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)