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More than Meets the Eye

VOA’s Renaissance Man

“Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife, I mean the bare necessities, Old Mother Nature’s recipes, that brings the bare necessities of life.” The recorded voice of Louis Armstrong singing these well-known lyrics from the song Bare Necessities will never get old. However, on March 7, 2012 another man sang his own rendition of the famous song at VOA’s 70th anniversary event, acknowledging “It was a bit daunting to come out and follow Louis Armstrong.” VOA’s On the Line host Eric Felten stood on stage with his jazz orchestra in a performance that brought jazz music briefly back to the spotlight.

Eric Felten MicThe program called for a mix of live and produced music. This combination allowed Felten to truly enjoy the experience as the provider of live jazz entertainment for the event, “great fun and doubly fun to be part of what has been one of VOA’s signature accomplishments over the years, which is jazz.”

Eric Felten and his Jazz Orchestra have been together since 1991 and their resume boasts an impressive series of highlights. In 2001, they completed an hour-long PBS special, Big Band Sound of World War II. The program has been seen by over 12 million viewers and PBS considers Felten a “renowned crooner and bandleader.” They have played at several inaugural events & bashes for the Obama and second Bush administrations. In addition, they play several times a year at Blues Alley, a Washington, D.C jazz landmark, including an annual July 4th World War II Big Band concert.

Growing up in Phoenix, Felten was surrounded by jazz musicians everywhere he looked. His father and great aunt were jazz musicians, but it was his grandfather who ultimately helped ignite Felten’s passion for jazz music. His grandfather taught him to play the trombone at age nine and he thus joined the long family tradition of becoming a jazz musician. Felten earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Arizona State and completed a master’s in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Felten BookAn accomplished writer as well as musician and TV host, Felten has published three books: Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue; The Ruling Class: Inside the Imperial Congress; and How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Within these three books Felten covers three completely different subjects, demonstrating his flexibility as a writer and the diversity of his interests. In addition, he writes a regular postmodern culture column for the Wall Street Journal. At Voice of America, Felten embarks on a debate journey as a program host of the TV show On the Line. He brings in guests from around the world to give international affairs topics “the debate they deserve.”

Sitting across from Eric Felten, you notice unpacked boxes and a rather bare office – showing  where his priorities lie within his extremely busy schedule.  Rarely idle, between a Wall Street Journal column, VOA’s On the Line, writing books, and heading up a Jazz Orchestra, Felten clearly excels at multi-tasking and managing his time productively.  It’s truly inspiring to hear his story as he offered us a glimpse into his successful career. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Eric Felten certainly fits that mold.

Eric Felten Group

For more information on Eric Felten and his work visit his website.

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Women’s History in the Re-Making

A re-enactment of the historical 1913 Women’s Suffrage March

Suffrage March Signs“Votes for Women” was called out and signs waved as a group in support of women’s suffrage marched up Pennsylvania Avenue.  Was it March 3, 1913?  No, this was March 21, 2012, and a group of men and women from VOA and neighboring agencies were retracing those famous steps.  The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, granting U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless of sex.  To distinguish the importance of this and many other issues women have fought for over the years, March is designated Women’s History Month.  To recognize this, one of the commemorative events VOA participated in was a reenactment of the famous March 3, 1913 Women’s Suffrage March.

In front of VOA headquarters, a group gradually grew as representatives from nearby agencies joined in with signs in hand and waited for instructions, just as their predecessors did on March 3, 1913.  The sky was cloudy but the spring weather was balmy, complemented by the background scenery of the cherry blossoms Delia Johnsonand D.C. landmarks.  Delia Johnson, a march organizer and Director of the Office of Civil Rights, led off with a few inspiring words: “We are here to replicate history.”  Quoting a handout from the original 1913 march she continued: “Why must we march?  Because this is the most conspicuous and important demonstration that has ever been attempted by suffragists in this country.”   As she concluded, the group of men and women prepared to walk up Independence Avenue and over to Pennsylvania Avenue, where the original march took place, following in the footsteps of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other suffragists.

MarchersThe mood was light and cheerful.  “It’s important for us to utilize our rights as women and continue in the fight for equality with issues such as equal pay and equal opportunity in high level positions.” said participant Meltina Bynum.  Excitement was in the faces of those participating and those walking by showed their encouragement through applause and thumbs-up signs, while others took pictures and shouted compliments.   Hyun Suk Kim, a VOA Korean Service reporter, was among the group and interviewed fellow marchers about their motivations for participation.  All returned energized and enthusiastic about the march’s success.

This year when you go to the polls for the presidential election, spare a thought to the suffragists who devoted their time, energy and lives for voting rights.

March Back

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Voice of America – A Broadcasting Success for 70 Years

Past & present come together in March 7th anniversary commemoration

In 1942, a fledgling VOA aired its first radio broadcast in German.  Today, our global audience of 141 million gets multimedia news and information in 43 languages. To mark these 70 years of broadcasting growth and success, VOA hosted an anniversary event before an audience of hundreds.

Regionally-dressed escorts greeted guests

© 2012 Nawid Orokzai. Used by permission.

As guests arrived, they were greeted by a rainbow of VOA’s diversity as regionally-dressed staff met and escorted them through the hallways and to their seats in our auditorium. They were treated to a varied program – from hard-hitting news to information and music. David Ensor with Walter RobertsVOA director David Ensor  chatted with former VOA directors and with Walter Roberts, the only remaining member of the team that sent out the first 1942 broadcast from New York City to Germany. As the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra filled the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestraauditorium with foot-tapping music, audience members were taken back to the early days of VOA and the legendary “jazz ambassador” Willis Conover, who played a key role in VOA history.  The tribute continued with congratulatory video messages from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Nobel Peace Prize winners Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama.

A moment of silence was dedicated to VOA’s three reporters killed in the line of duty: Ricardo de Mello (Luanda, Angola – January 1995), Alisher Saipov (Osh, Kyrgyzstan – October 2007) and Mukarram Khan Aatif (Shabqadar, Pakistan – January 2012). It served as a reminder of the danger journalists face in covering the news around the world.

Ambassador Kathleen StephensAs the program concluded, the reception began. Visiting dignitaries mingled with current and former VOA directors and employees. Old friends reminisced, new friendships formed and camaraderie reigned VOA hosts Myanmar Officialsthroughout. Yet like all good experiences, it seemed to end all too soon. Except for the memories; Walter Roberts wrote the following day, “Just to say again that yesterday’s program was excellent. I was delighted to be able to participate. It was a pleasure to see so many old friends, all of whom in one way or another expressed their delight with the proceedings.”

Although this event is over, VOA’s 70th year is not, and we plan to share much more with you during 2012. Check back here on our blog, and visit our 70th anniversary website for updates and new features.

If you missed it or want to see it again, watch the story done by local Washington ABC affiliate NewsChannel 8. For continuous VOA updates, follow @VOABuzz on Twitter and like InsideVOA on Facebook.

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Learn More About VOA During Our Anniversary Year

VOA 70 Years site now online

Visit VOA 70 anniversary site While VOA is marking its 70th anniversary this year our special website, VOA 70 Years, is a great destination to learn more – about not only our history, but our people and the effect VOA broadcasts have around the world. David Ensor, VOA’s current director, welcomes visitors to the site, where one can also learn who the other 27 directors have been – and hear from some of them.  There are aspects of VOA’s broadcast history that are uniquely VOA – and we will add a new “Only at VOA” page periodically throughout the year.

Visit the site when you have an opportunity, and let us know if you have your own stories to share – we would very much like to hear from you, and look forward to adding your experiences! E-mail us at askvoa@voanews.com. Or let us know if there is something you would like to see that we have not yet included; we may be able to add it.

Visit frequently – we will continue to update throughout the year.

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Happy Anniversary, VOA!

VOA celebrates 70 years of broadcasting news

The year 2012 is here and VOA is celebrating its 70th anniversary! We look forward to sharing it with our audience. We invite you to experience this 70th year with us here on our blog whatsupvoa.wordpress.com and website www.insidevoa.com.

This year Voice of America’s calendar highlights the accomplishments of some of our long-term employees, who have helped VOA achieve so much during these 70 years.  A few examples include George Mackenzie, a Public Relations writer-editor with VOA since 1989, and like VOA, he has transitioned with the advances in technology.  From print to online media to studio tours, his behind-the-scenes work is front-page material.  Fredrica “Fritzi” B. Depew started at VOA as an intern in 1966 and worked her way up to editor.  Her work is so well viewed that anything she edits is considered to be “fritzied,” a term coined by her appreciative colleagues.  In 1990, Ekram Shinwari took on a freelance job with VOA.  Today, in Kabul, he coordinates all of VOA’s special technical requests for material from Afghanistan.  He also continues to fulfill his initial role as a reporter and works closely with affiliate stations that carry VOA programs.  These and nine other remarkable employees share glimpses of their VOA experience. 

Along with our employee’s stories, the calendar showcases American celebrations throughout the country.  The month of May features New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Former VOA jazz broadcaster Willis Conover would certainly appreciate it!  November’s celebration is none other than the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  A classic staple of the American holiday, the parade is viewed by thousands on the streets and millions more on television.  Our calendar takes its monthly followers through the seasons of American celebrations.

This is just a quick peak at VOA’s initial commemoration of its 70 years.  Since VOA’s first broadcast in 1942, the world continues to change, and VOA continues to adapt.  Public Relations Director David Borgida says, “This year we celebrate the accomplishments and lessons learned over the years, realizing that like many things in life, VOA only gets better with age.”  We will continue providing accurate, objective and comprehensive news via shortwave, television, social media and any other new medium our audiences use. Stay tuned!

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MLK’s ‘Dream’ Lives On

VOA and BBG highlight diversity with program that resonates across cultures

“I walked three miles along a dirt road to a one-room school,” said Dr. Charlie Nelms, as he shared his humble beginnings at a January program marking the birthday of North Carolina Central University Chancellor Dr. Charlie NelmsDr. Martin Luther King.

The chancellor of North Carolina Central University said he credits the faith of his parents and four decisions he made on the day of King’s assassination, in 1968, for the drive that has helped him overcome obstacles in life, including his rough childhood in rural Arkansas.  He and his 10 siblings lived in a place where electricity was a “scarcity,” said Nelms,  along with “clean water, indoor plumbing and a roof that didn’t leak.”

Nelms’ four decisions were: to not be angry, to treat people with respect, to become an agent for change and to hold on to his parents’ faith in the power of education, the right to vote and owning land.

“Hold fast to dreams,” said Nelms in his keynote address, borrowing a line from a Langston Hughes poem. 

VOA Director David EnsorVOA Director David Ensor also reflected on King’s influence as he introduced Nelms. He called the civil rights leader’s “I Have a Dream”speech  “one of those big events in history.”  Ensor said King’s powerful speech at the Lincoln Memorial may have helped spark his interest in becoming a journalist.  He described watching the speech on TV, as a young boy in 1963.

And, the Morgan State University Choir belted out a spiritual rendition of the words of King’s famous “Dream” speech. Morgan State University Choir

VOA and its parent organization, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, hosted the King commemoration. The program was sponsored by the Southwest Interagency, a group comprised of six government agencies.  More to come from this group.  Its upcoming events include programs for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Holocaust Remembrance Day and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

For more information on upcoming events, check out the homepage for the BBG’s Office of Civil Rights.

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Deewa Radio Now on TV!

Audience spurs Deewa radio to add TV

“The best way to keep and grow your audience,” explains Deewa Radio Chief Nafees Takar, “is to listen to them and keep up with their needs.” The popular Deewa Radio has done this since its first broadcast in 2006. Now, Takar says, his listeners in northwestern Pakistan have prompted another programming change.

The new Deewa TVDeewa Radio is now Deewa Radio and TV. The Pashto language radio show expanded on January 9th to include a daily television simulcast. “More and more of the show’s fans are moving to television, so we’re going to be there as well,” explains Takar.

“It’s a big jump,” he adds. “It’s an attempt to get more access in the region and also to diversify.”

Takar says the idea of reaching out to the growing number of Pakistanis with satellite TV began a few years ago. Deewa started with “baby steps,” he said, which included putting video clips on the Web.

Deewa’s listeners and viewers are getting a lively mix of news, current events, health, education and entertainment. Its feature segments profile American Muslims who share their concepts of the “American Dream” with the Pakistani audience. They also explain how they educate their kids in the U.S. and observe their religion. For other segments, Pashtun artists, poets and writers share their life stories.

Host Rahman Bunairee“Everyone was excited,” said show anchor Rahman Bunairee. He said right after the first show, two of his friends in the region contacted him through Facebook to say they were watching and listening.

Host Mahwash Jaleel“Audience members can relate better, now that they can see us,” adds co-anchor Mahwash Jaleel.

The one-hour show airs at 10 P.M. Peshawar time, reaching people in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area and several surrounding provinces in the volatile border region. The Deewa Service is planning to expand coverage to include more visual elements, Americana and cultural stories from Pakistan.

Check out DeewaRadio.com to see one of the shows and some of the other programming.

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In Memory of Ferdinand Ferella

Un membre respecté de l’équipe de la Voix de l’Amérique

Ferdinand FerellaVOA French to Africa reporter Ferdinand Ferella, one of the most respected and well-known journalists in Central Africa, passed away December 13 following a battle with lung cancer.  He was 59.

Born in Rouen, France in 1952, Ferdinand worked at Radio Canada International before joining VOA in the late 1980s. As a reporter for VOA he traveled frequently to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his dedication to balance and accuracy built credibility and a loyal audience.

Ferella with Pres. Denis Sassou N'Guesso, Republic of Congo

Ferdinand Ferella with Pres. Denis Sassou N’Guesso, Republic of Congo

Friends called his influence in the Democratic Republic of Congo “astounding.”  Many journalists held him in such high regard they named their children after him.  One of his listeners once wrote he should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his reporting.

Longtime French to Africa Service Chief and friend Idrissa Dia, who worked with Ferdinand for the past 25 years, called him “an extraordinary journalist because of the way he practiced his craft in a sometimes explosive environment.  He had passion for the story, but he was very demanding, very, very meticulous about sourcing and fairness, and high officials knew they would have credibility if they spoke to him.”

Ferdinand Ferella with journalists he trained in Goma, DRC

Ferdinand Ferella with journalists he trained in Goma, DRC

VOA Director David Ensor called Ferdinand “one of the most respected journalists in Africa,” whose reporting was responsible for much of VOA’s audience.

In addition to his reporting, Ferdinand was also a mentor, training hundreds of journalists in Congo, carefully monitoring their work and helping them hone their skills.

VOA’s French to Africa Service has established a memorial page on their website for Ferdinand, already including many appreciative audience comments in French and English, along with audio tributes and photos from his career. Please visit and share your thoughts or memories, or learn more about this respected journalist, colleague, and friend.

Ferdinand Ferella interviews President Joseph Kabila, Democratic Republic of Congo

Ferdinand Ferella interviews President Joseph Kabila, Democratic Republic of Congo

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No Worries in the Swahili Service

A glimpse into VOA Swahili’s past, present, and future

Before the Disney movie “The Lion King” made “hakuna matata” (there are no worries) the world’s most widely known Swahili phrase in 1994, VOA had already broadcast Swahili to Africa’s East and Great Lakes regions for more than 30 years.

VOA Swahili logoVOA began Swahili as a one-hour daily show in 1962. It was the first African language service established by Voice of America. Now it delivers a wide range of topics, from news and entertainment to sports and women’s development. It reaches millions of listeners each week with accurate and comprehensive information across multiple media platforms.

“The first time I came to the U.S. was for reporting the 1984 Summer Olympics. After having lived in a country with limited information, I was surprised by the U.S.’s prosperity and freedom,” said Mwamoyo Hamza, chief of the Swahili Service. This trip to the U.S. influenced Hamza to go study in the U.S. After he graduated from Washington, D.C.’s Howard University with double majors in Journalism and Mass Communication, Hamza found a position in the VOA Swahili Service. In transitioning from a regular listener to a service chief, Hamza’s legendary story inspires every employee in the Service.

Swahili Service Chief Mwamoyo Hamza“International media is more powerful and reliable in my country (Tanzania),” Hamza explains. Speaking of the competition between VOA and other international media agencies, Hamza said, “We have a lot of challenges. Budget issues are the major concern for us.” Although the Service only broadcasts an hour a day, this helps them devote more attention to developing their content. “We don’t only report an event: instead, we always think about why this event happened. This has more meaning than just the event itself.”

Their reports are not only heard on shortwave frequencies and on local radio stations in several countries, but also online. This modification helped them to expand their listenership in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

VOA Swahili always keeps in step with the times. As the social media wave continues growing globally, the Service established Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-mails, phone calls, texts, and other online services for better communication with its listeners.

Hamza believes that combining great content with technology and innovation will create a better space for the Swahili Service. We’re looking forward to see what new success VOA Swahili will achieve!

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