Tag Archives: VOA

Voices from the Field: André de Nesnera

André de Nesnera in the VOA news room, Washington, D.C.

“In 1986 I was in East Berlin, on my way to a meeting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).   I met a Canadian man, Jim Worrall, who was attending the meeting as part of the Canadian delegation to the IOC.  Worrall also attended the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin 50 years earlier as Canada’s flag bearer. The 1936 Olympics was the Olympics that Hitler used to promote the Third Reich.  This was the Olympics in which Jesse Owens competed as an African American man in Nazi Germany.

1936 Berlin Olympics, photo courtesy of German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project.

I took Worrall back to the stadium in West Berlin, the original stadium that was used in 1936. We went, and he started to reminisce. He pointed out where Hitler stood during the opening ceremony, and he talked about what it felt like to be in Germany at the time, before the war began. He was emotional, and there were tears.  It was a stream-of-consciousness and quite remarkable.  I had a small tape recorder at the time.  I turned it into a radio story.  It was really well-received because it was such a unique story. I’d trade top-notch interviews for moments like that.”


André de Nesnera is an award-winning journalist that has worked as a reporter for Voice of America for more than three decades in Europe and domestically in the United States.  In 2002, U.S. Foreign Service officers honored de Nesnera with the Tex Harris Award for Constructive Dissent for resisting political pressure from State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher and other U.S. officials after VOA ran excerpts of a 2001 interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Taliban leader at the time. The story also earned de Nesnera a Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism from the University of Oregon.  He currently serves as a Senior Correspondent at VOA.

Somali Journalist, Nuxurkey, killed in Mogadishu Suicide Car bombing

A moment of silence observed for Mohamed Ali Nuxurkey

A moment of silence was observed today at BBG headquarters, to honor the life of Somali journalist Mohamed Ali Nuxurkey, who was killed Monday in a suicide car bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia. City officials say at least 10 people, including the reporter, were killed in the blast, which happened near the National Theater.  Nuxurkey worked for VOA’s bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, sending sound bites on breaking news from Somalia for radio reports.  He was not on assignment for VOA when he was killed.

A police spokesman, Abdullahi Hassan Bariise, informed VOA’s Somali Service that the suicide bomber was targeting a car transporting the city’s security chief and several other intelligence officials, but instead hit a mini-bus. Several schoolchildren in the mini-bus and bystanders on the sidewalk, including Nuxurkey, were killed by the blast.

The militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the explosion. Mogadishu has been trying to return to normal since al-Shabab was driven out  in 2011, but militants still carry out periodic suicide attacks and kidnappings.

Nuxurkey joined VOA in November, and was working with the agency to improve his English and scriptwriting in the hope of becoming a stringer in Mogadishu.  He also worked as a producer for Radio Muqbal and was previously employed by Radio Kulmiye as well as Horn Afrik TV and Radio. Colleagues have called him smart, ambitious, professional and a pleasure to work with.  He is survived by a wife and a child.


You can read more about Nuxurkey at VOANews.com



John Houseman: First Director of VOA

John Houseman was a film and radio star whose 50-year media career included masterpieces in the golden age of film, the second golden age of television with “The Paper Chase” and one of the most famous radio broadcasts in American history, “The War of the Worlds.”

Lesser known in America, but even more important is that Houseman was the first director of the Voice of America. He didn’t make it to the Internet Age but his role in the creation of a news and information radio service directed at the people of the Axis countries left a lasting legacy at the now 71-year old VOA. Alan L. Heil, in Voice of America, describes Houseman as one of the early individuals “that forged the soul of Voice of America.”

But it wasn’t an easy job. The beginning of World War II didn’t go so well for the United States. The December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor led to the conquest of Burma, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Singapore as well as the near destruction of shipping in the Atlantic. Things looked bleak but VOA stood by its principles to tell foreign audiences the facts, honestly and objectively. At the 40th anniversary of Voice of America, Houseman himself remarked, “…we would have to report our reverses without weaseling. Only thus could we establish a reputation for honesty that we hoped would pay off on that distant but inevitable day when we would start reporting our own invasions and victories.”

Walter Roberts, now 97, who started work in 1942 for VOA’s Austrian service, agreed. He echoed the first VOA broadcast in an interview earlier this year: “The news may be good for us. It may be bad. But we shall always tell the truth. That was very important to all of us.”

That tradition lives on today.

“The journalistic integrity and reputation for honest reporting that John Houseman brought to the Voice of America as its first director in 1942 are part of the foundation upon which VOA was built,” said David Ensor, current Director of VOA, “and led to what it is today: one of the most widely respected international news organizations in the world.”

Though “War of the Worlds” lives on in radio legend while “The Paper Chase” only survives in the bargain bin of niche video stores, Voice of America is Houseman’s most important and most enduring legacy. Today VOA broadcasts accurate and reliable news to 134 million people in 45 languages, which makes it worthy of being called a masterpiece.

By Blake Stilwell

Behind the Scenes: April Deibert

April tours Voice of America headquarters in the Wilbur J. Cohen Building,  Washington, D.C.


“When I first started working for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation, I was given a tour of VOA headquarters by one of my supervisors.  It was great to get a historical perspective of the agency and to see the Cold War-era building it is housed in (that still has rooms that were used as potential nuclear fallout shelters and beautiful vintage brass escalators), and to meet and interview interesting on-air staff, editors and producers.

Getting an overall feeling for how each department operated separately and then together helped shape my perspective on what ODDI’s role is to facilitate the use of innovative technologies to reach different global populations. I’ve learned that the strategy behind what appears to be a simple production to the public can go far deeper and be far more intellectual than what an information consumer may realize.  The BBG is unique because it uses research to localize social media for its many global audiences.”

April Deibert is a contractor working on multimedia blogging and production for the Office of Digital and Design Innovation.  You can find some of her work on their website.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year celebration at VOA

L-R: Fangfang Zhang (Congressional Reporter), Xiaobei Zhang (Teaching English Show), Wancheng Chao (Tiger Mom Show host). Photo by Xiao Chang

Last week the Chinese Service of the Voice of America hosted a Chinese New Year celebration. The festivities included the opportunity for visitors from inside and outside VOA to get to know individuals working in the service and to see the shows that they produce. The event also featured traditional homemade food, which helped engage guests across all offices and divisions of the Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau through some delicious culinary diplomacy.

“We wanted to make it traditional but also creative,” said Fangfang Zhang, a Congressional Reporter for VOA, “We arranged our classic Chinese dishes throughout the service.  Every dish was named according to a show of the Chinese service or a current issue we are dealing with. Wancheng, who hosts the Tiger Mom show, hosted her food stand to celebrate her show and called her salad Tiger Mom Salad.  It was so much fun!”


Finding the Date of VOA’s First Broadcast

Dr. Walter Roberts explains his investigation into VOA’s anniversary date


“It has always interested me how VOA originally celebrated February 24 as the anniversary date. No one could tell me how that date was selected.”

Dr. Walter Roberts, one of Voice of America’s early staff members (now in his mid-90s and still going strong) can recall the first broadcast in VOA’s history from New York City in 1942.  In an interview, he stated that he remembered the first VOA broadcast occurred earlier than the 24th of February.

After his retirement, Roberts decided to research the actual anniversary.  He started by looking for a recording of the first broadcast, which he recalled was in German, but was dissatisfied with the copy he received.

“After I listened to the recording, it sounded to me not correct so I went further in my research,” recalls Roberts.  The original broadcast, he knew, started with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but the copy he received did not start that way, but started with the US National Anthem.

His efforts were rewarded when he decided to ask the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which transmitted VOA broadcasts on BBC medium wave transmitters, if they could determine the date of the first VOA broadcast.

“The BBC archives”, Roberts said, “produced a January 1942 memorandum that stated that American broadcasts would start on February 1st in three languages: German, French and Italian. It also listed the time these broadcasts would be received in London from New York and when they would be rebroadcast by the BBC to Germany, France and Italy.”

His research was later confirmed by Chris Kern, a former chief of the VOA Computer Services Division and, later, Director of the Office of Computing Services, who investigated the correct date of the anniversary by researching the National Archives in College Park in Maryland.  Kern actually found the original VOA German scripts which confirmed that the first VOA broadcast was transmitted on February 1st, 1942.  Roberts added that further confirmation came through the assistance of Mike Gray, then the head of the VOA library, who discovered that early VOA recordings were stored in the Library of Congress. He was able to find the actual recording of the Febraury1st VOA German broadcast. It was dated February 1, 1942.

“I was connected with the enterprise.  That I know exactly when and how it all began is very satisfying,” said Roberts.

To this day, he is unaware of how February 24 became known as the anniversary before his research in 2009 set the record straight. Roberts asserts that it is critical to understand how VOA fits within the larger historical developments of the time.  “These broadcasts undoubtedly played a role in the successful pursuit of the war,” he said.

He adds “On the occasion of VOA’s 70th anniversary I said that The Voice of America continues and will continue to be an important part of American public diplomacy whose role in the conduct of American foreign policy has become vital in today’s information age.”

A longer, more detailed account of Walter Robert’s investigation is available in two articles he wrote for the University of North Carolina’s American Diplomacy website.

Walter Roberts was previously interviewed in conjunction with VOA’s 70th anniversary in 2012 and his video can be seen on Inside VOA.

Walter Roberts also attended the 70th anniversary celebration in March of 2012. You can watch a video commemorating last year’s milestone on the VOA Public Relations website www.insidevoa.com.

By Roxanne Bauer