November 28, 2010

Rallying 'round RFE: The 1959 Truth Broadcast Contest

From 1950 to 1960, the Crusade for Freedom rallied millions of Americans to participate in fund-raising dinners and lunches, march in parades, launch large balloons filled with leaflets, participate in writing contests, bowl in tournaments and other “patriotic” activities. The reason? -- Individually and collectively support Radio Free Europe (RFE) against the threat of Communism in a critical “battle for men’s minds”: the Big Truth vs. the Big Lie.

Below, a look at a nation-wide statement contest that ran from February 1, 1959 through March 31, 1959: The Truth Broadcast.

On May 1, 1950, the Crusade for Freedom’s Campaign Letter Number One, under national chairman General Lucius D. Clay’s name, was sent to the regional and state chairmen, in which he wrote:

The long range, broad-gauge objectives of the Crusade for Freedom are to enlist several million Americans in a Crusade for Freedom and Friendship to put the lie to Kremlin propaganda that our goal is world domination and war to affirm our resolution that America is in the Crusade to stay.

The ideal of the Crusade for Freedom is to feed human souls.

The letter went on to list the various functions of the regional and state chairmen, including, “Develop contests among both groups and individuals for the best ideas on how to get our message and freedom and friendship to people abroad.”

Crusade Executive Vice Chairman Adcock sent a progress report to Chairman Clay for the period ending May 18, 1950, wherein he mentioned one idea that only later in the decade would have a major impact on the Crusade for Freedom: “To invite suggestions from all the American people on how best to sell the idea of Freedom (perhaps the device of a nationwide essay or statement contest)”.

First Statement Contest

The first statement contest associated with the Crusade for Freedom was, perhaps, in Onondaga County, New York in September 1950, when 300 junior and high school students submitted an essay on the theme, “Why I want to participate in the Crusade for Freedom.”  Seven winners received a prize of a U.S. Savings Bond. The Post-Standard newspaper on October 1, 1950 published the text of the winning entries and a photograph showing the winners and their teachers.  County Crusade leaders told the press: “The school essays show clearly that the challenge of positive action and reaffirmation of our American ideals of freedom have been accepted by the youngest school children.”

The Greenwood Plan “idea contest” in 1951 was a “grass-roots campaign, the program, enlisted school leaders, editors, government officials and plain citizens to show how Communism can be curbed at the local level.” Although it had nation-wide backing, it did not have full media and public participation. It would take another seven years before the idea of a “total” nation-wide statement contest reached fruition.
Newspapers at the end of October 1958 started publishing articles about a contest in the 1959 Crusade campaign for Radio Free Europe that would send “Truth Ambassadors” to Europe. Contest entrants were to complete the sentence in 25 words or less, “As an American I support Radio Free Europe because....”

Contributions were not necessary to enter the contest, but if one of the six major winners had contributed at least one dollar, he or she would win a free trip, with a family member, to Europe. Short-wave radios, worth $100, would to awarded to 359 other winners.

In November 1958, the Advertising Council (Ad Council) finalized the entry-blank text and illustrations for the planned “Truth Broadcast” contest that would be distributed as part of the press package in the Crusade’s 1959 active campaign. Instructions printed with the entry blank, included:

These captive peoples are hungry for the truth.
Tell them about your desire to help them get the truth. 
Tell them what an important part the truth plays in your own every day life. Speak with your heart and your head.

The Ad Council sent a one-minute spot announcement sent to radio stations began with, "Khrushchev says: Your grandchildren will grow up under Communism! You can help make sure that this never happens. How? By fighting Communism now ... with your own words. By writing your own truth Broadcasts ... to be beamed behind the Iron Curtain by Radio Free Europe."

Entry forms were sent to cities for public transit usage i.e., for posting in busses and subway cars. For example, 60,000 entry forms were sent to the Chicago Transit Authority. Other mid-West cities included Kansas City, Wichita, Omaha, and Tulsa.

One advertisement for the Truth Broadcast that appeared nationally in newspapers, including the New York Times, on January 31, 1959, showed a young schoolgirl sitting at a desk behind barbed wire with a Radio Free Europe microphone clearly visible. The message was, “Now! You can broadcast your ideas on Truth and Freedom behind the Iron Curtain over Radio Free Europe:” Specialty magazines such as Air Force Magazine, Locomotive Engineers Journal and the Sheet Metal Workers Journal carried the entry blank advertisements.

Entries had to be postmarked by March 31, 1959 and received by April 10, 1959. Winners were to be notified in person or by mail by May 15, 1959. 

In March 1959, John Patterson, Crusade for Freedom executive vice-president, wrote a letter to Ted Repplier, Advertising Council president, in which he thanked the Ad Council for past years' support and requested support for the 1960 campaign. Concerning the Truth Broadcast program, he added, “It is obvious that never before in the history of the Crusade have the media of this country given us so much support.”

On “Crusade for Freedom Day”, February 22, 1959, the Mutual Network aired one program from 12:00 to 12:15 that featured jazz great Duke Ellington. Spot announcements were made throughout the rest of the day.

As another public service announcement for the 1959 campaign, the Advertising Council sent a text of a one-minute spot announcement of the Truth Broadcast contest to be read over the air:

Help air the truth! Help share the truth! Yes, you can help air the truth to millions of people behind the Iron Curtain! Just write a truth broadcast for Radio Free Europe. You might fly to Europe yourself to put it on the air! It’s so easy! Just complete this sentence in 25 additional words or less: “As an American, I support Radio Free Europe because....”

Recordings, advertising kits and other materials were sent to radio stations that requested them.

Reader's Digest

Reader’s Digest magazine had a general readership of 35 million Americans and also published an “Educational Edition” in March 1959 that was used in approximately 50 percent of high schools. The Reader’s Digest version for teachers was entitled “Ideas for Talking and Writing: The Play’s the Thing.”

Students were told in their version to first read the advertisement for the Crusade for Freedom that appeared on page 249 of the issue and then open for discussion three questions, one of which was “What seems to be the official policy of the United States government towards anti–Soviet uprisings among the captive peoples of Europe?” Student readers then were instructed to do research on the question,

·      What purpose is served by Radio Free Europe?
·      What languages are used for the broadcasts?
·      Is there any way of evaluating the effect of the broadcasts?

Additionally, students were asked to compete in the “Write a Truth Broadcast” contest but even if they did not participate, they should complete the sentence in “forceful words that are precise in meaning.” The section ended with the comment to students: “You might also enjoy preparing an imaginary broadcast for Radio Free Europe. Dramatize a scene which you think would convey a true picture of American life.”

This Week

The January 25, 1959, edition of This Week, a Sunday supplement to 42 newspapers with 13, 000,000 readers, carried a short article by Dean Alfange: “What America Means to Me.” Page four of the issue had contest information and the blank coupon for the Truth Broadcast contest under the title, “You Can Tell the World.” In the contest description one read: “Freedom needs your ideas as well as dollars.” By February 6, 1959, over six thousand entries had been received.

The April 5, 1959, This Week issue contained an article entitled “The Wonderful Thing About Freedom,” which featured photographs of a teacher and students of a fourth grade class in an elementary school in Hewlett, New York. Geraldine M. Rack, the teacher, sent the results of her students’ texts of the Truth Broadcast contest to This Week. The editorial comment was: “Some of the most appealing testimonials to freedom we’ve ever run into were written by the nine-year-old boys and girls on this page.” Four of them were printed:
  • We are free. Are you? No? Well, try to be free. It is fun. When we fail we try again. You have to do that, too. (Karen)
  • Freedom and liberty are so important to all nations and people around the world. Nobody should be deprived of the glorious freedom there can be. (Leslie)
  • I would like to see Europe a free country like America and not bothered by the “Iron Curtain,” with plenty of food, too. (Michael)
  • I would like all people to know that, where America is not perfect, at least we try to correct our mistakes by law and practice. (Susan)
    Leslie Shope of the Advertising Council sent out a kit to newspapers that included a three-panel cartoon strip. In his cover letter he wrote, in part, “This year’s Crusade for Freedom Campaign marks the first time in Advertising Council history that a public service campaign has offered an awards program for the public.”  The matt with the cartoon carried this message: “It is recommended that this cartoon strip be used in conjunction with-or as a teaser for-an advertisement or editorial feature containing complete details on the Truth Broadcaster Awards Program.“

    Typical entries included, As an American I support Radio Free Europe because,
    • I support the truth and the rights of human beings everywhere to know the the hope that they act in accordance with it.
    • I believe all peoples have a basic right to truth whether they must listen clandestinely in police states or freely as in the West.
    • It speaks for me to people who cannot hear my voice; it portrays freedom and the democratic way to people who live without liberty.
    • The fate of mankind is on trial before the greatest jury in population. Therefore education by radio will guarantee the wisest verdict.

    National winners were flown to Munich, visited the Iron Curtain along the Czechoslovak-German border and were photographed sitting before RFE’s microphone reading their entries. Mrs. Cornelia B. Curtis from Boston, for example, was seen reading her winning entry, with both the RFE microphone and a makeshift Crusade for Freedom poster visible. She reportedly said to “the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain” that “the American people would never give up the fight for freedom.” She called RFE’s broadcasts “a vital force against the evils of Communist propaganda.” 

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