This exhibit celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Radio Free Europe's first full schedule of broadcasting to Czechoslovakia in 1951. Four additional radio services quickly followed: to Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Radio Liberty began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in 1953. The purpose of the Radios was the same: to provide a free press for the Soviet Union and countries of Eastern Europe where the media were controlled by totalitarian governments.
For the exhibit, the Hoover Library and Archives has drawn on their stored 80,000 radio broadcasts to bring history alive. Listening stations are set up for visitors to hear sound bites from notable events from history, such as
- John Steinbeck remembering John F. Kennedy
- Appeals made to other nations at the UN while Soviet tanks invaded Prague
- Ronald Reagan's broadcast to the Soviets after they shot down a Korean jet liner
In addition, photographs, papers, and other documents that reveal how the RFE/RL was able to reach its listeners despite the efforts made to disrupt their broadcasts, from jamming transmissions to murder, are on display. See this slideshow related to the exhibit.
Despite jamming, acts of terrorism, and opposition by some members of Congress, the Radios remained on the air. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many suggested that the Radios' mission had been successfully completed and that funding should be stopped. Others claimed that a responsible voice broadcasting to countries in which the institutions of democracy were still in their infancy required the continuation of the Radios; Congress agreed and continued funding but at a reduced level.
In 1993, Vaclav Havel, who appreciated the role of RFE/RL as well as the ironies of history, invited the Radios to relocate from Munich to Prague. They currently broadcast from the building of the former communist parliament. Corporate headquarters are in Washington, D.C.