Pavel Pecháček: Journalist who headed Czech RFE dies at 82

Pavel Pecháček

The Czech journalist and manager Pavel Pecháček has died in the United States at the age of 82. He joined the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe after emigrating in the wake of the Soviet-led invasion and – after a stint at Voice of America – later became head of the station.

Pavel Pecháček was born in Prague in July 1940 and said he remembered being brought to the Terezín ghetto during the war while still an infant.

His father Jaroslav Pecháček had been interned there, as he recalled in an interview for Czech Radio.

“The Germans locked him up after an attempt at resistance that didn’t go well. He spent almost the entire war in jail. After the war, dad was working at government headquarters, as the secretary of Monsignor Šrámek. He found out that the Communists were planning to lock him up again, so he and my mum ran away from the house and escaped from Czechoslovakia. But that didn’t work out for us kids.”

Indeed Pavel Pecháček remained in the country and became a sports reporter with Czechoslovak Radio in 1965.

He remained there until – when he was in his mid 20s – Soviet tanks rolled into the country in August 1968.

“The people at Czechoslovak Radio sent me out of the country, saying I should get away. They said that I’d be the first one thrown out, as my father was working for Radio Free Europe. And secondly they said they’d get into trouble for hiring me in the first place, even to work in sport or later as a director.”

Pavel Pecháček | Photo: Josef Rakušan,  Czech Radio

By this time his father was the head of the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe in Munich in the then West Germany.

However, Pecháček’s first stint at Svobodná Evropa, as it was called in Czech, was relatively short, and he later moved to the other major US Cold War broadcaster, Voice of America.

“I was my father’s son and nepotism was frowned upon. I had to leave after five years, when there were layoffs for budgetary reasons. But I did get to escape from my father’s influence. Then I did an audition and got into Voice of America, where I became head of Czechoslovak broadcasting in 1985.”

Photo: Academia

After joining Voice of America he moved to the US with his family and obtained American citizenship in late 1974.

In 1989, just before communism collapsed in the country, Pecháček returned to the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe. He was president of the station until 1994, when Svobodná Evropa ceased to broadcast.

He then moved to a newly created Czech Radio station also, slightly confusingly, called Rádio Svobodná Evropa, where he was editor-in-chief.

Pavel Pecháček, who died in hospital in North Carolina after a long illness, worked for a combined 41 years at US broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Of that time, he spent 35 years as either section director or president.