Set up in 1931 by Guglielmo Marconi, today its programs are offered in 47 languages, and are sent out on short wave (also DRM), medium wave, FM, satellite and the Internet. The Jesuit Order has been charged with the management of Vatican Radio since its inception. During World War II and the rise of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Vatican Radio served as a source for news for the Allies as well as broadcasting pro-Allied (or simply neutral) propaganda. A week after Pope Pius XII ordered the programming, Vatican Radio broadcast to an unbelieving world that Poles and Jews were being rounded up and forced into ghettos.
Today, programming is produced by over two hundred journalists located in 61 different countries. Vatican Radio produces more than 42,000 hours of simultaneous broadcasting covering international news, religious celebrations, in-depth programs, and music. Current general director is Father Federico Lombardi, S.J.
In 1936, the International Radio Union recognized Vatican Radio as a "special case" and authoirzed its broadcasting without any geographical limits. On December 25, 1937, a Telefunken 25-kW transmitter and two directional antennas were added. Vatican Radio broadcast over 10 frequences..
During World War II, Vatican Radio's news broadcasts were banned in Germany. During the war, the radio service operated in four languages.
Because of space purposes, the Holy See acquired a 400-hectare area located 18 kilometers north of Rome at Santa Maria di Galera. The Italian Republic granted the site extraterritorial status in 1952.
In 1957, a new broadcasting center was placed into operation, with a Philips 100-kW shortwave transmitter, two 10-kW shortwave transmitters, and one 120-kW mediumwave transmitters, with 21 directional and one omnidirectional antenna. The next phase involved two 100-kW transmitters aimed at Africa and Oceania, a 250-kW mediumwave transmitter for Europe, and a 500-kW transmitter for the Far East and Latin America.
Radio Vaticana was one of 23 founding broadcasting organisations of the European Broadcasting Union in 1950.
The most interesting aerial is the one for the medium wave frequency 1530 kHz, which consists of four 94 metre high grounded free standing towers arranged in a square, which carry wires for a medium wave aerial on horizontal crossbars. The direction of this aerial can be changed.
Vatican Radio covers a large area of the Rome municipality, as set by the 'extraterritorial right' in Italian law. To cover such a large area, the radio station has around 60 pylons higher than 100 meters (328 ft). Since this part of Rome is not under Italian jurisdiction, these transmitters are not subject to the Italian laws that limit the radiation that a radio station can emit. In the vicinity of these pylons, the radiation emitted can be more than the double the amount allowed by Italian law, as verified officially by the Italian Civil Defense and the Department for the Environment of the region of Lazio.
This situation causes much disturbance to the lives of the people living in this area: the most common complaints are that one can hear the transmissions breaking through on telephones, and many other electronic devices. (Due in many cases to the devices having poor electromagnetic immunity to the strong signals) The Region of Lazio has also found that the people in the area around the emitters are much more likely to have leukemia: the closer those in the examined sample lived to the radio station, the more likely they were to have leukemia, up to 6 times the Italian national average. (Agenzia di Sanità Pubblica - Regione Lazio - March 2001).
Vatican radio was recently subject to a lawsuit from the Regional Health Department for "Throwing of dangerous things" on the Italian ground. Every time it was sued the radio showed the 'Lateran Treaty', bilateral agreements signed by the Holy See and Benito Mussolini during Fascism. (The area around the radio station at the time it was built was not heavily populated). A well known Italian TV program called 'Le iene' (transl. 'the hyenas') went to the radio station and replaced the radio's insignia with a new one stating 'Radio Erode' meaning 'Herod's Radio', referring to Herod the Great and the Massacre of the Innocents, since the studies show that the most affected people are children 0 to 14 years old.