October 15, 2022
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Under the Radar

Tracking Western Radio Listeners in the Soviet Union

Western democracy is currently under attack by a resurgent Russia, weaponizing new technologies and social media. How to respond? During the Cold War, the West fought off similar Soviet propaganda assaults with shortwave radio broadcasts. Founded in 1949, the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast uncensored information to the Soviet republics in their own languages. About one-third of Soviet urban adults listened to Western radio. The broadcasts played a key role in ending the Cold War and eroding the communist empire.

R. Eugene Parta was for many years the director of Soviet Area Audience Research at RFE/RL, charged among others with gathering listener feedback. In this book he relates a remarkable Cold War operation to assess the impact of Western radio broadcasts on Soviet listeners by using a novel survey research approach. Given the impossibility of interviewing Soviet citizens in their own country, it pioneered audacious interview methods in order to fly under the radar and talk to Soviets traveling abroad, ultimately creating a database of 51,000 interviews which offered unparalleled insights into the media habits and mindset of the Soviet public. By recounting how the "impossible" mission was carried out, Under the Radar also shows how the lessons of the past can help counter the threat from a once and current adversary.

About the Author

Russell Eugene (Gene) Parta retired as Director of Audience Research and Program Evaluation for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague in 2006. Previously, Mr. Parta was Director of Media and Opinion Research of the RFE/RL Research Institute in Munich and earlier Director of Soviet Area Audience and Opinion Research of Radio Liberty in Paris. He has worked in the field of international broadcasting audience research since 1969. He served as Chairman of CIBAR (Conference on International Broadcasting Audience Research that brings together researchers from over 20 international broadcasting organizations). He is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University and has been a visiting research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on two occasions as well as at George Washington University. Mr. Parta was an Osher Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University in 2004 researching his earlier book Discovering the Hidden Listener: An Assessment of Radio Liberty and Western Broadcasting to the USSR During the Cold War and a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution in 2017-2018 researching this book in the RFE/RL Corporate Archives. He is co-editor with A. Ross Johnson of Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


"Most of Radio Free Europe's research efforts were geared toward learning how to build listener trust and how to counter propaganda. Today, there is no centralized research organization that combines quantitative media surveys with analytical research into the target country's economic, political, and sociocultural life. Parta's final peroration is a call for the creation of such an institution: one that could provide insights into digital audiences and offer counternarratives, especially in light of contemporary Russian propaganda and its role in fueling the war in Ukraine."https://muse.jhu.edu/article/911038—Ana Cohle, Technology and Culture"Stylishly written and fun to read, Parta's book is ultimately more about people than policies or data. He describes his fellow employees and associates at the various contracting firms who conducted the actual interviews that provided raw data for statistical analyses. He elucidates how they worked and sometimes how they played, which gives the reader a sense of the personalities behind Cold War radio. These were not policy-formulating or policyimplementing automatons but real people with real virtues and failings."https://direct.mit.edu/jcws/article-abstract/25/4/261/118956/Cold-War-Radio-The-Russian-Broadcasts-of-the-Voice?redirectedFrom=fulltext—Anatol Shmelev, Journal of Cold War Studies


"No one is better qualified than Gene Parta to explain how during the Cold War RFE/RL measured the size of its audience, examined the attitudes and opinions of its listeners, and used that data to help shape the broadcasts. In this well written, superbly researched, and deeply personal book, Parta takes us inside the audience research operations, shows us how data was collected and assessed, and paints memorable sketches of individuals who worked at RFE/RL.As we now enter a new Cold War, Parta's book serves as an all-important guide and inspiration for a new generation of researchers who must grapple with ever evolving technologies, audience fragmentation, social media, and Russian disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks."—Mark Pomar"An essential intellectual adventure into the depths of the Cold War, with essential lessons for today. Parta shows that Russia is not a riddle wrapped in an enigma – it can be understood and influenced. His insights have never been more relevant."—Peter Pomerantsev"In this fascinating history, Gene Parta describes the creative measures employed by Radio Liberty to acquaint itself with its huge but unknown audience in the Soviet Union. With the help of travelers, émigrés, and letter writers, Parta and his group of Paris-based researchers compiled a portrait of their audience which enabled Radio Liberty to tailor its broadcasts to their concerns and become one of the most important contributors to America's victory in the Cold War."—David Satter

9789633864555 : under-the-radar-parta
426 Pages
$95.00 USD
9789633867624 : under-the-radar-parta
Paperback / softback
March 31, 2024
$35.95 USD

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