“Voice of America DJ Willis Conover is up for a postage stamp to honor his work in exporting jazz, especially to short-wave radio listeners in the old Soviet Bloc, as Doug Ramsey at The Wall Street Journal notes. A stamp would be a minimal tribute, given the remarkable role Conover played during the Cold War, though it would be just about the only “official” recognition he has ever received.
During Conover’s four decades as a Voice of America (VOA) DJ from 1955 through the mid-1990s, he upended communist cultural policy just by playing prohibited “degenerate” American music that his overseas audience longed to hear. Most Americans have never heard of him, but in the postwar era he was one of the best-known, and certainly one of the most popular, Americans in the world. He had millions of devoted followers in Eastern Europe alone; his worldwide audience in his heyday has been estimated at up to 30 million people.
Conover managed to tour Soviet Bloc cities occasionally during East-West thaws, and, to his great surprise, was greeted at airports like a celebrity by huge cheering crowds. Moscow cabdrivers recognized him solely on the basis of his distinctive baritone voice.“