This First Day of Issue Cover for the Voice of America 1967 stamp has autographs from several famous American radio and television broadcasters including Paul Harvey, David Brinkley, and Howard K. Smith.
John Chancellor of NBC News who was the Voice of America director from 1965 to 1967, also signed the First Day of Issue Cover with the 1967 Voice of America 5 cent stamp.
However, according to VOA’s early chief news writer and news director, American communist author Howard Fast, the Yankee Doodle theme was proposed by him and already used during World War II.
Fast was one of many pro-Soviet propagandists and fellow travelers among early VOA broadcasters. He worked at VOA from 1942 until 1944. In 1953, Fast received the Stalin International Peace Prize worth about $235,000 (in 2019 dollars).
Fast’s claim about the Yankee Doodle VOA station ID could not be definitely confirmed. During World War II, U.S. government radio programs produced by the Overseas Division of the Office of War Information (OWI) were aired under various names and with various signature themes. It is possible that Yankee Doodle was one of them.
The Voice of America name was officially adopted after several years of broadcasting under changing names. One of the early names was the Voice of the United States of America.1
“I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire. I had long ago, somewhat facetiously, suggested ‘Yankee Doodle’ as our musical signal, and now that silly little jingle was a power cue, a note of hope everywhere on earth…” Howard Fast, 1953 Stalin Peace Prize winner, best-selling author, journalist, former Communist Party member and reporter for its newspaper The Daily Worker, describing his role as the chief writer of Voice of America radio news translated into multiple languages and rebroadcast for four hours daily to Europe through medium wave transmitters leased from the BBC in 1942-1943.2
John Chancellor became nationally known on NBC’s Nightly News after serving as host of the Today Show from 1961-1962. The lifelong journalist took a leave of absence from NBC when President Johnson appointed him to be the Voice of America’s director in 1965, where he served until NBC recalled him when the Middle East war erupted in June 1967.
As the 11th VOA director, Chancellor was famously quoted as saying: “There’s a peculiar kind of ramshackle excellence about the Voice of America… it was like walking into a stately building to find the residents holding up the walls with broomsticks while carrying on a terrific argument…They are, to a remarkable degree, people of spirit and intelligence, whose passion is to represent the United States in the best possible manner.”
Chancellor’s legacy includes an updated broadcast format that echoed commercial broadcasts of the time, with music and lighter features mixed in with the news reports. This is also when VOA adopted its “Yankee Doodle” station ID (earlier, VOA had used “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean”). The radio program Music Time in Africalaunched under Leo Sarkisian, who had been hired by USIA Director Edward R. Murrow. Sarkisian (1921-2018) recorded most of the music himself and was an accomplished portrait artist of African musicians he interviewed. Sarkisian retired at the age of 91, but his program continues under a new host.
On the eve of his return to commercial broadcasting, Chancellor said: “Our assignment is to bring the bright dream of a new day into the dark corners of the world… that is what the Voice of America means to me.”
- Ted Lipien, “Howard Fast – Voice of America’s Only Stalin Peace Prize Recipient,” Cold War Radio Museum, March 12, 2019, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/stalin-prize-winning-former-chief-writer-of-voice-of-america-news/. ↩
- Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19. ↩