6. Memorandum From Barry Zorthian, Broadcasting Service, United States Information Agency to the Director, Broadcasting Service (Loomis)1


  • Servicing Radio in Africa

I would like to put on paper some of the thoughts I have expressed to you orally on the tremendous opportunities which I believe the United States is missing in regard to radio in Africa. These feelings, growing out of my own trip to the area late last spring, have been reinforced by reports from other travelers as well as the comments and evaluation of many expert observers of the African scene.

In my opening sentence, I use the term “United States” rather than Voice of America deliberately. Given our mission and facilities, I think that VOA is perhaps meeting its particular challenge in Africa as well as might be expected. Certainly, increased facilities and more manpower and funds will enable us to expand and refine our operation; as you are well aware, we are energetically pursuing these goals. However, I think the opportunities this country faces in the field of radio go well beyond the capacity or even the function of VOA. And it is this broader task which I would like to outline briefly.

Necessary to a full appreciation of this possibility are a few fundamental facts in regard to mass communication media in Africa (throughout this memorandum my use of Africa is meant to apply to sub-Saharan Africa rather than the entire continent):

1. Radio is today, and for the foreseeable future will remain, the closest instrument to a medium of “mass communication” on the continent. In the area involved, radio today reaches a potential audience of 17,000,000 which will probably double within the next five years.

2. Neither press, television nor motion picture can hope to reach anything close to this level in the near future. Illiteracy and the limitations on widespread distribution impede the development of press; television is simply too expensive for more than an experimental level [Page 30] for a long time—and once it gets out of this stage, the lack of power outside the major cities will make it largely an urban medium; motion pictures face limitations of projecting equipment, distribution means and exhibition facilities.

3. The emerging independent governments recognize the potential of radio. Almost every new government of any means—and even those without capital—is rapidly expanding both its domestic and external transmitting capability and is encouraging set distribution.

4. Expansion of radio on an even more accelerated pace is not only possible but the most economic means available to the new governments to communicate with their peoples. Radio transmitters are comparatively inexpensive; the availability of cheap transistor sets makes distribution feasible even in non-electrical areas; and staff requirements are reasonably modest in comparison with other media.

5. The overwhelming shortages faced by the new countries in this “explosion” of radio are trained staff and broadcast materials. The management of these new stations find it particularly hard to develop the type of educational broadcast materials which are in greatest demand by their listeners.

In this situation, the United States can play an aggressive, imaginative role of servicing which can bring far-reaching dividends in coming years. What is needed is a major undertaking which will provide servicing to African radio—training of staff, consultative services, non-political broadcast materials, largely in the educational field of both an academic and adult extension nature. Expert consultation can provide the technical means for development of radio in the countries concerned; training of staff can insure orientation of the people who will direct the medium for many years to come; and provision of educational broadcast fare can create a vast reservoir of good will as well as orientation towards the source of such materials on the part of millions of Africans who above all are looking for education of any type.

BBC and Sorafom would seem to be the natural godparents of such an undertaking in their former colonial possessions. Both are trying to meet the challenge to some extent. But both have the onus of colonial heritage and neither has the capacity nor funds to fill the market. As countries begin to flex their nationalism, they are rejecting even the limited help that BBC and Sorafom can provide.

There is no doubt a need exists. Every contact we have had indicates that the directors of radio in these countries are going to get their needs met in one way or another. If the United States does not meet the challenge, other countries will. Certainly, both Moscow and Peiping are active in this area—but both fortunately face problems of language and some political resistance in the area. I think the conclusion is [Page 31] inevitable that the way is pretty much open for the United States if it uses discretion, tact and imagination.

I am not speaking of any limited effort. I think VOA could and should play an important, though not a primary, role. But what I think is needed is across-the-board massive undertaking that might well go beyond radio, in fact to other means of mass communication. This offer should perhaps be sponsored by a Foundation in order to eliminate the suspicion of U.S. Government motivation or at least by a separate government organization which would draw on the facilities and resources of such agencies as USIA, State and ICA. Red tape, bureaucratic issues of jurisdiction, the normal built-in caution and resistance of the established agencies would have to be overcome. What is needed is boldness, persistence—and money in substantial amounts. But given all this, I think the United States could make an investment which would bring many rewards in terms of national interest in the future.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1961, Entry UD WW 142, Box 6, Broadcasting Service—(IBS) General 1961. Secret. Loomis sent the memorandum to Wilson under an attached January 13 cover memorandum, copies of which were sent to Roberts and Zorthian, in which he stated: “I believe the enclosed memorandum on the subject—Servicing Radio in Africa—deserves serious consideration. I agree wholeheartedly that the U.S. has an opportunity to not only help African countries, but also to gain a continuing position of influence in the radio medium.”