The voices of our enemies on radio


In 1933, a major political figure enters the podium at a conference and states the following: “Radio is the most influential and important intermediary between a spiritual movement and the nation, between the idea and the people.” The man was of course Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

Radio had been in its infancy during the First World War when Hitler had fought in the trenches. Some messages were relayed back and forth, there were broadcasts of music, but the limited range, the size and cost of equipment made it unsuitable for targeting mass populations. Fast forward to WWII, and now the radios are smaller and battery powered. The soldiers on the front line listened to it, the public listened to it. It was the perfect means by which to enlighten or misinform the public, something which was made abudantly clear by Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast The War of the Worlds in America. Hitler even commented that the hysteria that followed in the wake of the Orson Welles show proved the “decadence and corrupt condition of democracy”. Hitler was perhaps a little hypocritical because he depended on radio to sustain his personality cult.

Both the axis powers and the allies set up psychological warfare units targeting the enemy. Defectors from both sides sat on opposite sides, broadcasting programs and messages across the front lines. Most famous was perhaps William Joyce (below), but there were others. In London, the exiled Norwegian government broadcast regular programs back to the mother country. Similar tactics were used by many who were based in the British capital.

Lord Haw Haw (Germany WWII)


William Joyce was born in Brooklyn, New York, to English and Irish parents. First implicated on the protestant side in the Irish conflict, he later joined Oswald’s fascist movement in England. He fled to Germany just before the outbreak of WWII, where he soon became a central figure in Germany’s English propaganda radio. “The people of England will curse themselves for having preferred ruin from Churchill to peace from Hitler” he proclaimed. After the war, he was sentenced to death. Listen to Lord Haw Haw below: 

The broadcast were intended to undermine the ligitimacy of the opposing leadership, and to cast doubt about their strength, and ability to win. The methods varied from primitive abuse to music and variety programming intended soften the opposition. The axis powers often hired female hosts. Germany, Italy and Japan were perhaps brutal dictatorships, but all countries had a sophisticated media culture. They were all forces to be reckoned with in cinema, and Goebbels and other politicians made good use of any intellectual capital.

“Tokyo Rose” or “Orphaned Annie” was the name given to all female, English speaking  radio hosts in the service of the Japanese propaganda ministry during WWII. After the war, a female disc jokey,  Iva Toguri D’Aquino, was accused of being the real Tokyo Rose. However, she was later cleared of any suspicions.  Listen to Tokyo Rose below: 


Tokyo Rose (Japan WWII)tokyo-rose1

At the end of the war, the propagandists on the losing side were all put on trial. Some were executed, others like the poet Ezra Pound, who had made broadcasts for Mussolini, were detained, committed or given prison sentences. We were now in the golden age of radio. In every home there was sure to be one. But now there was peace, or so they thought.

The Cold War

Soon conflict loomed on the Korean peninsula, where Stalin’s Red Army withdrew and left the Northern part of the country in the hands of Kim-il Sung. In 1949, the communist leader Mao had triumphed in the Chinese Civil War, and together with the North Koreans, they posed a formidable threat to the rest of Korea, as well as the West. Then war erupted. As the bloody conflict raged on, and battlelines shifted back and forth, psychological warfare was again applied by both sides. It was a tremendously bitter conflict, which doesn’t receive much attention today. However, its fatalities and political consequences more than matches that of the later war in Vietnam.

 Seoul City Sue (Korean War)


Anna Wallis Suh got the nickname “Seoul City Sue” for her work as a North Korean propagandist during the Korean War. Orginally from Arkansas in the US, she was also a missionary and an educator. She worked in an American school in Seoul, but became trapped behind enemy lines. Soon she took up work as a radio host for the North. She was allegedly shot as a South Korean double agent in 1969. Listen to Seoul City Sue below:

In the movie Good Morning Vietnam (1987), the DJ Adrian Cronauer arrives in Saigon in Vietnam to work on his radio show. The film shows the enthusiasm among the troops for good radio comedy and music. While it was the TV-reports that wakened Americans to the atrocities of the Vietnam war, it was still radio that entertained regular troops on a daily basis. This was, of course, before satellite dishes and the internet. So far, nothing could match radio in terms of coverage in remote areas.

Trịnh Thị Ngọ  (Hanoi Hannah) was the most famous North Vietnamese radio personality. She was born in Hanoi in 1931.  In the 50s, she worked for The Voice of Vietnam, the National Broadcaster of North Vietnam, established just after the north declared independence. The propaganda broadcasts from the North were very aggressive, seeking to discourage moral in the South. She died at the age of 87 in 2016. Listen to Hanoi Hannah below:

 Hannoi Hannah (Vietnam War)


The Soviet Union was the major adversary during the cold war. While the conflict in Vietnam in part was a struggle for independence, the West regarded Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader, as a puppet for the Soviets or the Chinese. The Soviet Union was a far more developed country than both Korea and Vietnam. A superpower, its traditions in culture, in film as well as literature were considerable. It had the power to cast its net across the globe.

The British had the BBC, the Americans soon established Radio Free Europe to broadcast Western propaganda behind the Iron Curtain, funded by the CIA, of course. The Soviets, on the other hand, benefited from central radio broadcasts already in the late 20s. However, only in the early 1950s did Radio Moscow begin targeting the United States with their English service. In New York, the local station WNYC re-broadcasts some of their shows in the interest of cultural exchange. Later, Radio Moscow’s  transmitters in Vladivostoc and the eastern coast also targeted the US. We were now in the age of international radio news.

Radio Moscow (Soviet Union, Cold War)


A Moscow radio lab was established in 1922.  Two years later 10 stations were in operation across the country. In 1929, the first foreign programs began. At the outbreak of WWII they broadcast in 6 foreign languages, including English.  During the war, the Soviets broadcast into German occupied territory and built powerful transmitters. These served them well in the first part of the Cold War. Korean programming  was the first priority of Soviets after WWII, but soon the station was engaged in a decades long tug-of-war with British and American stations. Listen to Radio Moscow below: