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Dawn of SNAP

A VOA Snapshot - Part of VOA's 60th Anniversary Year Coverage

Modern technology has brought many changes to the Voice of America over the past six decades. But none has had a bigger impact than the installation of VOA's first computer network in 1985.

"Before the introduction of the computer, most of the radio scripts that we wrote were prepared on typewriters…" a 30-year veteran of VOA Chris Kern said. The former news reporter now heads the agency's Computing Services Division.

"There were some languages, like Arabic, where the broadcasters never found a typewriter that was satisfactory. It was just easier to work by hand," Mr. Kern recalled.

In the mid-1980s, few people had ever used a computer. VOA had installed some for its newsroom and English features staff. But Chris Kern and others believed an innovative, user-friendly system designed by the Xerox Corporation could bring the entire VOA family into the computer age. Beginning in 1985, more than a thousand Xerox workstations, with multi-lingual fonts and advanced editing capabilities, were linked in a state-of-the-art network called the System for News and Programs, or "SNAP." Script writing changed forever, and so did something else.

"People quickly began to use electronic mail as a substitute for both paper memos and for telephone conversations. The communication aspects were really unanticipated..." Chris Kern said.

VOA's move to e-mail and word processing was not unique, but the choice of the pioneering Xerox SNAP network was unusual. Although Xerox was a renowned computer innovator, it soon fell behind competitors IBM and Apple, and eventually closed its computer business. In 1999, VOA switched to a Windows-based network, and is now adding digital audio and video components. Today's system has speed, power and versatility beyond imagining in 1985, when SNAP brought VOA into the computer age.