On August 19, 1991, a military coup was attempted in Moscow. Instead of reporting on the event, Soviet television broadcast the ballet, Swan Lake.
That night, listeners of Radio Liberty heard an emergency news broadcast: “As you know, we just received a message that the Soviet leadership has issued a statement saying that the powers of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shall be transferred to Vice President Yanaev due to the inability of the president to fulfill his duties because of health reasons.”
Three days later, the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP – which staged the coup attempt) fell, and a few days after that Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree accrediting the Radio Liberty bureau in Moscow for the broadcaster’s role in covering the August events.
Only a few years earlier it was impossible to imagine an official office of the radio station in Russia – the Soviet Union had been jamming the broadcasts of “Western voices” for decades. Dmitry Volchek, who became Radio Liberty’s first freelance correspondent in the USSR in November 1988, literally just days after Soviet authorities turned off the jammers, recalled, “Sometimes people listened despite the jamming. Maybe every tenth word was clear. But only because they were hearing some forbidden words, names of Solzhenitsyn and others, the mood was getting better… But when the jamming stopped, everyone listened, millions of people, and the response to each program was enormous.”