Communist Propaganda or Capitalist Commercial? A 1930s WNYC Broadcast is Mired in Controversy.

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Moscow's Park of Culture and Rest was one of the topics in a controversial series of travelogues aired by WNYC in late 1937 and early 1938. Critics of the station charged the broadcasts were Soviet propaganda meant to gloss over the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.

The program was one of a series presented by the National Travel Club cheerily describing places, customs and traditions in the Soviet Union. At a heated City Council meeting, Councilman Charles E. Keegan of the Bronx denounced the rosy depictions and the lack of any mention of Stalin's murderous regime. This was followed by a legal struggle over whether the council had the authority to order such an inquiry without mayoral approval. 

After 18 months of delay, an official investigation into the travelogues proceeded. Six people testified but the investigating committee was hard-pressed to prove anyone associated with the program or the station was a communist sympathizer. In fact, an earlier part of the series featured an interview with the director of the Russian Travel Division of the American Express Company.

"Thus, a pattern, not of communist conspiracy but of apparent manipulation of the municipal radio station for money-making purposes in the interest of American Express began to emerge."(1)

In his final testimony before the committee, station director Morris Novik said, "I say to you sincerely, that in anything which has to do with propaganda about Russia, very few people can smell the rat as fast as myself, to put it mildly, and I have watched everything on the station. And no one, I don't think, has been allowed to put out propaganda since I have taken over."

Listen to the 2001 "Red Radio" program below featuring Oscar Brand

Red Radio!

(1) Irving Foulds Luscombe, writing in WNYC:1922-1940--The Early History of a Twentieh-Century Urban Service, NYU Ph.D. Thesis, 1968, pg. 317. (Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection).

Archive audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives.

Bronx Councilman Charles E. Keegan at City Hall in 1938. (WNYC Archive Collections)


Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1925: New York City Commissioner of Plant and Structures (and the head of WNYC) William Wirt Mills announces a new steamship service between New York and Palestine. Mills tells WNYC listeners that the launching of the American Palestine Line linking New York and Haifa will "appeal to the deepest of all sentiments — to the religious feeling of multitudes. To Jew and to gentile, Palestine is the Holy Land. To Protestant as well as to Roman Catholic, the land is hallowed. There is, therefore, something that appeals to practically all the people of America in this reaching out from America to the furthest end of the Mediterranean Sea, and in making Jerusalem's seaport the destination of the steamship that bears the name of an American President and that flies the Stars and Stripes and the flag of the Zionists..." Note: The SS President Arthur was the line's only ship. The line was the first steamship company owned and operated by Jews. It lasted only a year. For more information see: American Palestine Line.

1938: C.W. Coates talks about tropical fish. Note: Coates, an aquarist and ichthyologist, was a regular contributor to WNYC from 1937 through 1939. He was the director of the New York Aquarium and a pioneering eel researcher. In 1935, Coates co-authored the ground-breaking work "Sex Recognition in the Guppy," published in the journal Zoologica.

1944: Victory Concert at the New York Public Library, featuring Annette Burford, soprano, and Oscar Wagner, piano. Note: Annette Burford hailed from Oklahoma City and was the 1940 winner of the Chicago Civic Opera auditions, appearing regularly in their productions. Dr. Oscar Wagner was the Dean of the Juilliard School of Music.

1958: The work of the Universal Postal Union is profiled in The Stamp of Approval, part of The United Nations Story series.

1962: Edward Tatnell Canby considers the work of Carlo Gesualdo, known as Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613) on Recordings, E.T.C. According to Wikipedia, Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was "an Italian composer, lutist and nobleman of the late Renaissance. He is famous for his expressive madrigals, which use a chromatic language not heard again until the late 19th century."

1970: Host Ruth Bowman interviews Dan Flavin about his use of fluorescent sculpture, as well as light and lines of light, in this edition of Views on Art.  Flavin voices his opinion of art critics and comments on the relationship between artists and galleries. 

1988New Sounds with John Schaefer presents a program of Bach's music, interpreted by various new-music artists — including works played on marimba and violin (by Marimolin), on guitar and fiddle (Darol Anger & Mike Marshall), synthesizer (Wendy Carlos), jazz trio (Jacques Loussuer) and many others.  The program begins with dulcimer master John McCutcheon performing a version of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and concludes with Paul Winter's Air, an arrangement of Bach's Air on the G String for solo sax.

1996: Camerata Latinoamericana performs for Around New York. The group includes: Pablo Zinger, piano; Paquito D'Rivera, clarinet; Marco Granados, flute; Brenda Feliciano, soprano; and Gustavo Tavares, cello.

2004: Leonard Lopate talks with David Schwartz, Chief Curator of Film at the American Museum of the Moving Image, on presidential ads and living room candidates. Also on the show, jazz pianist George Shearing on his autobiography, Lullaby at Birdland.