July 1938 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Radio was a powerful propaganda
tool and strategic communications means toward the end of World War I, and
certainly in the lead-up to and during the course of World War II. Many governments,
including the United States and most European countries, forbade the broadcasting
of signals by anything other than an entity licensed for commercial and/or military
purposes. Amateur radio broadcasts were prohibited, although at least here in
the U.S. possession of a receiver for listening
was still allowed. Some of the regions controlled by Nazis did not even permit receivers
- mainly because the government did not want citizens listening to anything that
could be considered propaganda. Jamming of broadcast signals from 'Allied' countries
was routinely practiced by Hitler's and Mussolini's tight-fisted controllers. Many
citizens were imprisoned or executed for daring to harbor a contraband receiver.
This story's author provides a first-hand account of the goings-on in the days just
(officially began September 1, 1939). I created superimposed
maps of the the primary U.S. Civil War states and the primary European WWII countries
as a comparison of the sizes of areas being battled for by contiguous territories.
Europe's Undeclared Radio War!
An Englishman tells of the relentless radio propaganda war being fought on the
The use of "wireless" (radio) as a national
weapon began during the Great War. In 1916, when the Germans could no longer use
their submarine cables, they communicated with their military attaché in Washington
by radio messages in code, sent by indirect routes. Unfortunately for them, this
code soon fell into the hands of the British.
Toward the end of the War, there was so much use of codes that, when the news
of the Armistice was announced from the Eiffel Tower, not in code, several operators
refused to believe what they heard, thinking the enemy was playing a trick!
Over here in England, radio sets were forbidden during the War, and it was rumored
that listeners had secret antennas fixed in disguised chimneys. This may have been
true; but I know that a similar thing occurred in Germany just after the War. In
the occupied area, the Allies forbade the use of broadcasting and its reception
within the area. Some German friends living in Cologne told me that they had an
indoor antenna and so did many of their friends. The antenna was taken down when
the set was not in use.
The first radio propaganda on a big scale was put out by Moscow. The Russians
now broadcast propaganda in about 15 different languages, and they have the most
powerful transmitter in Europe. It has the same power as WLW, Cincinnati. Soon,
however, the British Broadcasting Corporation is to build two powerful shortwave
transmitters which will be the most powerful in the world.
The Russians are fortunate in that their time is 2 hours ahead of Central European
Time, so that after their own programs, they can use nearly all their stations for
broadcasting to the rest of Europe.
The Germans have made great efforts to jam the Russian transmissions. Some German
friends of mine had a town house which they were compelled to lease to the secret
police. The owners discovered by accident that the police had installed a Störsender,
or "interrupting station." It was intended for the interruption of the transmissions
of the Russian station of Minsk, a town less than 50 miles from Russia's western
The moment that the propaganda in German starts from the Moscow station, interference
begins. On the long waves it takes the form of Morse (code) or a kind of dynamo
hum. On the shortwave transmission, the German interference is usually made by the
continual playing of a phonograph record. The record is usually one of the waltz
Ramona, but the Germans do use one other record, and this is of a slow fox-trot.
I know several Germans who listen to the Russian transmissions. This means that
the jamming is not always successful. This is especially noticeable on the short
waves, where the skip distance effect may mean that you can hear the transmission
but not the interruption. On the medium waves, things are different. Only a few
weeks ago, a German told me that he tried to hear the speeches of Herr von Schuschnigg,
the former Austrian Chancellor, but that he was unable to because they were jammed
by the German authorities.
The most exciting event on the short waves took place last spring when a mystery
German station suddenly appeared on a wavelength of 29.8 meters, Some say that it
must be outside Germany, but nothing has ever been proved about this station. From
10 till 11 every night, it gives anti-Nazi propaganda, talking, for example, of
the "gruesome barbarities of the Hitler regime." A German told me that the first
night after this station was first heard in Berlin, half the population of the town
knew about it. The station was said by the announcer to be in Berlin, but it could
not be traced.
It was thought that the transmitter was placed inside a car, and the vehicle
driven round the town; but when I listened here in England, the signal strength
seemed too constant for that to be the case. After a time, the German authorities
caused such severe jamming that it became very difficult, almost impossible, to
hear this station. But it still broadcasts, and is now to be heard on a wavelength
of 23.8 meters. It remains a real mystery.
The Spanish trouble has added greatly to the war on the air. First of all, Moscow
transmitted more Spanish talks than formerly, saying to, the Republicans, "We are
with you with all our soul." Then General Franco captured several broadcasting stations
sharing wavelengths with those still in government hands.
Bilbao and San Sebastian used to vie with one another, until the capture of Bilbao
when from the broadcasting station could be heard the entry of the troops. Then
General Franco increased the power of the Salamanca station to unknown kilowatts
and transmitted on the same wavelength as Madrid.
Another feature of the struggle has been the entirely illegal use of the amateur
wavelengths on the 40-meter band for news and propaganda. And within the last few
months, one or two stations have begun transmitting on the 20-meter band. Both sides
do this. They give propaganda in at least 4 languages, and both try to jam each
other. In addition, it is noticeable that the Spanish government transmissions in
German and Italian suffer more from jamming than any others. Presumably, the German
and Italian authorities are responsible for this.
A strange happening in the Spanish war has been the transmissions of a station
calling itself "Radio Verdad," and broadcasting in Spanish. (Verdad is Spanish for
truth.) As they use several Italian wavelengths on the medium band, I thought that
either the Italians were closing down their stations to allow the Spanish station
to broadcast its "truth" propaganda, or that the Italians were responsible for the
They give an address in Salamanca to which listeners are asked to write. I wrote,
but have had no answer. When listening to Rome at 7 o'clock G.M.T., I heard the
station sign off, and then the carrier disappear, before Radio Verdad made its transmission.
But Radio Verdad's announcer has a slight Catalan accent, which shows that he does
not come from Salamanca. This made me suspicious. Then a friend used directional
antennas on the transmission, and Radio Verdad was proved to be the Italians masquerading
This is perhaps not very surprising, since I have seen it stated that broadcasting
in General Franco's territory is almost entirely under Italian control. Oddly enough,
the only Italian I know had a job with the Italian broadcasting company in Rome,
and then he went to Salamanca, General Franco's headquarters.
Italian used to be the only major European language in which the Russians never
gave Communist propaganda. I wrote to Moscow and asked them why; but, though they
answered my letter, they refused to answer this question. It has been suggested
that a clause between the two countries forbade the broadcasting of propaganda.
In addition, there was a rumor that Mussolini had so successfully jammed all the
Russian stations that they ceased their propaganda in Italian. However, lately,
Moscow has been giving propaganda in Italian - just another radio mystery.
The Italian broadcasts from Rome and Bari in Arabic have raised much protest
over here in England. But in addition to those in Arabic, there are others in Chinese
and other Oriental languages. It is these Arabic transmissions that have compelled
the British Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast in Arabic in order that Palestine
should have a source of radio news other than that from Italy.
And so the B.B.C. feels compelled to broadcast in foreign languages; it began
with Arabic early this year. When I first listened to these broadcasts, I felt certain
that there was a definite effort being made to jam them. I could hear the chimes
of Big Ben perfectly, but the moment the Arabic announcement was made, it was overwhelmed
by interruption. Whether this interruption was successful in preventing reception
in the East, is another matter. Last night I listened to the British transmissions
in Spanish and Portuguese. The half-hour's news bulletins came in uninterrupted,
(Radio-Craft feels that its readers will be particularly receptive to
this article, which contains first-hand information.)
Posted September 15, 2022
(updated from original post