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USA and Czech radio: the historical connections

Radio Prague's David Vaughan and his history team.

Radio Prague’s David Vaughan and his history team.

Czech Radio has one of the world’s largest repositories of archived radio sound. Radio Prague’s David Vaughan brings this library to our attention in a recent post. The archive goes all the back to the 1920s and includes a variety of recordings in English. Earlier this year Vaughan deployed a team of undergraduates to explore its content, and has also produced a radio documentary about the archive from the 1930s through the Cold War era.

This paragraph from the show’s description caught my eye:

“We then move forward to the 1950s, when the Cold War was at its height and Radio Prague was broadcasting propaganda to the West. The date is 1959 and the United States has been carrying out nuclear tests in the Pacific and the Nevada desert. For the fourteenth anniversary of Hiroshima, Radio Prague broadcast an unusual programme that comes somewhere between a radio play and a documentary . . . “

I always associate “broadcasting propaganda” as a west to east historical phenomenon, as in Voice of America and Radio Free Europe streaming to Czechoslovakia, Poland, and elsewhere. But here it was the other way around!

Interestingly, Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland Crisis of 1938 accelerated demand for radio news in the United States. CBS had sent Edward R. Murrow to Europe, but to do rather innocuous background pieces on the continent. Instead, with Hitler on the verge of grabbing a huge chunk of Czechoslovakia, Murrow inaugurated the CBS World News Roundup, which generated a huge audience for the radio network here in the USA.

75 or so years later, there’s no more Czechoslovakia and there’s no more Cold War (I hope). Happily, there is Radio Prague’s trove of audio history.




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