John Chancellor became nationally known on NBC’s Nightly News after serving as host of the Today Show from 1961-1962. The lifelong journalist took a leave of absence from NBC when President Johnson appointed him to be the Voice of America’s director in 1965, where he served until NBC recalled him when the Middle East war erupted in June 1967.
As the 11th VOA director, Chancellor was famously quoted as saying: “There’s a peculiar kind of ramshackle excellence about the Voice of America… it was like walking into a stately building to find the residents holding up the walls with broomsticks while carrying on a terrific argument…They are, to a remarkable degree, people of spirit and intelligence, whose passion is to represent the United States in the best possible manner.”
Chancellor’s legacy includes an updated broadcast format that echoed commercial broadcasts of the time, with music and lighter features mixed in with the news reports. This is also when VOA adopted its “Yankee Doodle” station ID (earlier, VOA had used “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean”). The radio program Music Time in Africa launched under Leo Sarkisian, who had been hired by USIA Director Edward R. Murrow. Sarkisian (1921-2018) recorded most of the music himself and was an accomplished portrait artist of African musicians he interviewed. Sarkisian retired at the age of 91, but his program continues under a new host.
On the eve of his return to commercial broadcasting, Chancellor said: “Our assignment is to bring the bright dream of a new day into the dark corners of the world… that is what the Voice of America means to me.”