A VOA Snapshot - Part of the continuing coverage in this, VOA's 60th Anniversary Year
VOA's first director was Romanian-born John Houseman, who was not even an American citizen when he helped start VOA in 1942. "I was an enemy alien," he said. "Technically, I was not supposed to go near a shortwave radio set."
But Mr. Houseman helped produce the first years of VOA broadcasts reaching millions of shortwave radios anyway because he had experience in radio, including a role in the production of a very famous broadcast.
The 1938 radio broadcast The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, starring Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air told of a fictional invasion of Earth by creatures from Mars. The production sounded so believable that it created panic in some parts of the United States.
A few years later, the challenges at VOA were very different. There was a real war on. Mr. Houseman said the key in those early years was to establish and maintain credibility.
"Inevitably," Mr. Houseman said, "the news that the Voice of America would be carrying to the world in the first half of 1942 was almost all bad news. We would have to report our reverses without weaseling. Only thus could we establish our reputation for honesty, which we hoped would pay off on that distant-but-inevitable day when we would be boasting of our own invasions and victories."
If you recognize John Houseman it's because in later years he became a well-known actor. He was best-known for his portrayal of the professor in the film and television versions of The Paper Chase. He also dabbled in opera and theater, and did radio commercials.
John Houseman died in 1988 at the age of 86. Today, VOA's largest studio bears his name, and a plaque at the door reminds all who pass of his key role in the network's early years.
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