The Curious Case of Columbo's Message to Romania Part 2
Decoder Ring
Wed, April 19, 2023
Podchat Summary
In this episode of Decoder Ring, the host delves into the mystery surrounding Peter Falk's message to Romania and whether it actually aired on television. Through interviews with retired USIA producers and Romanian TV employees, the host attempts to uncover evidence of the message's existence. Despite diplomatic cables suggesting that the message aired, the host finds no concrete evidence to support this claim. Additionally, many Romanians do not remember the message, possibly due to its unremarkable nature and airing during a time of political turmoil. Ultimately, the host concludes that while the message may have been made, it remains unclear whether it actually aired on television. Tune in to this intriguing episode to learn more about this fascinating mystery.
Original Show Notes
Last week, we put on the proverbial raincoat and made like Columbo to investigate Peter Falk’s claim that he recorded a special Cold War message telling Romanians to “put down their guns.” This week, we’re back on the case, and what started out as a zany inquiry goes to some serious and surprising places. Part two of this caper, involves dubbers, propagandists, a couple of 90 year olds and the legacy of a brutal dictatorship. It’s a story about celebrity, diplomacy, memory, and the limitations of all three—and about the power of television not to get Romanians to put down their guns, as Falk would have it, but to pick them up. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Joel Meyer. Derek John is Slate’s executive producer of narrative podcasts. Merritt Jacob is senior technical director. Special thank you to Oana Godanu Kenworthy who was instrumental in figuring this all out as well as Andrada Lautaru who translated and worked with us from Romania. Thank you to: Andrei Codrescu, Cameron Gorman, Gabriel Roth, Ilinca Calugareanu, Harry Geisel, Elaine McDevitt, Michael Messenger, Gerald Krell, Ash Hawken, Tom Mullins, Jessica Leporin, Jerry Gruner and Marie Whalen. There’s a number of documentaries that were instrumental to reporting this episode: Videograms from a Revolution; Chuck Norris vs Communism; The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, The Rise and Fall of Ceausescu: and Whatever Happened to Blood Sweat and Tears.  If you can’t get enough Columbo, make sure to listen to our previous two-parter on McGruff the crime dog, who was directly inspired by Peter Falk’s detective, and features a wild soundtrack. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends. If you’re a fan of the show, we'd love for you to sign up for Slate Plus.  Slate Plus members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to to join Slate Plus today. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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