Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is marking 60 years of Russian-language broadcasting on March 1, with events planned in Washington and Moscow to mark the day.
On March 1, 1953, at the height of the Cold War, the radio beamed its first broadcast to the Soviet Union.
Journalist Sergei Dubrovsky went on air to solemnly announce the launch of Radio Liberation, later renamed Radio Liberty.
“Listen! Listen! Today, a new radio station, Liberation, begins its broadcasts,” Dubrovsky said.
The goal of the new radio station was to counter communist propaganda by providing Soviet citizens with uncensored news.
In its maiden broadcast, Dubrovsky said the radio would advocate “complete freedom of conscience and the right to religious preaching,” as well as “the elimination of exploitation of man by a party or the state.”
The original jingle was based on Aleksandr Grechaninov’s “Anthem Of A Free Russia,” which was proposed as Russia’s national anthem after the overthrow of tsarist rule in 1917 but rejected by the Provisional Government.
It is unclear whether these early broadcasts reached Russian cities due to the low-powered transmitters initially used. But the radio was able to quickly upgrade its equipment and soon gained a strong following.
Its coverage of Josef Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, just four days after its first broadcast, was instrumental in establishing its reputation as an alternative to the Soviet Union’s heavily censored news.
Despite significant effort by Soviet authorities to jam its signals — the jamming continued uninterrupted until 1988 – growing numbers of listeners regularly tuned in.
Today, 60 years after its inception, RFE/RL Acting President Kevin Klose says the Russian Service remains an important source of accurate, independent news.
“We honor the broadcasters of that day — and the dedicated professionals of today – of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty,” Klose said.
“We honor the millions upon millions of listeners who, through six decades, have sought and heard the voices of liberty reporting accurate, independent news of the never-ending search for truth, and rights, and cultural freedoms in Russia itself and throughout the world.”
In the days and weeks following the launch of Russian broadcasts, the radio added programming in other languages of the Soviet Union, including Georgian, Armenian, Azeri, and the languages of Central Asia.
In 1955, the radio set up transmitters in Taiwan to make its Russian-language programs available to residents in eastern parts of Siberia and along the Soviet Union’s Pacific coast.
Radio Liberty and its sister station Radio Free Europe, which broadcast to Eastern Europe, merged in 1976 under the name RFE/RL.
The company continues to broadcast to 21 countries in 28 languages.
RFE/RL will mark its Russian Service’s birthday on March 1 with a roundtable discussion at its Washington office featuring veteran Russian rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva and U.S. journalist and author David Satter.
A parallel event will be held in Moscow by a group of former Russian Service journalists laid off last year as part of a restructuring plan.
About 120 people, including prominent opposition politicians and rights activists, are expected to attend the Moscow event. Several longtime supporters of the radio are scheduled to deliver speeches.