Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The 35th anniversary of the Voice of America Thursday brought a crush of nearly 700 people out in the rain to the HEW penthouse Thursday night. With red, white and blue balloons filling the air, the scene had all the festiveness of a class reunion.
But it was a reunion with political undertones for the station that broadcasts 789 hours a week in 36 languages to listeners around the world. Though the band played "Happy Days Are Here Again," the main topic of conversation, once spouses and children had been introduced to fellow workers, was the push for the VOA to become independent of the U.S. Information Agency.
"We're still waiting to hear about that," said VOA Director Kenneth Giddens. Looking out over the multitude that gathered though, he added, "We've got a lot of clout here."
Carter press secretary Jody Powell was expected at the affair which began at 5 p.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m., but he apparently did not show. At least one White House staffer to show was press aide William Drummond.
USIA Director-designate John E. Reinhardt, who will head the VOA in his new post, had little to say about the VOA's status. "I'm not legit (referring to the fact that he has not been confirmed in his position). I don't have any thoughts. I'm still thinking."
Willis Conover, the VOA's famed jazz commentator, was equally diplomatic. "I know proponents of each of with the people who are at the executive level and below, the human and professional factor. I'm not as concerned about who we're under."
Another veteran VOA staff member, Pat Gates, who has broadcast the morning "Breathless Show" for 14 years, said, however, that she "liked the way the BBC had as much independence as it does."
Way back when the VOA began in 1942, though, such conversations were unheard of.
"It was wartime," said Robert Bauer, the man who first said, "This is the Voice of America." Bauer worked for VOA for 30 years. The naturalized-American from Austria said he started his broadcast career "by a sheer coincidence. I was a lawyer in Austria, and when the war came I ran a clandestine radio station."