Sixty-one years ago, on July 4, 1950, Radio Free Europe transmitted its first program, as the “Voice of Free Czechoslovakia,” only 30 minutes in length, as an “audience building broadcast” that would continue for the next 10 days. The press notice released on July 3, 1950, in the United States in the name of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) outlined not only the ideological basis for the programming, but also publicly established the “cover” of the Central Intelligence Agency’s true sponsorship of Radio Free Europe:
The American people, and exiled leaders of Eastern Europe, will speak to the enslaved peoples behind the Iron Curtain tomorrow with a new and powerful voice as Radio Free Europe takes to the air using its newly completed European transmitters.
Owned and operated by the National Committee for a Free Europe, Inc., a group of private American citizens, Radio Free Europe will broadcast the true story of freedom and democracy to the eighty million people living in Communist slavery between Germany and Russia. Freed of diplomatic limitations, the broadcasts will be hard-hitting.
The National Committee for a Free Europe, Inc., was formed in June 1949, as a private organization open to membership to all interested in halting communism and saving freedom for the world.
In February 1950, CIA gave NCFE a stockpiled World War Two shortwave mobile transmitting unit, nickhamed "Barbara," that consisted of
- studio van
- transmitter van
- fuel supply truck
- flatbed truck for antenna towers
The first broadcast from "Barbara" took place on a former Luftwaffe Air Base in Lampertheim (near Frankfurt), West Germany. There is no documentary or anecdotal evidence that the first broadcast was actually heard by anyone, other than those working at the “Barbara” transmitting site. Regular broadcasting to Czechoslovakia and Romania began on July 14, 1950.
Time magazine reported on July 17, 1950, under the rubric “Urgent Whisper,"
This week Czech and Rumanian radio listeners could hear music, plays and satires forbidden by their Communist masters—as well as the voices of men long exiled. These forbidden broadcasts came from a Radio Free Europe transmitter deep in Western Germany.
RFE's lone 7½-kilowatt transmitter is only a whisper compared to the worldwide 58-station network of Voice of America. But RFE, a branch of the National Committee for a Free Europe founded last year by a group of private U.S. citizens, expects to make up in pungency for its lack of volume. Explains Banker Frank Altschul, chairman of RFE: "Unhampered by diplomatic restrictions, we can slant our programs in a more definitely anti-Soviet way than the Voice."
Welcomed by the State Department as a freewheeling, free-speaking ally in the propaganda war, RFE plans to boost its power with five transmitters now on order. It intends, eventually, to speak strongly to every Communist satellite from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
The New York Times reported, “New ‘Voice’ Talks to Europe Like Member of the Family.” Some grass-root newspapers in the United States printed this editorial about Radio Free Europe and it’s “secret-location” transmitter:
Many wise statesmen have been appealing insistently to the free world to exert greater effort to the grimy "struggle for men's mind." They have pounded repeatedly on the idea that it isn't enough to combat Russian Communism with economic and military measures: that freedom must be shown to be the great cause it really a way of life eminently superior to the slavery imposed by Moscow.
The first imaginative stride in this direction has now been taken. From a secret radio transmitter in Europe, a new series of programs is being beamed to the countries behind the Iron Curtain … Radio Free Europe, as the new transmitter is called, is the product of the National Committee for Free Europe, which was organized about a year ago by outstanding American citizens.
We must make plain to decent people everywhere that the language of Communism is the language of falsehood, that Russia's words can never be believed because words to the Soviet Union are simply weapons in the psychological theater of war.