Thursday, February 6, 2014

Broadcasting on the Internet: The Early Years

In 1993, as acting Associate Director of Broadcasting for USIA, I moved to put the Voice of America and WorldNet on the emerging 'Internet.' 

I was impressed that there were more than 1.7 million computers world-wide hooked up to the Internet.  Here's the memorandum I sent to the USIA Director, Joe Duffy, informing him of our plan.

United States Information Agency


October 12, 1993


FROM: B - Joseph B. Bruns

SUBJECT: Internet Delivery of Broadcast Schedules andProgram Materials


As you know, the Bureau of Broadcasting is actively investigating
new methods for delivering our products to supplement our
traditional delivery media of direct shortwave radio broadcasting
and program feeds to USIS Posts and affiliated stations. In
particular, we are interested in offering broadcast schedules,
program transcripts and digitally-encoded excerpts of our
broadcasts to users of the international research Internet. This
 memo provides a brief overview of our current thinking and


 Until now, the Broadcasting staff has used the Internet primarily
to gather information. An electronic gateway, established several
years ago between the Internet and our computer System for News and
 Programming (SNAP), serves as a channel of communication between
SNAP users and news sources: our Polish broadcast service receives
a daily "newspaper," Donosv. directly from its "publishers" in
 Warsaw; at least one commercial news provider, Baltic News Service,
sends its product to the VOA central newsroom via the Internet; the
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Daily Report is electronically
transmitted each morning from Munich to Bureau of Broadcasting

Perhaps the most dramatic use of the Internet as a source of
information occurred in August 1991, during the attempted coup
 d'etat in the former Soviet Union, when democratically-inclined
computer scientists established a clandestine relay between their
internal computer network and SNAP. VOA received more than 100
 electronic mail messages in Russian and English, including the full
texts of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's official edicts-which
sometimes reached us hours before their English translations were
disseminated by the commercial news agencies.

The Internet has proved itself to be a valuable source of
 information. Now we are beginning to tap the potential of the
Internet as a medium for disseminating information. For example,
we currently use Network News (a.k.a. USENET) to distribute program
and frequency schedules for our radio broadcasts. More ambitious
projects are currently being planned.

Current Plans

The rapid growth of the Internet-now more than 1.7 million computers in
more than 100 countries were connected to the Internet as of July
of this year—makes it an increasingly attractive vehicle for
disseminating transcripts of our programs and audio "sound bites"
from our radio broadcasts along with marketing information and
program schedules.

Until now, we have had no way to offer VOA and Worldnet products to
Internet users on demand. But with the assistance of the Agency's
Office of Technology, we are preparing to connect SNAP directly to
the Internet next month. This will make it possible for us to
provide interactive services to a worldwide audience of Internet
users in academic institutions, foreign governments and the news

Before the end of the year, we will establish a public file server
on the Internet that will offer a selection of program and
frequency schedules, marketing information and selected English
transcripts of VOA and Worldnet programs. We will also undertake
an active public relations effort to notify Internet users of the
availability of these products. We will secure clearance from the
Office of the General Counsel before making any program materials
available through this medium to make certain our actions conform
to the restrictions on the domestic dissemination of Agency
products contained in the Smith-Mundt Act.

We intend to extend this service next year by providing short audio
selections in various languages that will be encoded into the most
popular digital audio file formats for industry-standard personal
computers. (At this time, dissemination of video through the
Internet appears to be impractical for technical reasons.) We are
also investigating the feasibility of offering foreign-language
radio and television scripts to Internet users by encoding them
into Unicode, an emerging de facto standard for multilingual text.

Other Vehicles

In addition to using the Internet for program dissemination, we are
exploring the use of existing satellite communication channels to
offer textual materials to affiliated stations. We are completing
preparations for a pilot project that will use current leased audio
circuits to transmit program content and schedule information in
Spanish and Portuguese to VOA affiliates in Latin America. We are
also investigating the possibility of developing a much broader
foreign language newswire service using the multilingual character encoding
system described above.

We believe these efforts to utilize new communication technologies
will help us establish entirely new audiences for the Bureau of
Broadcasting's program products, significantly increasing our
ability to serve as a full-service news and information provider to the world.