With their work Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: A Collection of Studies and Documents, Johnson and Parta attempt to address a gap that has been heretofore ignored in the literature concerning Cold War broadcasting; that of the effects of the Western broadcasts on the Communist societies and regimes as documented by the targeted governments (p. xi). Their method to accomplish this is to gather into four sections 16 chapters which examine the beginnings of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America; the technical components and tactics of Cold War broadcasting; and the separate impacts on Eastern Europe and the USSR. The majority of the chapters originated from a conference at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (pp. xi-xii). In addition to the collection of these wide ranging essays, there are two further sections where the editors provide a conclusion of their own and several hundred pages of transcripts and documents from the government archives of the Cold War Eastern Bloc, detailing the discussions, debates, and effects of the Western broadcasts as experienced and perceived by these governments.
In Part 1, the editors provide the accounts of individuals who were involved in the establishment of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. These historical actors describe the haphazard and ad hoc beginnings of their various broadcasting organisations. More importantly, however, they describe the important role these instruments came to play, not only in the battle for hearts and minds in the Cold War, but also as repositories and lanterns for the cultural and intellectual souls of the oppressed nations behind the Iron Curtain.
Part 2 concentrates on the technical side of both broadcasting and broadcast jamming, as well as the success of each. The chapter on the mechanics, tactics, and strategies of the daily broadcast “battles” introduces – to the unfamiliar – the dynamics of the situation that may otherwise have been assumed to be rather static in nature. The other chapters verify, from research on listenership conducted both outside as well as inside the Eastern Bloc, that in these constant battles for the air waves, the West was winning.
Parts 3 and 4 describe the impacts that the broadcasts had on both the populations and regimes of several targeted countries in Eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union. There are several running themes which may be found throughout almost all of the chapters in these two sections. The first is the place that the Western broadcasts had among the various populations as a source of relatively honest objective news and valuable cultural support. The second is the double-edged nature of the broadcasts for the various regimes; existing as both a threat to their authority, but also as a valuable tool of information for internal political manoeuvring. The third is the complete inability of the regimes to prevent the broadcasts or their impacting the populations; whether their attempts were through broadcast jamming, informants and harsh punishments, or contract killings and terrorism against the broadcast personnel and stations in the West.
In Part 5, the editors provide several conclusions. The first is that, based on the internal, external, and post-1989 surveys, roughly 1/3 of Soviet urban adults and 1/2 of East European adults were regular listeners of Western broadcasts (p. 345). This had a tremendous effect on the populations, especially as Western broadcasts were particularly prized sources of information during domestic and international political crises (pp. 345-346). Another conclusion is that, due to such widespread listenership and value of Western information and programming, the various Communist regimes spent considerable time, energy, and resources combating the broadcasts (p. 346). The editors conclude that the work of Western broadcasters, especially Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, was successful because they: 1. had a purpose congruent with that of their audiences; 2. appraised the individual countries and regimes in the Communist bloc in a sophisticated manner; 3. tailored programs for multiple audiences in each country; 4. provided purposeful, credible, responsible, relevant programming; 5. were decentralized; 6. operated with media beyond radio broadcasts; 7. had proper funding and oversight; 8. had journalistic independence from the government; and 9. had receptive audiences which shared their goals (pp. 347–350).
Part 6 consists of documents from former Communist East European and Soviet archives discussing various aspects of the Cold War broadcasts, their impacts, and attempts to combat them.
At first approach, this work is difficult to assess. To return to the initially stated goal of the authors, to address the gap in the literature of the effects of Western broadcasts as perceived by the targeted governments, the authors and editors do manage to accomplish this, but only to a certain degree. This is due to the manner and content of the composition. In terms of the manner of the composition, the work is much more a ‘Collection of Studies and Documents’ than any digested account of the impacts mentioned. There is nothing specifically wrong with such collections, provided the chosen content provides a cobbled, if not paved, road towards the goal. On this level, the work also seems lacking. With Poland receiving three chapters of investigation, Romania two, and Hungary and Bulgaria each one, there is a glaring absence of Czechoslovakia and East Germany, not to mention Yugoslavia or non-European Soviet nations. Space that could and should have been filled with investigations of these countries was given rather to redundant sections or whole chapters, most obviously in the first section, telling much the same story of origin and intent with merely the substitution of names. It would have been better, perhaps, for the editors to write their own introductory chapter covering the material of these three, and opening space for a more complete account. Concerns about space are, perhaps, a mistaken attribute, as the editors include some 200 pages of archival documents. While these documents are fascinating, as are the other chapters individually, the overall effect is one of incompleteness and imbalance, which keeps the work from fully addressing the gap in the Cold War broadcasting literature. In place of such an account, this text seems to be a nearly complete collection of research materials between two covers that would be excellent to use for the composition of a grand work, but is itself one step removed from being that work.