Artifact: A Cold War Radio

Since its inception, Voice of America has sought to fight lies, censorship, and propaganda with something novel: facts, broadcast widely.

FDR created Voice of America in 1942 to counter Nazi propaganda. Through the Cold War, it combated the same from the Soviets, and still airs today. The Bethany Relay Station in West Chester, which sent its last signal in 1994, once housed six quarter-million-watt transmitters—each bigger than a city bus—bouncing shortwave transmissions off the ionosphere to the farthest reaches of the globe. Why here? Powell Crosley could build those massive transmitters, and an inland site was safe from coastal attacks.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

Mason resident Felix Smolyansky donated this Soviet-built radio, which, like many back in his native Ukrainian village, he secretly had tweaked to receive the VOA signals it was designed not to. Tuning in to Voice of America was illegal; he and his wife listened under the blankets.

At Bethany Station’s 1944 dedication, FCC commissioner Clifford Durr called its 103 towers—which supported the 23 directional antennas that at one time broadcast in more than 50 languages—“siege guns of radio . . . that can hurl explosive facts against the enemy’s weapons of lies and confusion.”

The control room

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

Broadcasts arrived in the massive control room at the heart of the Art Deco station from New York and later Washington, D.C., via wire from the local telephone exchange in Bethany, hence the station’s name. Its transmitters drew the current of a small city, tapping into both CG&E and Dayton Power for strategic redundancy.

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