Radio broadcasts played a major part in the Nazi propaganda machine. In an era before mass television, radio, newspapers and cinema all played their part in putting over to the public Hitler’s messages. Propaganda was placed in the hands of Joseph Goebbels and it was his idea to make cheap radios available to the German public.
Goebbels believed that radio was the most effective way of putting over a message. The public had to leave home to go to the cinema while some simply did not read a newspaper and Goebbels was less confident that newspapers were the perfect form of spreading the message.
“”What the press has been in the Nineteenth Century, radio will be for the Twentieth Century.” (Goebbels)
During the era of Weimar Germany, radio broadcasts had been controlled by the Postmaster General’s office. In March 1933, Goebbels transferred this power to the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda with himself at the helm. This remained the way until the end of World War Two.
While Goebbels had the final say in radio broadcasts, he placed the day-to-day running of radio broadcasts in the hands of Eugen Hadamowsky who became head of the Chamber of Radio. Hadamowsky was charged with ensuring that German radio fitted into the National Socialist mould and that anyone who was against this stand had to be removed from their position. On August 16th 1933, Hadamowsky reported to Goebbels about the progress he had made:
“We National Socialists must show enough dynamism and enthusiasm coupled with lightning speed to impress Germany and the whole world. Party comrade Dr. Goebbels ordered me on July 13th to purge German radio of influence opposed to our cause. I can now report that the work has been thoroughly done.”
Radio broadcasts played home the Nazi ideals – national pride, patriotism, pride in Hitler, Aryan pride etc. All households that possessed a radio had to pay 2 marks a month to cover the cost of radio broadcasting. However, to ensure that all households could have a radio, Goebbels arranged for the production of two cheap types of radios priced at 35 and 72 marks that were known as ‘People’s Receivers’.
Goebbels also used radio broadcasts to spread the word of Nazism abroad. He wanted to convey to the world the idea that Nazism was an acceptable political idea and his first radio broadcasts were performances by some of Germany’s top orchestras and opera singers. Once this approach had bedded down, he introduced a system whereby little messages were broadcast piece by piece – spreading the words of Hitler in a minimalistic way at first. The broadcasts covered all of Western Europe and a huge broadcasting station at Seesen, near Berlin, ensured that broadcasts could be heard around the world. By 1938, shortwave broadcasts were being transmitted 24 hours a day in twelve different languages.
However, Germany was not immune from radio broadcasts from abroad and this proved a real issue for Goebbels in World War Two. Radio transmitters throughout Eastern and Western Europe had been destroyed but this was not so in London. Goebbels knew that it was impossible to know what every household with a radio was listening to. Therefore, true to course, the Nazis made it a treasonable offense to listen to oversees broadcasts. Anyone caught doing so faced a spell in a feared concentration camp and in the first year of the war alone, 1500 Germans were imprisoned for listening to London-based broadcasts.
During the war, Soviet experts found a way of infiltrating the official Nazi transmission system – Deutschlandsender – and interrupting broadcasts with what they claimed was the truth about what was happening in the war. The USSR also broadcast on shortwave a programme that was simply a list of German names – men captured by the Russians and held as POW’s. Listening to such programmes was highly illegal but regardless of the dangers, they were very popular.
Goebbels also used radio to broadcast to the UK during World War Two. The most famous programmes were those done by William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, who always started his broadcasts with “Germany calling, Germany calling”. It was said that anyone listening in the UK would find out more about the war than the UK government was willing to admit to.