BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Callers from western New York and all over the Soviet Union swapped questions and answers Sunday on an unprecedented international radio call-in talk show, discussing topics from music to higher education.
"I think we've got a winner here," said Thomas Stoner, owner and chairman of the Stoner Broadcasting System, which broadcast the two-hour call-in show over three Upstate New York radio stations in Buffalo, Rochester and Binghamton.
The show used translators to allow callers to ask questions that would be answered by callers in the other country.
An arrangement before the broadcast limited discussion to social problems, family, professions and education, and callers in both countries found plenty to discuss in those areas.
Many of the questions from Soviet callers revolved around the kinds of financial assistance available to U.S. citizens from the government. American callers asked about Soviet citizens' individual freedoms.
One caller from the Soviet Union, Serena from the Ural Mountains, asked Americans how they felt about perestroika, the reforms Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has instituted to make his country more productive.
"I've followed it through the newspapers as best I can," replied Sue of Rochester. "I think everything here has the potential for working if the people want to support it."
"In the U.S., higher education costs a lot of money," said Vitaly in the Soviet Union. "What assistance is given by the government to poor people to get an education?"
Calvin, a medical student at Upstate New York's Keuka College, told him: "There are many loan programs and state and federal aid for students who want to go to school but have no money. If you have the desire to go to school, you can fund it."
The show initially was to be broadcast only in the Moscow area on the Gostel radio station, but Stoner said that "20 minutes before the show, they told me they'd hooked up the whole Soviet Union."
Host John Leslie told American callers their Soviet audience was 200 million people, and Soviet callers claimed addresses ranging from Siberia to the Ural Mountains.
Gennadi Gasparian, who serves on the English-speaking foreign desk of Gostel, told Stoner after the show: "We had so many calls on hold, we couldn't answer all the calls. We had people waiting for 10 minutes."
He added: "This was a major event in our country. The media gave it wide promotion."
Stoner said discussions were under way to set up the radio dialogue on a regular basis. He said it cost his company about $100,000.
During the show, Bob of West Wolcott asked, "Is a person's employment determined by the government or others or are they free to go into any employment they want?"
Soviet host Yvgenyi Pavlov said the Soviet constitution guarantees citizens the right to pick the career of their choice and Vladimir, calling long distance from Siberia, talked about his change of career.
After studying physics for a year in college, he said, "I decided to change work" and became a linguist.
A caller from Niagara Falls asked the Soviet audience what kind of self-employment prospects are available, and Pavlov said his audience might not be aware of recent changes in Soviet law.
"Beginning in May of this year, there was new legislation on self-employment which permits a person as he wishes ... to be self-employed and what they can produce, they can sell."
There were discussions on less serious topics as well.
Asked about country music in the Soviet Union, Cyril told an American seventh-grader named Joe, "There are a lot of people who like U.S. country music and I'm one of them."
His favorite artist? "Johnny Cash."
Jeffrey Yorke's On the Dial column will resume next month.