Tag Archives: Voice of America

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.

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

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

VOA’s First Broadcasts: “The news may be good or bad, we shall tell you the truth”

Today BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 175 million in 59 languages in 100 countries, producing more than 4,100 hours of original programming each week.

Our broadcasts haven’t always been that widespread. The first transmission by a current BBG broadcaster was on February 1, 1942 when four Voice of America announcers introduced themselves and the news agency to listeners in Germany:

Following those words, the Voice of America has continued broadcasting, and has since been joined by other U.S. international media.

  • Radio Free Europe was founded in 1950 and initially broadcast to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Three years later, Radio Liberty began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in Russian and 15 other national languages. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty began their joint broadcasts in 1975.    These new broadcasts included transmissions to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1975.
  • Radio Free Asia was incorporated on March 11, 1996. It broadcasts to The People’s Republic of China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Tibet and Vietnam and operates ten unique, interactive websites, nine in Asian languages.