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Modernizing in the 1980s

Modernizing in the 1980's

In the early 1980s, VOA launched a $1.3 billion program to rebuild and modernize VOA programming and technical capabilities. These efforts were indeed long overdue.

President Ronald Reagan said in 1984: “The Voice of America has been a strong voice for the truth. Despite problems of antiquated equipment and Soviet jamming, the Voice of America has been able to extend its message of truth around the world…. And that’s why our administration has made the same kind of commitment to modernizing the Voice of America that President Kennedy brought to the space program.”

Despite less funding, due to government-wide budget constraints, major new and upgraded radio transmission facilities were completed overseas. In Washington, nineteen "state-of-the-art" studios were constructed, a new Master Control complex was installed and a Network Control Center was built to coordinate and direct VOA's domestic and overseas relay transmitter stations.

Programming Innovations

VOA ushered in the '80s by inaugurating broadcasting in the Dari language to Afghanistan in September 1980, nine months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Broadcasting to Afghanistan in another local language, Pashto, followed in 1982.

During this time, VOA started airing U.S. government editorials. Previously, VOA had aired news analyses written by the Current Affairs Division. Starting in 1982, those commentaries were renamed “editorials”, removed from Current Affairs, and placed in the separate Office of Policy. To this day, all language services air editorials that state U.S. policy and are clearly separated from news programming by audio cues.

As the decade came to an end, VOA covered more major world crises. VOA expanded Mandarin and Cantonese broadcasts and frequencies in 1989 to bring tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of Chinese listeners accurate reports of the pro-democracy movement that filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square and the streets of dozens of other cities. VOA opened a special “hot line” for phone tips from China. Despite jamming, VOA news successfully reached Chinese audiences as youths recorded VOA broadcasts and played them on their boom boxes.

In the fall and winter of that same year, VOA reported the historic changes that were sweeping Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union — changes that some have ascribed, at least in part, to the Voice and other Western international broadcasters.