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department.

During his time at the Voice of America, Loomis oversaw a number of transformative events, including the adoption of the first version of the Voice of America Charter (called a directive), signed by President Eisenhower. It was the first presidential commitment to “accurate, objective and comprehensive news” at VOA. Additionally, Loomis implemented Special English, an early iteration of VOA’s Learning English program, to encourage the use of English worldwide. Launched in 1959, it used a limited vocabulary of 1,500 words delivered at a slow, deliberate pace to increase comprehension in listeners. The public affairs programs Press Conference USA and Issues in the News started, and they continue today. Perhaps the most well-known program launch was Music USA, which included Willis Conover and his incomparably popular Jazz Hour.

Loomis resigned as VOA director in 1965 as a protest after resisting Johnson administration demands to limit full and comprehensive Vietnam war coverage. Listen to this Special English (now Learning English) biography and obituary of Director Loomis, including excerpts from his VOA resignation speech: