Born and raised in Boston, Richard “Dick” Carlson moved to Los Angeles, California in 1962 to become a reporter and writer. For 14 years Carlson worked in print and ABC television in southern California. In 1985, dissatisfied with future prospects, Carlson spoke with a friend who suggested he move to Washington, DC, and recommended him to the White House. He became public liaison for the U.S. Information Agency under Director Charles Wick.
Wick soon tapped him to be VOA director, and after serving in an acting capacity for a year and a half Carlson was confirmed by the Senate as the 20th director of the Voice of America. While he strongly advocated for straight journalism and did not believe there was a place for partisanship at VOA, he did believe in presenting the administration’s perspective through the editorials begun during James Conkling’s tenure. “We offer a rationale for the view which is held by the administration. But we are not weaving it into our news coverage,” he explained. Carlson also hosted a weekly foreign policy radio show called On the Line that was designed to explain an aspect of U.S. foreign policy. “I thought that was a legitimate use of the government’s airwaves and it certainly had a policy objective to it,” Carlson said, “but the news was as sacrosanct as we could make it.”
Other significant aspects of Carlson’s term as director included opening a Moscow bureau and coverage of the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations in 1989, the end of Soviet jamming, and establishment of the Creole Service. He also oversaw the newly-launched Radio Martí broadcasting to Cuba.
He subsequently served for two years as U.S. Ambassador to the Seychelles and then was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He remained there for five years, overseeing partial funding for public television and radio stations and providing seed money for programming initiatives. Later, Ambassador Carlson served as President and CEO of King World Public Televisions (syndicator of Oprah, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy), and subsequently vice chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies for eight years.