Jim Hawkins' VOA Washington D.C. Tour

(Jim Hawkins' Radio and Broadcast Engineering Page)
All images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

This is NOT the official Voice of America Website. For Frequency and schedule information.
Please visit
WWW.VOA.GOV. At the official site, you can also get online broadcasts.

Accessed times since June 18, 2002

Floor with VOA logo.


U.S. Transmitter Sites


Our Host

On May 20, my wife, Gretchen and I were hosted by
Rick Barnes, Internet News Specialist for Voice of America,
Washington, DC.

I am grateful to Rick for giving me access to the facility and
giving me a special tour of the Voice of America Studios,
newsrooms and other facilities.


Building at C St. and 3rd St. Washington D. C. houses the studios of Voice of America and Health and Human Services.


Enter Here

Plaque identifying VOA outside of the
building entrance.

Inner entry door with VOA banner.

Health and human services mural.


Antenna Model

Although other types of transmitting antennas are used, the most widely used for short-wave broadcast is the curtain antenna, which sharply focuses the signal in the desired direction. Some of these antennas are built to be mechanically turned on massive rotating poles. The ones used by VOA are directed by adjusting the relative phases of the dipoles in the array. I have also heard these antennas referred to as stacked dipoles.
These excellent models are displayed behind glass in one of the halls of the VOA building in Washington D.C. The caption under this display reads: "The IBB electronically steerable beam antenna has the capability of directing broadcast signals to different directions." The fine lines of the antenna model are etched on lucite.


Studios and Control Rooms

VOA live broadcasts originate from suites, all with the same basic design. A relatively large studio with 5 microphone stations, coupled with a control room with an engineer on the right and producer on the left as they face the studio. In this photo, only the engineer is shown.

Radio Studio with 5 microphone stations from front
and rear views. Robotically controlled television cameras
are also positioned and are manipulated from the control

and engineer in control room.

 Another suite, showing the producer on the left in the foreground and the engineer on the right in the background. The producer/director follows a program plan, preparing the engineer and talent for the next switch of activity. Also, the producer makes sure that each program segment starts and ends at precisely the right time. The engineer controls the levels and sources of program input, whether it be from an archive recording, the studio talent or remote sources.

Central Recording

Digital program editing 


Central Recording Tape Duplication


VOA Television

Television control room.


Master Control

All photos in this section are courtesy of
Michael McNea, Radio Broadcast Technician for VOA

Control Room History and Description by Mike McNea

The original Voice of America master control, a well known icon with it's large curved console, was built by Gates Radio when VOA relocated from New York to Washington in 1954. Using an entire rack room of Langevin tube amplifiers, 48Vdc telephone crossbar and stepper relays for switching, it was capable of switching 99 inputs to 26 outgoing channels. Leased program circuits carried programming to domestic
transmitter sites, which then "relayed" them to receiving and transmitting stations overseas. Each quarter hour switch was set up by hand, using pushbuttons for each outgoing channel "bank", as they were called.

As additional studios, transmitters, microwave and satellite program circuits came into use during the '60s & '70s, VOA outgrew the original facility. With multiple transmitter sites piggybacked on outgoing channels, manual patching was often required to accomidate different program feeds.

Planning thus began during the late '70s for a new master control; Following several revisions, it was constructed by VOA staff and went online in 1987. Built around a Utah Scientific router, the new system was compact enough to fit in one room, yet could route 150 inputs to 100 outputs, more than five times the combinations of the original MC. Computer presetting of regular switching schedules and video display of channel status were a welcome improvement.

VOA continued to add studios, began stereo broadcasting, and additional dedicated circuits for ISDN, TVRO channels, remote broadcasts and bureaus- Guess what? The new room was approaching it's capacity, and digital audio was in broadcasting's future.

So, room number three… Constructed by Harris Broadcast, VOA's current master control came online in 1999 to serve as the starting point for a conversion to digital audio. All internal routing and distribution is AES3 digital form; A/D & D/A converters interface
existing analog sources and destinations; All future construction and renovation will be digital.

Actual program switching is handled by a pair of nVision routers, framed for 1024 inputs by 1024 outputs, & 2048 inputs by 512 outputs; These are configured into three virtual subsystems- Of that, we are currently using 431 inputs and 239 outputs. The remotely located router is the largest synchronous digital audio switching system in the world.

The switching schedule and status of each channel are displayed on three computer monitors, using a graphical software interface disigned by the Swiss firm, Lysis SA. Patchbays for incoming and outgoing circuits, studio feedlines, and access points within the system line the

--Michael McNea

Original Washington master control circa 1986. 
The console was built by Gates.

1987 Master Control (lights dimmed to show
panel lights)

Same control racks with more lighting.
Operator consoles are visible at the end.
Console was designed by the VOA staff
and fabricated by an auto body shop.

VOA'S current master control room,
constructed by Harris Broadcast. MC
Technicians Steve Brody (L) and
Mike McNea (R).

Routers for program switching.