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USCGC Courier Was Voice of America Radio Transmitting Station (1952–1964)

The Truman administration (April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953) responded to Soviet propaganda during the early stages of the Cold War by reforming the management and personnel of the Voice of America (VOA) and increasing the power and range of VOA’s shortwave and medium wave radio transmissions. In 1952, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Courier WAGR-410 was acquired as part of a joint operation between the United States Department of State and the United States Coast Guard to become a mobile transmitting facility for Voice of America broadcasts.  The Courier carried the most powerful communications radio transmitter ever installed on board a ship, an RCABT-105 150-kilowatt mediumwave transmitter, as well as two Collins 207B1 type 35-kilowatt shortwave transmitters. The Courier initially used a $18,000 35′ × 69′ barrage balloon that held the medium wave antennae aloft. 1

The ship  carried 5 of these balloons, but on more than one occasion the balloon broke free. Eventually it was decided to replace the balloon with a mast-supported wire antenna.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Courier (WTR-410). CREDIT – U. S. COAST GUARD OFFICIAL PHOTO

From:

Public Information Division

U. S. COAST GUARD

Washington 25, D. C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OFFICIAL COAST GUARD PHOTO – 5541

CAPTIVE BALOON SUPPORTS “VOICE OF AMERICA” ANTENNA

As the winch pays out the line, the helium-filled balloon rises about 900 feet from above the ship, carrying the medium frequency range antenna. Although capable of broadcasting from the open see, the COURIER is scheduled to operate while anchored at undisclosed locations, and will really signals transmitted from stateside facilities. It may use either land based antenna, or antenna supported by the balloon.

This photo series was made on March 7-8, 1952 during a test cruise of the USCGC COURIER (WAGR-410), sea-going radio broadcasting station for the “Voice of America”. Sponsored by the State Department, the COURIER is manned by U. S. Coast Guard personnel, and carries a crew of 9 officers and 80 men, plus several “Voice of America engineers to supervise operation of the transmitting equipment.

CREDIT – U. S. COAST GUARD OFFICIAL PHOTO

During World War II, VOA shortwave radio broadcasts to countries under occupation by Nazi Germany, as well as to Asia, came under the influence of pro-Soviet propagandists who in addition to producing anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese propaganda, which was the main part of their mission, also supported Soviet foreign policy goals, including Stalin’s claims for control over East-Central Europe. They practiced news censorship about Soviet atrocities and presented Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as a supporter of freedom and democracy.

Some of these broadcasts were in line with what the Roosevelt administration wanted but others went against U.S. foreign policy and violated basic American principles and journalistic standards. It took the Voice of America management about ten years to change its pro-Soviet broadcasting policy. While some reforms were already initiated immediately after the war, the Voice of America started changing its programing policy in a major way toward the end of the Truman administration.

The early pro-Soviet tone of Voice of America broadcasts was established among others by American communist Howard Fast. He was the Voice of America’s chief news writer and editor (1943) who during the war coordinated VOA news about Russia with the Soviet Embassy in Washington. He was also the future recipient of the Stalin International Peace Prize (1953), future member of the Communist Party USA (from 1944 to 1956) and a reporter for the party’s newspaper The Daily Worker. Also a successful writer of best-selling historical novels, he was among many fellow travelers, communist propagandists and Soviet sympathizers hired by the first Voice of America director John Houseman. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his post-White House memoirs that these early VOA journalists, duped by Soviet and communist propaganda, were guilty of “insubordination” toward President Roosevelt.

Some of these American, West European and East European Voice of America journalists were forced to resign already during the war, including John Houseman and Howard Fast, but many others continued pro-Soviet propaganda at VOA and played down news about Stalinist repressions until at least the end of the 1940s when VOA was already placed under the control of the State Department. During World War II, the Voice of America did not broadcast in Russian because pro-Soviet Roosevelt administration officials feared that Russian-language radio programs sponsored by the U.S. government might offend Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and complicate U.S.-Soviet relations during the war. VOA did not start broadcasting in Russian until 1947. Under increasing pressure from the U.S. Congress, the Truman administration made further management and personnel changes in the early 1950s resulting in enhanced countering of Soviet propaganda by the Voice of America and increasing the power of its shortwave and medium wave transmitters targeting audiences behind the Iron Curtain. In addition to reforming the Voice of America, the Truman administration also took steps to support the creation of Radio Free Europe in 1949, initially with funds received covertly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) .

In 1952, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Courier WAGR-410 was acquired as part of a joint operation between the United States Department of State and the United States Coast Guard to become a mobile transmitting facility for Voice of America shortwave broadcasts.  The Courier carried the most powerful communications radio transmitter ever installed on board a ship, an RCABT-105 150-kilowatt mediumwave transmitter, as well as two Collins 207B1 type 35-kilowatt shortwave transmitters.

President Harry S. Truman visited the Courier on March 4, 1952, when the ship docked in Washington, D.C. and broadcast a major policy speech beamed to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. 2 By 1952, pro-Soviet propagandists were gone and were replaced by anti-communist refugee journalists.

The Courier also held the record for longest deployment overseas — from 17 July 1952 to 13 August 1964, she spent no time in United States territorial waters being stationed instead off the island of Rhodes, Greece during that time. 3

The USCGC Courier WTR-410 was recommissioned into the Coast Guard at Yorktown, Virginia on 30 April 1966 and was used until 1972.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Courier (WTR-410). Atlantic Fleet Sales Co., Norfolk, VA postcard.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Courier (WTR-410). Atlantic Fleet Sales Co., Norfolk, VA postcard (reverse).
The Courier still in gray paint ca. 1952. U.S. Coast Guard image.
One of the 35 kilowatt high frequency transmitters in the transmitting room aboard the Coast Guard-manned COURIER, State Department-sponsored ‘Voice of America’ ship. U.S. Coast Guard image.

Notes:

  1. Berg, Jerome (2008). Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN0-7864-3674-3.
  2. Cummings, Richard . Vagabond-Able and St. Elmo’s Fire. Historytimes.com. 2010-06-04. URL:http://www.historytimes.com/fresh-perspectives-in-history/20th-century-history/cold-war/477-vagabond-able-and-st-elmos-fire. Accessed: 2010-06-04. (Archived by WebCite at https://www.webcitation.org/5qEnTlxI8)
  3. Bouwman, Vern (2004). Navy Super Tankers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN1-4120-3206-7.

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