- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 9, 2005

The fast-paced world of broadcasting and a mix of world cultures are on display for visitors to Voice of America headquarters in the District.

The Voice of America (VOA) is the government-funded broadcasting service that reaches 87 million people in 44 languages each week.

At the headquarters, visitors can watch and listen as Iranian television news is broadcast or an African radio-show round table discusses American hip-hop music. Dozens of languages are being spoken at any one time as the broadcasters beam information to at least as many time zones at the round-the-clock news center.

“It is like a small United Nations here,” says Joe O’Connell, director of external affairs for VOA. “There is always something happening 24 hours a day.”

Tours of VOA headquarters are offered each weekday at 11:45 a.m. A staffer takes the group past the news broadcast center — where they can watch producers, directors and reporters at work — and through the corridor of radio studios, where they can listen in on shows in progress.

The tour guides also offer details about the organization’s history and mission. The VOA began shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided the United States needed its own international broadcasting service.

VOA went on the air Feb. 24, 1942, with announcer William Harlan Hale saying in German, “The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth.”

A tour of VOA will be interesting to teens and young adults interested in journalism and world affairs. The sophisticated electronics, cameras, editing equipment and sound-editing machines will appeal to students interested in technology. Families with young children may want to skip a trip here, as a hands-off approach and moderately quiet voices are required.

Starting in September, visitors will get a new and improved type of tour. A “studio tour” will be a multimedia experience for small groups of visitors, says Letitia King, the VOA’s chief of media relations. The new tour will feature an in-person guide as well as a recording (via headphones) that will provide a more in-depth picture of the sights and sounds of VOA, she says.

The building itself also contains a bit of history in its murals. In the late 1930s, American artist Ben Shahn was commissioned by the government to paint a mural titled “The Meaning of Social Security” in the lobby of the government building that now houses the VOA.

Mr. Shahn’s mural captures the mood of the various New Deal programs, including Social Security, that went into effect during that era. In one section of the mural, a worker is signing his papers while two other workers look on skeptically. In this time of increased debate over the future of the program, it still is a timely piece of art.

When you go:

Location: Voice of America headquarters is at 330 Independence Ave. SW, Washington.

Directions: VOA is across the street from the new National Museum of the American Indian. The visitors entrance is located on the C Street side of the building, between Third and Fourth streets.

Admission: Free, but reservations are required. For reservations, call 202/619-3919 or send e-mail to tickets@voanews.com.

Hours: Tours are available weekdays at 11:45 a.m. Closed on federal holidays.

Parking: Limited street and meter parking are available nearby.

More information: 202/401-7000 or www.voanews.com.

Notes:

• The center is headquarters of the government-supported worldwide broadcasting service. VOA produces about 1,000 hours of programming in 44 languages each week. Visitors to the broadcast center can learn about broadcasting and international affairs and see journalists in action.

• The guided tour is recommended for older children and teens.

• Be prepared to go through security when entering the building.

• In the fall, visitors will have a new studio tour featuring more interactive audio and visual programming.

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