A SMALL BUT disagreeable cloud has formed over the broadcasts that the U.S. government beams, by way of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, to the Soviet Union. In recent months there have been a number of complaints that a handful of these broadcasts are tinged with at least a trace of anti-Semitism and anti-democratic sentiment. The managers of the stations have insisted that there is no substance whatever to these charges. Those who raise the issue, however, make a case that unwittingly the managers have aired a very few broadcasts to whose overtones and implications they may not be fully sensitive. Something troubling appears to be in the air.

The difficulty seems to lie in the re-creation, in sectors of the heavily ,emigr,e staffs at the two radios, of some of the ethnic and political tensions of their native land. That the older senior ranks tend to come from the mostly Russian emigration of the Cold War years, while newer staff members come from the Jewish emigration of the 1970s, has created a strange and volatile political chemistry -- one that American-born radio executives may sometimes find difficult to assay and control, especially when they have a contemporary American variety of anti-communism foremost on their mind.

This is the context in which a dispute arose over whether there was a hint of anti-Semitism in a new passage of a Solzhenitsyn novel broadcast on the Russian service of the Voice of America; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the exiled Russian writer now living in Vermont, is a dominant figure in the American ,emigr,e community. As with similar charges that have been made about some programs aired by Radio Liberty, the issue requires a very fine sorting out of the broadcaster's message and the listener's perception. In radio, with its emphasis on verbal and cultural inflection, the possibilities of mixed signals are considerable.

A number of congressmen are concerned about the matter, and the General Accounting Office has been looking into Radio Liberty. This is unpleasant but necessary. The Voice of America, speaking for the American government and people, and Radio Liberty, which seeks to provide its listeners with the native material their governments censor, are important instruments of American foreign policy. Most of their work is beyond cavil. The stations, however, are very delicately constructed and balanced enterprises. They require managers of great political sophistication. It would be intolerable if either station harbored any trace of the prejudice -- which is rampant, under official sponsorship, on Soviet soil.