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Past Event

Cold War Radio: Reaching Russians Before the Internet

Before our major national political competitors adapted to the new internet platform, the United States waged the Cold War through Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) programming. Mark Pomar served in senior positions at VOA and RFE/RL from 1982 to 1993, when such programming was an important part of U.S. foreign policy.

VOA programming was broadcast 24/7 in more than 40 languages, and was charged with explaining U.S. government policies and telling America’s story with the goal of gaining the respect and goodwill of its target audience. RFE/RL, which was funded until 1971 by the CIA, was broadcast in more than 20 languages of Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia and functioned as a stand-in for the Russian news, feature programming, and op-eds that would have been part of Russia's daily political discourse if the Soviet Union had had a free media.

Pomar breaks new ground by taking us inside both radio stations to show how their broadcasts were conceived and developed, how they were aligned with the long-term goals of U.S. foreign policy, and the impact they had on U.S.-Soviet relations, Russian political and cultural history, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union—which brought the Cold War to an end. (Or so we thought.)

The foreign policy challenges facing the United States today are even more daunting than those of the waning years of Soviet communism and the Cold War. Now, amid the hot war in Ukraine and the torrent of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation, we are watching Russia turn inward, exacerbating its age-old xenophobia, nationalistic imperialism and strident anti-Americanism.

Join us to think through how we should update our foreign policy broadcasting tools for the 21st century.

MLF Organizer
George Hammond

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

Photos courtesy the speaker.

May 18, 2023

The Commonwealth Club of California
United States

Image - Mark Pomar

Mark Pomar

Senior Fellow, Clements Center for National Security, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Sr. Lecturer, LBJ School of Public Affairs, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Former Assistant Director, Russian Service at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Former Director, USSR Division, Voice of America; Founding CEO & President, U.S. Russia Foundation in Moscow; Author, Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

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In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates