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James Critchlow: Russia Specialist and Establishing Member of Radio Liberation

James Critchlow, circa 1955, at work at Radio Liberation in Munich.
James Critchlow, circa 1955, at work at Radio Liberation in Munich.

James Critchlow, an American Russia specialist who helped establish Radio Liberation, passed away on July 7 at the age of 93.

Critchlow was one of the first American managers of the broadcaster, which began operations in Munich in 1953. Radio Liberation was the initial name given to Radio Liberty, which was launched by the United States to utilize the talents of post-World War II émigrés from the Soviet Union in support of American foreign policy.

Later he became the bureau manager of Radio Liberty in Paris and the director of information for the Radio Liberty Committee, Inc., the oversight organization for the broadcaster and other U.S.-funded information programs directed at the Soviet Union, in New York City.

Critchlow authored the much-praised Radio Hole in the Head: Radio Liberty: An Insider's Story of Cold War Broadcasting, published in 1995, and was an authority on the early days of Radio Liberty. In an interview with RFE/RL in 2018, he recalled the early Munich years. “Our transmitters were not very powerful in those days and we had no way of knowing how many people were listening,” he said, “but one interesting sign was that within minutes of our first broadcasts, the Soviet jamming took effect.”

In addition to Critchlow’s time at RFE/RL, he also served as chief of Soviet and East European research at the United States Information Agency; planning and research officer at the United States Board for International Broadcasting; visiting professor at the University of Illinois, Champaign; and fellow at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University since 1987. He was also a freelance broadcaster for the Voice of America.

He is survived by his two daughters, Jane Critchlow and Ann Onanian Critchlow.