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Fifty Years of VOA Broadcasting in English to Africa

English to Africa Service staff members, past and present, celebrate 50 years on air
VOA marked its 50th year of broadcasting in English to Africa on November 21, with an outpouring of memories from past and present staff members, including “Music Man for Africa” Leo Sarkisian, who reflected on the service’s lasting impact.

"English to Africa's 50th birthday is a remarkable milestone, and I want to congratulate everyone who is a part in one of VOA’s most forward-leaning services,” said VOA Director David Ensor. “When English to Africa hits the ground running, it has immediate impact in places that matter.”

“Going forward, I’m confident the service will continue to build on past successes and legacies,” said Sonya Laurence Green, English to Africa service chief. “With our talented and dedicated staff, I still see great potential for growth.”

“We have come a long way,” VOA alumnus Leo Sarkisian told the 50th anniversary gathering. “I must say how lucky I’ve been and how lucky VOA has been.” Sarkisian, whose world-renowned radio program Music Time in Africa first went on air in 1965, retired just last year at age 92, handing the reins over to new host Heather Maxwell.

English to Africa first began broadcasting in 1963, with programs that focused primarily on explaining American culture and education, covering events like library openings and trade fairs. Now it’s one of VOA’s most multimedia-driven services, with a rich mix of news, discussion, and music programs.

“English to Africa was one of the first language services at VOA that was a truly multimedia operation, doing TV, radio, online, and simulcast programs,” said Rebecca McMenamin, VOA’s associate director of language programming and former English to Africa service chief. “I want to say congratulations to what has been a legacy of innovation in English to Africa.”

From Shaka Ssali’s interactive TV program Straight Talk Africa, to the radio show South Sudan in Focus, to the long-running Music Time in Africa, English to Africa’s diverse lineup matches its diverse audience across the continent.

English to Africa programming airs in 19 countries in Anglophone Africa, through direct broadcasts on TV, radio, and the web, as well as on 176 affiliate stations across the continent. The latest audience research polls show that more than 25 million people listen to or watch VOA English to Africa programs weekly.