Under the Radar

Tracking Western Radio Listeners in the Soviet Union
$95.00 / €80.00 / £68.00
PDF version is freely available thanks to the libraries supporting CEU Press’s Opening the Future initiative.
Publication date: 
426 pages
File attachments: 

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.      


Introduction: Why a History of Audience Research at Radio Liberty?

Prelude: My Road to Radio Liberty (amabile)

First Movement (1965–1970): Early Years of Audience Research at Radio Liberty (andante)

Second Movement (1970–1980): First Steps in Audience Interviewing (accelerato)

Third Movement (1981–1985): Audience Research Breaks New Ground (sforzando)

Fourth Movement (1986–1990): Perestroika Changes the Game (fuocoso)

Fifth Movement (1991–1994): The Post-Soviet Transition (vittorioso, capriccioso, lamentoso)

Postlude: The Road Ahead (coda)

Appendix 1: Charts and Graphs referenced in text

Appendix 2: Vignettes: Max Ralis, Ross Johnson, James Critchlow, Morrill Cody, James Buckley, Ralph Walter, Helmut Aigner, Christopher Geleklidis, Steen Sauerberg, Copenhagen interviewer, Viktor Nekrasov, Andrei Sinyavsky, Victor Grayevsky, Irina Alberti

Appendix 3: Methodologies. MIT Simulation. Contribution of Ithiel de Sola Pool

Appendix 4: Excerpts from BALEs (Broadcast Area Listener Reports), Agorametrie conflict themes, an example of a mark-sense questionaire

Appendix 5: Thumbnail sketches of SAAOR/MOR Staffers


"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."
“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.”
“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.”
"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."