Saturday, April 5, 2003

Voice of America silent as Iraq war under way

Bethany site broadcast for 6 decades

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - For the first time in almost six decades, America is fighting a ground war while the Voice of America radio station in this Butler County community stands silent.

The former Bethany VOA station in West Chester Township pulsated with unending, pro-democracy broadcasts from the last years of World War II, through the Korean and Vietnam wars, until the end of the Cold War and during the last time America fought Iraq in 1991's Desert Storm conflict.

When VOA broadcasts began in 1944 from a field covered with acres of high towers and miles of short-wave wires, the station, 25 miles north of Cincinnati, was the most powerful on the planet.

No one had ever built such a single, large transmitting facility, and it immediately gave America an communications advantage over Nazi Germany's propaganda broadcasts that blanketed Europe and Northern Africa.

Directed to the citizens of Nazi Germany, the World War II broadcast began with, "We shall speak to you about America and the war. The news may be good or it may be bad, but we will tell you the truth."

The Bethany broadcasts so vexed Nazi leader Adolf Hitler that he referred to its programming as "those Cincinnati liars" in several speeches.

"It was the electronic front lines," explained West Chester Parks and Recreation Director Bill Zerkle, whose office is in the former VOA facility on 625 acres just off of Tylersville Road.

"It gave oppressed people around the world hope when there was none, and no one will ever know how much of a role Bethany played in bringing down Nazi Germany or the fall of communism."

Silent since 1994, when federal funding was cut along with other reductions in the still-active VOA program, Bethany has lost its broadcasting towers - removed in 1997 - and large slices of its grounds to commercial development. A guard tower still stands atop of Bethany, once used to monitor the grounds.

In May 1950, a communist supporter cut through a security fence under cover of night and exploded a bomb that toppled a 165-foot radio tower and destroyed a battery shed. A former U.S. serviceman was arrested and confessed to the act of sabotage.

Clyde Haehnel, a former vice president with Cincinnati's Crosley Broadcasting Corp. that contracted with federal government in World War II to build the Bethany VOA station, said communist Russia tried in other ways to damage or snuff out the VOA's global message of peace and democracy.

"The Russians jammed us heavily during the Cold War. They understood that the VOA at Bethany was an integral part of psychological warfare," said Haehnel.

West Chester officials now plan to restore the Bethany facility and create a Voice of America Park and Museum on the remaining grounds, and in June a state historical marker commemorating the site will be unveiled.


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