My love for shortwave radio was already strong by the time I was six years old. It was fascinating to me to tune in radio stations from around the world and hear different languages, news from places I had to look up on the map, and stories from cultures I knew nothing about.
And, of course, new music.
From an early age, while listening to our own shortwave international powerhouse, the Voice of America, I would regularly hear this:
As a kid, the music was new and exciting to me, and that voice was soothing. That was Willis Conover, who went on the air at VOA for over 40 years, broadcasting jazz to the world. He was all but unknown in the US; around the world, however, he was bigger than life for bringing American music and culture over the Iron Curtain. Many people learned English or even became jazz musicians themselves because of Willis Conover.
I have wanted to hear some of those old recordings for many years. This summer, after many years of archiving Conover’s material, the University of North Texas received a grant and began digitizing some of the thousands of recording they have of Willis. I was excited to learn they’ve started releasing the material for all to enjoy, thanks largely in part to Maristella Feustle, UNT Music Special Collections Librarian (and jazz guitarist).
The initial batch of material includes two compete episodes of Music USA on VOA, interviews with Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong, a set from Bill Evans, and much more.
If you enjoy jazz, check out this site and learn more about Willis Conover and his role in jazz history.