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HomeNewsNazi radio propaganda turns 100 – DW – 08/17/2023

Nazi radio propaganda turns 100 – DW – 08/17/2023

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When Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, radio then was similar to what the internet is today: a powerful, new medium to disseminate information. A big difference: Radio was expensive. Having one could cost more than a month’s wage.

From early on, the Nazis recognized the propaganda value of radio. They would soon use it to influence Germany’s then 70 million inhabitants. Shortly after Hitler had become chancellor, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels compelled German manufacturers to sell cheap radio receivers.

The first model, the VE301, stood for Volksempfänger, and the date when Hitler became German chancellor: January 30th. The government set the price at 76 Reichsmarks, making it affordable for most households.

The discount paid off. At new the German Radio Exhibition in Berlin on August 18, 1933, 100,000 sets were sold. Until then, Germany was home to about four million households paying the public media license fee. By the middle of the war, that number quadrupled. The monthly fee of two Reichsmarks flowed to Goebbels’ propaganda ministry.

Joseph Goebbels at a broadcasting tradefair in Berlin, 1939
Popaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels compelled German manufacturers to sell cheap radio receiversImage: picture alliance / akg

State-controlled information

To maximize influence, formerly independent broadcasters were combined under the policy of Gleichschaltung, which brought institutions into line with official policy points. Goebbels made no secret that “radio belongs to us.”

The only two programs were national and local information, beginning with the standard, “Heil Hitler” greeting, and giving plenty of airtime to Germany’s leader. Hitler’s addresses were broadcast in full.

Radio became even more important with the start of World War II in September 1939. Military marches replaced dance music, and there were constant — and frequently embellished reports — from the front. When there was bad news, the radio turned to entertainment, such as concerts.

Goebbels turned the defeat of Stalingrad in 1943 into a campaign for more war. In a broadcast speech in Berlin on February 18, 1943, he asked, “Do you want total war?” The response from the enthusiastic crowd was a resounding “Yes!” and massive applause.

Black and white photo of Adolf Hitler giving his radio adress, in which the spoke about a "national uprising" which marked the beginning of the Nazis' 'Third Reich'
One day after becoming Chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933, Adolf Hitler addressed the population via radioImage: akg-images/picture alliance

Foreign programming banned

Propaganda, however, can only go so far. With Germany losing the war, Germans at home began to lose trust in their national radio. Many turned to foreign broadcasters, such as the BBC. Doing so was strictly prohibited, and those caught listening to “enemy stations” faced the penalty of death.

It is not far-fetched to say radio helped start the war. On September 1, 1939, Germans heard a report about a Polish attack. That was fake, of course, but it allowed Hitler to take to the airwaves to announce that fighting was underway. Germany invaded Poland under false pretenses.

It ended the way it began: with propaganda and fake news. Hitler’s suicide, in his bunker in besieged Berlin, was kept from the public. Instead, his death was glamorously reported on May 1, 1945, as the result of fighting the Soviet invasion.

Another lie, but by then it didn’t matter. The war ended in Germany’s unconditional surrender a few days later. With the end of Nazi Germany came the end of the Nazi propaganda machine, in which radio played a leading role.

This article was originally written in German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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