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America Listens In - German War Propaganda Radio
June 1941 Popular Science

June 1941 Popular Science

June 1941 Science Popular Science - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Popular Science, published 1872-2021. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

June of 1941, when this "America Listens In" article appeared in Popular Science magazine, was half a year before the Japanese Imperial Navy launched its surprise attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor. We had been unofficially providing England, France, and a handful of other western European countries with intelligence data and even some military hardware and troop training, but had no Congressionally declared entrance into what would become World War II. Described here are methods and equipment used to listen in on, translate, and study foreign broadcasts, mostly from Germany. Use of wax cylinders for recording voice broadcasts was state of the art at the time, since magnetic tape technology was still in its infancy. Maybe we should have been putting as much effort into monitoring Japanese broadcasts; we might have averted the attack. BTW, if you think the current state of affairs regarding strife engendered between people groups being the work of media, dig this from the article: "Ill feeling of another kind is the aim of the propaganda of dissension. By recalling dissatisfactions, grievances and class hatreds within the United States itself, it seeks to produce internal quarrels. By distorting news items, it calls attention to the differences of labor and capital, of Jews and Christians, of negroes and whites. The goal of this type of short-wave propaganda is to produce continual friction and prevent the nation from becoming an efficient, smooth-running machine." Of course there are people who say the U.S. knew of the impending action and allowed it in order to justify joining the battle. The older I get and the more I observe and learn as previously inaccessible information is more easily obtained, the more dubious I become of any action / reaction of governments worldwide.

America Listens In

Day-by-Day Recordings of Europe's Radio Programs Reveal the Tricks of Germany's War Propagandists - RF CafeDay-by-Day Recordings of Europe's Radio Programs Reveal the Tricks of Germany's War Propagandists

By Edwin Teale

In a white frame building on a side street in Princeton, N.J., 8,000,000 words of radio propaganda have been recorded on wax cylinders, translated, transcribed, coded, and filed for study. Here, day after day, America listens in. Under the direction of Harold N. Graves, Jr., and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Princeton Listening Center has been active since November 27, 1939. It represents America's first serious attempt to analyze propaganda on the air waves. Similar listening posts are now being established in various parts of the country by the Federal Communications Commission and the Defense Communications Board, though their methods of operation will be different in some respects.

From midafternoon until almost midnight, each day, J. R. Snedeker, the Center's radio technician, is busy with two short-wave receivers wired directly to electric recording machines. Earphones on one receiver, and a loudspeaker on the other, enable him to start recording as each propaganda speech begins.

How German propaganda follows or even forecasts events. Vertical scale represents references per day.

Two short-wave receiving sets used in recording the broadcasts - RF Cafe

Harold N. Graves, Jr., executive director of the Princeton Listening Center, with J, R. Snedeker, radio technician (seated), at the two short-wave receiving sets used in recording the broadcasts.

Wax cylinders used during a night's reception - RF Cafe

Wax cylinders used during a night's reception are placed in racks like the one shown above, each identified by a slip filled out by the operator.

Radio reception slip - RF Cafe

One of these slips.

Electric recording machines wired to the receiving sets - RF Cafe

One of two electric recording machines wired to the receiving sets.

Isotta Masoni, one of the four translators - RF Cafe

Isotta Masoni, one of the four translators, at work. Foreign-language speeches are translated and typed out in English

Typed speeches are bound and filed by language and station - RF Cafe

Typed speeches are bound and filed by language and station. Code symbols in margins show appearance of various propaganda themes. B 8, for example, stands for "British war aims."

Nearly 9,000 wax cylinders, representing some 100,000 minutes of speaking, have gone through the Princeton recording machines in the past year and a half. Sometimes the translators find as many as 40, each with its identifying slip, waiting for them when they come to work in the morning. Once, Snedeker was 95 records ahead of the translating staff. But the score was more than evened up last year when sun spots disrupted short-wave communication for weeks on end.

With earphones clamped to their heads, the four translators type out the speeches in English. On each typed sheet, in the right-hand margin, a coding expert jots down symbols to indicate the propaganda theme used by the speakers. Such symbols enable later research workers to trace the development of any given theme with a minimum of effort. After coding, the sheets are bound, according to language and broadcasting station, and filed in a research room upstairs. At present, Graves is specializing in British propaganda, Philip Jacob in German, and Bruno Foa in Italian. By means of reports, graphs, and summaries, they are reducing the propaganda of the belligerent nations to its basic, simple elements.

Germany, in its short-wave bombardment of England and America, makes use of half a dozen distinctive types of propaganda. The Princeton Listening Center has pigeonholed them as the propaganda of terrorism, of paralysis, of dissension, of confusion, of variety, and of division. The different types rise and fall with the shift of events.

Terrorism propaganda always reaches a peak just before a brutal, all-out attack from the air. It is the simplest and least subtle of the weapons used in a war of nerves. The devastation of Warsaw; the destruction of Rotterdam; the terrors that lie ahead for the women and children of enemy cities, are stressed again and again. Recently, to increase the depressing effect of British losses at sea, German broadcasting stations have preceded the announcement of each torpedoed ship with the doleful tolling of a bell.

Propaganda, as such, rarely changes the natural course of events. But it does accelerate or slow it down. So, in the early months of the war, Germany concentrated on the propaganda of paralysis during broadcasts to the United States. In an effort to slow down the natural drift toward aiding England, it tried to discredit the press and to make people suspicious of what was printed and what was released by public officials. It emphasized defeatism and the certainty of Britain's fall. It praised statements opposing foreign entanglements and lauded America's decision to keep its ships out of European waters. Before each invasion of a neutral country, when Americans might be tempted to rush into action, the tempo of this kind of propaganda was accelerated.

At the same time, an attempt to drive a wedge between Britain and the United States by the propaganda of division zoomed just before each major move of the German Army. Berlin broadcasters played up such things as the seizure of American mail by the British and previous differences between the two nations. They even trotted out the ancient grudges of the Revolution and the War of 1812 in an effort to alienate the two countries.

Ill feeling of another kind is the aim of the propaganda of dissension. By recalling dissatisfactions, grievances and class hatreds within the United States itself, it seeks to produce internal quarrels. By distorting news items, it calls attention to the differences of labor and capital, of Jews and Christians, of negroes and whites. The goal of this type of short-wave propaganda is to produce continual friction and prevent the nation from becoming an efficient, smooth-running machine.

At the time of the fifth-column scare in this country, still another type of German propaganda came to the fore. In rapid succession, the Berlin commentators broadcast varying accounts of the fifth column. First, they maintained it was all sheer imagination. Then they veered quickly to the idea that it was something concocted by the British. And, as quickly, they took a new tack. It was, they said, merely a bogeyman thought up by the Administration to distract attention from its failures. By pointing in several directions at once, the propaganda of confusion seeks to bewilder those who might feel impelled to act.

Finally, there is the propaganda of variety. For each aggressive move Germany has made, the short-wave radio has carried innumerable reasons, explanations and arguments. By giving a wide variety of arguments, the propagandist tries to suit everyone. If one of his explanations seems phony, another may carry conviction. So he uses a verbal shotgun instead of a rifle in his attempts to present events in the most favorable light.

Close study of these different types of propaganda has enabled the Princeton listeners, on a number of occasions, to obtain an inkling of coming events. The propaganda of division, for example, rose to a peak last spring as the German soldiers overran Belgium, Holland, and France. Later in the summer, it began to subside and the Princeton experts concluded that the threatened invasion of England had been postponed. By noting a sudden jump in frightfulness broadcasts, they also were able to predict, within a few days, the major air offensive against London. Different types of propaganda, they have found, precede all-out attacks by air and by sea. The former stresses frightfulness and the terrors of a threatened blitzkrieg from the sky; the latter features the suffering in countries blockaded by Britain, in order to justify ruthless attacks on shipping by submarines and aircraft.

Today, as many as 500 propaganda programs a week are aimed at the 20,000,000 receiving sets in the United States capable of picking up short-wave broadcasts. To cope with this rising tide, the Princeton Listening Center has had to boost its staff from four to ten. The work of this group represents national preparedness of a new kind. It is preparedness on the so-called "fourth front" of the war, the front of propaganda.

The Six Kinds of Axis Propaganda

1 Propaganda of Terrorism. Its aim is to break down the morale of the public in enemy countries by threats and "frightfulness" broadcasts.

2 Propaganda of Paralysis. Its goal is to keep America inactive by dividing sentiment and preventing the people from reaching a united decision.

3 Propaganda of Division. It tries to drive a wedge between Britain and America by emphasizing frictions and divisions of the post.

4 Propaganda of Dissension. Its aim is to cause ill feeling in the United States by arraying class against class, creed against creed, race against race.

5 Propaganda of Confusion. It attempts to prevent prompt action by public officials by bewildering them with various hints pointing in different directions.

6 Propaganda of Variety. By giving a large number of arguments and excuses for Nazi actions, it seeks to convince everyone. Those who reject one explanation may accept another.



Posted October 11, 2023

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