Radio Free Europe is 50 years old

Well, Tuesday was also the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Radio Free Europe's full broadcasts to the Soviet bloc. Founded in the darkest days of the Cold War, when people behind the iron curtain had little or no access to uncensored information, the U.S.-funded organisation played a significant role in bringing down the Communist regime.

Sonya Winter: In fact what was then Czechoslovakia was the very first country and the first broadcasting service of Radio Free Europe that was established. And the first experimental program was broadcast in 1950, on the 4th of July, which is the American Independence Day. This experimental program lasted thirty minutes. It was heard in Prague, and it was off the back of a truck going back and forth along the border with West Germany. It took a little while for the entire operation to come on stream, also with other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. So the formal day of the launch of Radio Free Europe, fully operational to the countries of what was then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria was May 1, 1951.

Radio Prague: Was it by coincidence that the Czech and Slovak programs were the first to be broadcast?

SW: No, it was not a coincidence. Czechoslovakia was, of course, regarded as a key country which had relatively recently, in those days, in 1948, become a communist country, showing the power and influence of the communist regime of the Soviet Union, and it was part of the impetus, if you like, or one of the key moments which gave rise to the planning of Radio Free Europe.

RP: There were many Czech and Slovak journalists, who had fled the communists regime, who worked in Radio Free Europe.

SW: That's right. There were many famous names. In the 1960s other well known journalists, writers, reporters joined the radio in Munich.

RP: And the program has been on the air for these fifty years and is still being broadcast.

SW: There has been no interruption in the service. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, another radio station, called Radio Liberty was established in 1953, because the RFE model was so successful, it was decided in the United States, in Washington to expand this to broadcasting to what was then the Soviet Union and Radio Liberty was the, sort of, sister radio, if you like. These two radio stations were merged in the 70s and Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty is one company and we have been on the air since 1951 without a break for 50 years, including the Czechoslovak service and then later the Czech and Slovak services. The Czech service moved to Prague in 1994.

RP: The department is playing a different role now, after the fall of communism.

SW: It is, if you like, an expanded role. The mission remains the same, to promote the values of democracy and freedom of expression and to provide comprehensive and objective and balanced information. These days the Czech service has a joint partnership with Czech Radio. It broadcasts on the frequencies provided by Czech Radio. It is financed partly by Czech Radio. It is a real partnership.

Author: Olga Szantová
run audio