RFE in Munich in 1950s
May 1, 2011, will be the 60th anniversary of the first Radio Free Europe broadcast from Munich. Below we will look briefly at that historic event.
After its initial broadcast on July 4, 1950, Radio Free Europe was only broadcasting a relatively weak signal, with a total 7 ½ hours per day over short-wave transmissions to Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
That would change when Radio Free Europe began broadcasting to Czechoslovakia, as the Voice of Free Czechoslovakia, on medium wave (am band) frequencies on May 1, 1951, from the newly constructed transmitter station, nicknamed “Carola” at Holzkirchen, Germany (south of Munich).
The new transmitter station had four antenna towers, which reached a height of 400 feet, and, at that time with 135,000 watts of power, was almost three times more powerful than any commercial radio transmitter in the United States. The broadcast schedule was then increased to 12 hours a day to Czechoslovakia.
Prior to this, programs were basically prepared in RFE's New York studios and flown to Germany for broadcasting. After Holzkirchen, transmitter stations were constructed in Biblis, Germany, and outside Lisbon, Portugal.
The new Radio Free Europe transmitter site was dedicated on May 1, 1951, at 10 a.m., in Munich’s Bayerische Hof Hotel. Ferdinand Peroutka, a Czech journalist who had been imprisoned in the Nazi prison camps Dachau and Buchenwald, fled Czechoslovkia in 1948 to the United States. Peroutka, who helped found the Council of Free Czechoslovkia, read the following message to those in attendance:
The Communist government in our country is the biggest attempt, which has ever been undertaken to turn things upside down to deprive words of their meaning. Jailers sing songs of freedom and officials of the secret police lecture on humanity.
The loss of freedom is officially called independence in our country, aggression is called peace action, plunder of the country 'benefits', forced exports to Russia 'building up of Czechoslovakia', enslavement of women in heavy industry is called their liberation.
We know how much effort the Communists stake on reforming your souls .., But we also know that in the evening when you return home from the daily drudgery ... between your four walls you say to yourself: ’They are telling lies.
The first broadcast actually began at 5 a.m. and was just music. The first program, read by exile Pavel Tigrid, aired at 11 a.m. from a studio in the RFE building. Pavel Tigrid would become the Czech Republic’s first Minister of Culture, after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. He said, in part,
Today, a terrible enemy rises against all communist informers, agents provocateurs and stool pigeons, all inhuman guards in prisons and work-camps, all judges and members of communist jurisdiction, all propagandists of communist ideology: Radio Free Europe, who will reveal their names, one by one; all of them will be blacklisted by the democratic world and will be dumped on the rubbish heap of contempt by the Czech and Slovak people.
Local newspapers in the United States also covered the new transmitter site dedication and first program, e.g. The Chronicle Express in Pann Van, New York began a May 17, 1951 article entitled “Freedom Bell Rings Out Over New Radio Station,” with “May 1 was a great day for the 16,000,000 men, women and children who joined the Crusade for Freedom last fall and bucked up their belief in freedom with their nickles, dimes and dollars.” Yates county in upper New York state contributed $360.33 and 4,000 persons signed the Freedom Scrolls.
Moviegoers in the United States would later see a newsreel of the construction of the new building and a speech by C.D. Jackson to the workers who constructed the building.
After C.D. Jackson visited Munich, a report dated May 15, 1951, under his name was airmailed from Munich to “Crusaders” in the United States. The envelopes airmailed carried German postage stamps with the image of the Freedom Bell in Berlin. The C.D. Jackson report read in part:
I am convinced that in the new Munich transmitter we have in our hands a mighty weapon in the struggle for freedom. It is already hitting the Communists hard, and in the months ahead as it reaches full effectiveness it will hit them still harder. With the help of the American people, through the Crusade for Freedom, we can build similar powerful freedom stations for each of the Iron Curtain countries. The success of the Crusade for Freedom next fall will largely determine our ability to carry out these plans. I want you to know that your personal help is deeply appreciated by General Clay, General Eisenhower, Ambassador Grew and all the others associated with us in this undertaking.
After his death in 1964, the largest meeting room at Radio Free Europe was named in his honor. A bronze plaque was placed outsdie the room with these words:
C.D. JACKSON, 1902 -1964
VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, A FORMER PRESIDENT
OF THE FREE EUROPE COMMITTEE AND A GUIDING
SPIRIT FROM THE EARLIEST DAYS OF RADIO FREE EUROPE.
HIS VIGOROUS AND CREATIVE LEADERSHIP AND WHOLE
HEARTED AND CONSTANT PERSONAL COMMITTMENT TO
THE OBJECTIVES OF THE FREE EUROPE COMMITTEE CON-
TRIBUTED UNMEASURABLY TO ITS EFFECTIVE PURSUIT
OF THESE OBJECTIVES. HIS DEVOTION TO THE CAUSE
OF FREEDOM REMAINS AN INSPIRATION TO MEN OF
GOOD WILL EVERYWHERE