Monday, May 23, 2016

Sim Copans, Radio Free Europe, and Jazz over the Iron Curtain

Cold War Radio Vignettes

According to Alan Michie's authoritative book on the early years of Radio Free Europe, Voices through the Iron Curtain, jazz was used as a propaganda weapon used by both sides of the Iron Curtain:

RFE in its early years contributed its quota of forbidden jazz in daily programs beamed to the younger listeners, although some of the exile broadcasters, brought up on mazurkas, polkas and waltzes, were inclined to doubt the assurances of their American advisers that jazz music would prove as infectious behind the Iron Curtain as it had been all around the world. But after Stalin's passing in 1953 the Communist regimes grudgingly lifted their taboo and their radio stations cautiously ventured to play whatever jazz records they had on file, mostly music of the 1920s and 1930s. By 1956, however, the appetite for jazz was so accepted that the regime radios boldly introduced hit tunes from the West. Radio Warsaw smartly had its records flown in from New York.

To counter this competition, RFE sharpened its own programs, and put on recognized Western jazz experts to provide the know-how that the Communists could not match. Simon Copans, an American authority who had lived many years in France and who conducted a jazz program on France's Radio Diffusion Francaise, was borrowed from that network to prepare a weekly record session, which in turn was translated and made available for broadcast by all of RFE's Voices. John Wilson's program, "The World of Jazz," broadcast regularly over New York City's WQXR radio station, was made available for rebroadcast over RFE, as were special jazz programs contributed by New York's radio station WNEW. 

Who was Simon (Sim) Copans?

Simon (Sim) Copans was born in Stamford Connecticut in 1912. In the 1930s, he lived and studied in France. He received a doctorate degree from Brown University in 1938. 

As an American soldier with the rank of captain, Sim Copans participated in landing of Normandy in June 1944 as a "radio officer" and then the liberation of Paris, where he remained after the war ended. 

Copans joined the Armed Forces Network (AFN) radio station in Paris producing jazz, gospel, and other programs for the American military community, which also could be heard by a growing French audience. He  also became associated with French radio station Paris Inter, renamed Radio Inter, eventually producing over 4,000 jazz programs "Panorama on American Jazz" heard Saturdays from noon to 1 pm. 

Coupons L:
Sim Copans also provided over 100 half-hour jazz program texts to Radio Free Europe's language services in Munich from October 1956 to June 1959. His program text "Jazz from Paris" in English was then translated into the respective Radio Free Europe languages for broadcasting. In December 1958, RFE music director John H. Wright wrote to Copans telling him that his programs were "going well" over the five RFE language programs.

He also wrote jazz scripts for the Voice of America and the BBC's "World of Jazz" programs.

He helped found an international jazz festival in 1976 in Souillac, France, that continues today. For information in English, including the program, about the upcoming Jazz Festival Sim Copans in Souillac, France, July 19 - 23, 2016, here is the link:

Sim Copans died in France in 2000 and remains a "legend" in France today for his promotion of Jazz and American Gospel music.

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