Reductions and Eliminations in the Language Services
As the war drew to a close, many of VOA's broadcast services were reduced or eliminated. In late 1945, VOA was transferred to the Department of State. By April 1946, VOA had lost nearly two-thirds of its broadcasting staff, and broadcasting was cut from over forty to twenty-three languages. Congress reluctantly appropriated funds for their continued operation in 1946 and 1947.
The reluctant support for international broadcasting disappeared with the escalation of the Cold War and hostile international broadcasting by the Soviet bloc and the Berlin Blockade in 1948. The enactment of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act, better known as the Smith-Mundt Act, that year authorized the secretary of state to “provide for preparation and dissemination abroad of information about the United States, its people, and its policies through press, publication, radio, motion pictures and other information media….”
A Voice of Freedom or Fear
For the next two years, officials in the U.S. government debated the proper role of VOA. Was it to report the news and reflect America, or was it to be used as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy and as a "weapon" against the Soviet Union? Congress saw it increasingly as fulfilling the latter role. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, VOA added new language services and developed plans to construct transmitter complexes on both the east and west coasts of the United States. By mid-1951, VOA’s broadcasts expanded to forty-five languages, and nearly 400 hours weekly on the air. In early 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired several weeks of hearings to investigate programming and engineering practices at VOA and allegations that there were "subversives on the staff guilty of negligence favoring communism." While the charges of subversive activity were never proven, widespread dismissals and resignations followed. In the wake of the congressional hearings, VOA's budget was reduced, the transmitter construction program was halted and a number of language services were terminated.
A New Beginning
Even before the McCarthy hearings ended, however, a commission appointed by President Eisenhower had begun a review of U.S. foreign information activities, including the Voice of America. The commission, chaired by former President Herbert Hoover, concluded that these programs should be separated from the Department of State. On August 1, 1953, the United States Information Agency was established, and VOA became its single largest element. A year later, VOA moved its headquarters from New York City to its present site on Independence Avenue, S.W., not far from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
In its new home, VOA enhanced its news operations and diversified English features. One of the most popular new programs was Music USA, particularly the broadcast's second half — Jazz Hour, hosted by Willis Conover, America’s premier jazz expert. Music USA soon became immensely popular behind the Iron Curtain. During his four decades with VOA, Conover recorded more than 10,000 shows and interviewed numerous music greats, including Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Irving Berlin, Billie Holliday, and Duke Ellington.
In 1959, VOA inaugurated Learning English - slow-paced, simplified English broadcasts — to facilitate comprehension for millions of listeners. Learning English programs quickly became some of the most popular on VOA, and they retain that status today. Visit the Learning English web page for information about how VOA helps people master American English.
The closing of the decade brought increased efforts to enshrine VOA’s broadcast principles in a formal document, thus affirming VOA’s independence and credibility.