Propaganda, Music and Noise

2005, January 1

This virtual exhibit supports one aim, the protection of freedom of expression and promotion of the free word. This project is supported by the Open Society Archives (http://www.osa.ceu.hu), with the generous contribution of the Friit Ord Foundation (http://www.fritt-ord.no).

Public opinion, expression and thought are values constantly under threat. Restraining open communication and blocking access to information are the main means of manipulating public opinion and thought. In the defense of these fundamental freedoms, the Open Society Archive seeks to educate the public about the dangers of censorship, violations of freedom of expression and how these methods of control can be resisted.

In considering the immediate past of Central Europe and beyond, this website is dedicated to the cheapest, simplest and perhaps most pervasive media of them all: radio.

For over forty years, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty reported news censored behind the Iron Curtain from their studios in Munich. These radio services were designed as “home” studios, and depended on a network of journalists, dissidents, émigrés, informers and others to contribute to this reporting. The intent was to widely disseminate and further capitalist ideas and practices, while also damaging the doctrine of communism — in short, propaganda.

As part of a wider strategy to present the “truth” about the capitalist way of life, cultural and music programming were considered the best diplomats. It was the progressive message of jazz and rock that perhaps had the greatest influence on listeners anxious to adopt the rebellious styles and attitudes of this time; they were made all that more alluring be being officially discouraged if not banned. Indeed, some jazz greats even toured the Soviet Union as a measure of diplomacy.

The radios success was difficult to measure due to jamming on the part of the Soviets and their satellite states. In this information war, each side responded with bigger, more powerful transmitters and techniques to evade the other. This noise blockade was also a measure of the political landscape — reduced during détente, increased during riots and uprisings, and eventually eliminated during glasnost and perestroika.

Was it really radio and the information bomb that won the Cold War and brought down the Berlin Wall?

And what happened to radio after the fall of communism?

States have not changed their priorities; they continue to recognize that information is the strategic key to winning wars. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty still operate, though their remit in central and eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States is no longer valid. Relocated to Prague, it now broadcasts to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, complementing the efforts of the US military that uses flying studios, C-130 aircraft outfitted with broadcasting and jamming studios to countervail public opinion that America is at war with Islam, having defeated communism.

However, even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, radio began to undergo a renaissance at the hands of amateurs. Marginal groups from anarchists to activists have all realized that radio is a cheap, accessible medium and have reclaimed the airwaves from states and corporations. In addition, the rapid adoption of radio technology through two relatively new and inexpensive methods, micro-FM transmitters and the Internet, has allowed radio to bloom once again for those that have access to the skills and equipment.

The Archive recognizes that for many people in the developing world, radio is perhaps the only media that is available as a personal source of information. Mobilizing individuals and communities, even on a miniscule budget, to make radio is easily achievable with the right know-how and access. Individuals and institutions with a mission to defend and educate are the key to this dissemination, for states are often the antagonist not the answer.

We ask you to open you ears and listen to the past, present and future of radio, and when doing so, make sure that you understand who is behind the microphone and why.

Please take a deeper look at this ongoing website and see what you conclude!