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Radio's World War II Tools of Propaganda  | January 10, 2015 By Todd Nebel Although World War cramped radio like the rest of the nation with respect to material and personnel supplies, this was the golden age of radio at its best with plenty of economic success and public esteem in its favor. The war had global importance, and radio, as in the depression, remained available to most of the public and served as an important information and entertainment provider to the nation. But American broadcasting was not an entirely domestic element during the war. The United States also broadcast overseas in two different forms: Armed Forces Radio Service broadcasts for American troops abroad and the fledgling propaganda efforts of the Voice of America. The government began producing radio programs in January, 1942, and first labeled them "Voice of America" in February. From the beginning, "Voice of America" broadcasts were heard in a variety of languages in several parts of the world. It's programming bill of fare consisted mainly of music, with news, commentary, entertainment programs from American radio, and programs specially designed for "Voice of America" broadcasts often using well-known radio characters. All broadcasts were transmitted at first by privately owned shortwave stations in this country (which the government took over for the duration late in 1942) or on new government-owned transmitters. By the end of the war, Voice of America had major production centers in New York and San Francisco, with over 1000 programs a week coming from New York alone.  During the war, the American listening audience for foreign broadcasting was quite small, perhaps 5 to 10 percent of the total population had and used shortwave equipment. And most of this equipment had been purchased because it was offered as an additional feature on larger console and table model radios. However, it was predicted that 150,000 Americans generally tuned directly to English-language broadcasts from Germany, with fewer listening to Italian or Japanese .  Germany's international radio broadcasting was produced by the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, a "natural" propagandist and one of the closest advisors to Adolph Hitler. The Germans transmitted their radio broadcasting to the world at large and to countries that were German military targets. Broadcasting of the former type stressed the correctness of the German position on world issues, the wonderful life inside Nazi Germany, and the heroic exploits of German arms. The latter created a climate of fear and promoted internal strife in the target country by stressing German military strength and supporting the rights of dissident or minority groups, especially those of German dissent. One of Goebbel's most famous radio personalities was "Lord Haw-Haw," the microphone name for British traitor James Joyce who began broadcasting to the British Isles for the Nazis beginning in 1939. Joyce's nickname came from his affected upperclass-English style. He failed to sway his audience, and even more importantly, the British laughed at him even as he advised them of locations for upcoming bombing raids. Later on in the war, Berlin transmitted "Axis Sally," an Ohio woman named Mildred Gillars, who attempted to destroy the morale of the allied forces by playing big band music with her own warnings of impending doom. The soldiers usually listened to the music but ignored and laughed at her warnings. At the conclusion of the war the British captured Joyce and hanged him as a traitor. American authorities put Gillars on trial and imprisoned her until 1961. The Italians tried to follow Germany's example too, but with even less success. In addition to Mussolini's, the most famous voice used by Italy for broadcasts overseas to the United States belonged to the former American poet, Ezra Pound. Pound told of the wonders of Fascist Italy and the damnation of the democracies fighting it. Following the liberation of Italy, the Americans captured Pound, but he was committed to a mental hospital for a number of years as unfit to stand trial. The primary cause of Japanese overseas broadcasts during World War II was to convince fellow Asians of the greatness and inevitability of the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" being built with the strength of Japanese arms. For the benefit of American fighting men in the Pacific, Japanese broadcasting primarily meant Tokyo Rose (Iva Ikuko Toguri and others) who played big band records and offered them a soft shoulder, telling them that while they were fighting, other men were wooing their wives and sweethearts at home. Although the music was popular, one story claims that the Americans parachuted new recordings on Tokyo to replace the old, scratchy ones (but the new batch all broke on landing) — the propaganda was largely ignored. After the war the Americans captured and fined Toguri and then sent her to prison. Following her release from prison she worked here in Chicago while hoping for a pardon which was finally granted in 1977.   Besides the United States, other allied nations also broadcast beyond their borders, especially the British. The BBC was the main allied voice heard in Europe for four long and tenuous years, after Germany had conquered most of the continent in 1940. It supplied balanced news and commentary and increasingly coded messages to specific resistance groups to coordinate guerrilla action with allied military forces. Much of the advanced work prior to D-Day was accomplished in this way. And the BBC's own "World Service" newscasts probably had the highest credibility of any non-domestic broadcasting service in the world.
Axis Sally