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The Great Arsenal of Democracy. A brief genealogy of Radio as propaganda medium

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Print technology created the public. Electric technology created the mass.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, 1967



When Reichskanzler Wilhelm Marx accosted the Weimar Germans for the first time via Radio as a mass medium on December 23, 1926, his advisors must have had a certain understanding of the potency of the medium in terms of ‘informing’ the citizens, in those days also referred to as propaganda, not having the current more negative connotation. Since the early days of deploying the medium as a mass medium of information, it rapidly developed into a medium of manipulation and even intimidation, propagating diverse social utopic experiments. Barely seven years after the occurrence, the German National Socialists with Joseph Goebbels as their communications mastermind and herald, understood the potency and relevance of ‘owning’ this medium and letting it work to their advantage. But not just the Nazis understood the power of mass media as a political instrument. It was President Roosevelt who prepared the American people gently for war with his so called fireside radio talks, claiming the United States of America to be ‘The Great Arsenal of Democracy’. Radio had, by then, become the true medium of ß. What has become of that ever since? This paper focuses on the topoi and developments of radio from the early days of mass medial propaganda to contemporary new digital media.

Discourse analysis of primary and secondary sources from the past and the present lead to the conclusion that not only traditional radio but also contemporary social media like Twitter and Facebook all carry the same fundamental agency through the topoi to turn a media into a propaganda tools with fundamentals such as envisioning utopia, mass manipulation, fear of isolation and adjacent, as the thread that runs through it, wanting to belong to a group.

Key words: Radio, Propaganda, Mass Media, Twitter, Social Media.



“It’s always earlier than you think. Whenever you go looking for the origins of any significant technological development you find that the more you learn about it, the deeper its roots seem to tunnel into the past” (Naughton, p.49). Naughton not only refers to Radio, his puppy love that turned into an obsession he shared with his father, and sprouted from sheer fascination for reasons that seem more universal than applicable only to Radio: “I think the immediacy and scope of the medium [Radio] were the key attractions. It put you in touch with what was happening – right now – on the other side of the world. And (if you had that magic license) it put you in charge of the connection process” (Naughton p. 10). Naughton wrote his reminiscence in 1999. That was seventy-three years after the Weimar Republic’s kanzler Wilhelm Marx[1] for the first time in German history addressed his citizens with Christmas wishes, in an attempt to boost German morale and fragile sense of democracy just five years after the people’s perceived humiliation in the Treaty of Versailles. It was an act of which the wily Nazi propaganda State Minister Goebbels commented ten years later in a speech on the occasion of opening the 10th German Radio Exhibition on 18 August 1933: “The November Regime[2] was not able to understand the full significance of the radio. Even those who claimed to have awakened the people and gotten them involved in practical politics were without exception almost blind to the possibilities of this modern method of influencing the masses” (Goebbels, 1933). It remains to be seen whether the democratic leaders of the Weimar Republic by the Nazi’s referred leaders as ‘November regime’, did not understand the potency of the medium. Obviously, the medium Radio had evolved to great extent over those ten years as it had become mainstream technology. But the fact remained that Radio was deployed, thus understood, as mass medium, as early as the early twenties of the twentieth century.

Radio may be regarded as a medium with different agencies. It can be a one-to-one communication instrument or a one-to-many medium. It may serve the purpose of entertaining people, informing or instructing them. Radio may also be a political instrument, a medium that holds a crucial characteristic to serve political objectives: the agency to inform and manipulate people about the envisioning of the accomplishment of a certain utopian imaginary of society. Obviously, this is not its only medium specific characteristic. In fact, if we take a closer look at the specific medium, we may conclude that Radio is unique because of certain characteristics that are ‘owned’ exclusively by the medium; no other media possess them, at least, not in the tenets of the medium; as a concept Radio is sound, always on and ubiquitous; it is there. There is also a lot of Radio around, different stations delivering different content for different groups.

Propaganda, on the other hand, as such is about public sentiment or better, influencing public sentiment in such a sense that those who want the public to be in a specific sentimental mood mold the audiences accordingly. Radio can thus become a tool of propaganda as any other given medium can serve the same purpose.

If the audiences for doing propaganda focus on large groups of people, say the citizens of an entire nation like Germany or the United Kingdom in the prewar days, it is an obvious choice to deploy those media that reach most of the group members; mass media.

The genealogy of Radio and Propaganda goes back a long way and deals with issues like technology, Zeitgeist and also the more universal building blocks, Topoi as Erkki Huhtamo has coined these ‘topics’, applying to the field of media studies the ideas that Ernst Robert Curtius used in his massive study Europäische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (1948) to explain the internal life of literary traditions” (Huhtamo, p. 6)[3].

“As of June 21, 1943 the Dutch were forced to turn in their radio receivers including all accessories and spare parts as dispositioned by the Höheren S.S. und Polizeiführer in The Netherlands[4]. Officially, this disposition was issued to ‘protect the Dutch population against erroneous messages as an article in a newspaper headed.


The Great Arsenal of Democracy[5]. The utopian roots of Radio

“At least in the USA, by the end of the decade, radio was firmly committed to the twin ideological projects identified by a scomful Bertolt Brecht in 1932 as that of ‘prettifying public life’ and ‘bringing back coziness to the home and making family life bearable again” (Boddy p. 114). Bearability of family life must have been quiet an issue during the Interbellum. Europe, just like The United States and other regions in the world, was heading towards a massive socio-economical depression. It was a slow and structural movement of a downward spiral in which visionaries of different believe thought the time right to set up political experiments. Germany in those days was trying to recover from the pains entailed from loosing the First World War. Now, democracy was thought to bring comfort, at least, this was thought by the instigators of the Weimar Republic. But both on the left and right wings of the political spectrum, more rigorous experiments were conceived.

On the national socialist side, the populist leaders of the Nazi’s took power in 1933, annihilating all other political projects. The Nazi’s knew understood the role of mass communication very well, organizing mass rallies, and pondering simple mantra-like messages through mass media and the Volksempfäger, Nazi Germany’s radio receiver with limited possibility to receive subversive words from what they called terrorists. Radio played a crucial role in the strongly manipulative campaigns of the brown shirts when Goebbels remarked, “The November Regime was not able to understand the full significance of the radio. Even those who claimed to have awakened the people and gotten them involved in practical politics were without exception almost blind to the possibilities of this modern method of influencing the masses” (Goebbels, 1933).

But not all residents of the Great Arian Reich had a Volksempfäger and Public Radio transmission had not been abolished fully yet and owning a Radio Receiver had not been incommoded since Radio Receivers were confiscated by the Nazi’s to the yet. That happened only as late as early summer 1943 in The Netherlands as the occupational German forces cuckolded that the Dutch citizens (and for all that matter all concurred regions) should not be ‘misinformed’ (in the Dutch case by the free Dutch who operated Radio Vrij Nederland from London). However, Radio technology proofed to be very simple and not much equipment was required to receive signals from the free world so many carried on listening to the invigorating messages through their improvised set ups and head sets.

Only a couple of years before Goebbels shared his observation with the rest of the world, other experiments with as much utopian titer were conducted. People actually had become aware of the potency of Radio as a means to throw off the yoke and emancipate. “[N]ow, anyone with a radio set could enter an all-accessible communication space, where radio would spread mutual understanding to all sections of the country, unifying our thoughts, ideals, and purposes, making us a strong and well-knit people (Frost 1922: 18, quoted in De Vries p.114). And, in fact, Radio was regarded as a true Utopia-builder as “the popular idea took hold that radio could be a tool to establish social cohesion and world peace, bringing direct democracy and global harmony to the people” (De Vries p. 114). De Vries refers to a fundamental idea of what radio could establish. It may well be a topos of mass media as such; accrediting emancipatory powers to mass media as Bertolt Brecht did in his 1932 brief article ‘The radio as an apparatus of Communication’ in which he paved the way for Radio as a means of emancipation and self-education of the people.

In Brecht’s view, Radio could comment and enrich theater thus molding new forms of propaganda. And also a direct cooperation between the theater and broadcaster could be organized. If this would be the case, the broadcaster could then serve the purpose of being an apparatus of communication in public life through which the audiences could enable change in both theater and broadcaster in order to have the mighty institutions work to their advantage[6]. Please note that in the original German text Brecht used the word Rundfunk that has been translated as Radio. We must understand that Brecht meant (radio) Broadcaster as an analogy of theater. Also the use of the word Apparat, apparatus refers to a complexity more than a machine that simply does things, as Brecht elaborates that Durch immer fortgesetzte, nie aufhörende Vorschläge zur besseren Verwendung der Apparate im Interesse der Allgemeinheit haben wir die gesellschaftliche Basis dieser Apparate zu erschüttern, ihre Verwendung im Interesse der wenigen zu diskreditieren“ (Brecht 1932). Brecht actually had visioned Radio to be the tool to defeat the Nazi’s by democratizing the apparatus. And that was directly opposite to what Goebbels had in mind of making use of the same instrument.

Not much later, only months before the USA saw themselves forced to openly enter the early maul in the Pacific region and not much later hopped across the Atlantic to empower the Allies against the Ax, President Roosevelt sat down comfortably for one of his famous fireside Radio talks. The USA had only barely recovered from the Great Depression and prosperity had indeed been just around the corner as the President gently massaged American public opinion into a modus of epic democratism, political greatness and mass heroism. Roosevelt knew, as many of his secretaries and generals that fulfilling an active role in the war of the World was inevitable to protect “The Great Arsenal of Democracy” (Roosevelt, 1940), namely the United States of America.

In the US, Radio had fairly much evolved to a distributed network of Public and Commercial Radio. In those pre-war days, soap opera’s were broadcasted from legendary venues like Radio City at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It were the days when the connotation for ‘propaganda’ resembled what we may call PR in our times; propaganda was not necessarily associated with mass manipulation but rather with colored information. We must realize that current understanding of historic eras is of an analytic titer. We now understand the complexity of the political systems, utopian dreams of statesmen and interests and power in hemispheres as most likely archeologists and historical annalists will do in their time when construing our present days.

All in all, “The properties of radio seemed to perfectly encapsulate the recurrent dream of universal and direct communication, which had already been intensified by the improved point-to-point communication of the telegraph and telephone. Moreover, whereas those latter two technologies predominantly provided individual mediated closeness, radio added a new, more public communicative dimension” (De Vries, p.114) and because of these media specific properties, Radio became the medium to pursue whatever Utopia was dreamt in those chaotic years between the two main atrocities in the first half of the twentieth century.

At this point, we may question why or how Radio actually fits so neatly into the idea of propagating specific socio-economic dreamlands; what made (traditional) Radio into a propaganda medium?

Propaganda machines as we know them, seem to focus the core of their strategies on calling upon the emotions of groups (the people) by blackening the opposition and addressing the people to vivaciously adjuring the ‘foe’. At the heydays of propaganda between the 1920s and 1950s, extremist (pre-war) organizations such as the Bolsheviks, the Nazi’s, the Italian Fascists and later on WWll participants like the British, The Americans, The Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, to mention the most relevant actors and even more later on post WWll actors such as all Cold War players, the McCarthy ‘Communists hunt’, and even later, Chavez’s campaigning, and North Korea’s rhetorics, all bare the same basic principles: the opposites are always wrong, they should be treated as foe and be exterminated; they do evil. Propaganda uses many different techniques, all boiling down to the notion that the propagating doctrine is superior over the rest of the world, or at least groups with different mindsets.

Radio was seen as a very potent medium to propagate the Holy Doctrine, as the medium possessed all properties needed. Radio was addressing the masses and it had a sense of directness, acuteness, of here and now. Radio, by means of its natural phenomenon of radio waves was ubiquitous; it was all around and everywhere and always (a typical topos for the effectiveness of mass media). And he who owns the Radio station was in possession of the mighty weapon of ‘informing’ the audiences what was thought needed to be known by the masses. And, apart from the virtues received by owning the media, other mechanisms in society also have relevant influence in accepting the propagated doctrine. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann has coined one of those influencing mechanisms as the Spiral of Silence.


Radio and Group Behavior

The Spiral of Silence is an often contested media theory, developed by German Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann who studied Political Sciences in prewar Germany and was a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung until the Nazi’s banned the newspaper in 1943 and after the war immigrated to the US. Eventually, Noelle-Neumann published her theory in 1991. The essence of the theory is that public opinion influences personal opinion. The theory is based on three foundations (Noelle-Neumann, 1991).

The first is that people tend to have a sixth-sense to prevail the public opinion. This idea is rather disputable as it has never been proven and is therefore certainly not an acknowledged human property. The sixth-sense idea however does have a record in popular discourse and is alleged to sprout from the human property of being social, a vague Conditio Humana perhaps? In any case it appears to be a phenomenon for instance addressed by socialists from the perspective of human species as a social entity yet the topic has a rather high je ne sais pas value.

Secondly the theory focuses on fear for isolation; people are said to be afraid to be excluded or disqualified from the group they live with. For this reason people conform to the general opinion within their drove.

Thirdly, Noelle-Neumann states that people restrain from expressing the views of minorities for reasons of being excluded. In one sentence, people fear to be excluded from the group thus they confirm to the average – mediocre – and popular believes; people confirm to public sentiment. Perhaps this thought is a fundamental topos as it bears a strong visibility and agelessness. But we may wonder if it is true?

When media are only being available in walled environments (say, the Third Reich, North Korea, Cuba or former Soviet Union), one may assume that public opinion may indeed be strongly influenced by the ‘official’ broadcasters. Noelle-Neumann’s theory states that the individual prefers to adapt to the dominant opinion. The spiral effect is that the more people yield to these believes, the stronger the effect becomes, especially in societies where other believes are regarded as subversive and punishable. Or as Marshal McLuhan said: “Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world” (McLuhan, 1967).


How to become a medium of Propaganda

There are a number of factors that determine whether a technology will be adapted, embraced perhaps, by the audiences. Obviously, adaptation of technology by the audiences is a prerequisite for viability, at least, if the technology concerns a medium or media. Radio took quite a long time to become mainstream. Early adaptation appeared in certain cells in society as an object of hobby, amateurs rather, and only grew slightly and took long to reach a tipping point to become mainstream. In this sense, a comparison with Internet-related media is at place.

In the earliest days of Radio, parts out of which Radio receivers were built, were expensive, not widely available (yet) and one had to have a dedicated room – often called the ‘shack’ – and, last but not least, a permit to broadcast. And then, one had to have knowledge of the language system used, Morse coding.

If we bear these necessities for operating Radio senders and receivers in mind and compare them with the rise of, say, the Internet, there is absolute analogy, comparison. The Internet actually took a long time to evolve in what is today in terms of private use. We will elaborate on this further on.

Radio, as we know it today was not an invention as such and had a long path to follow before the application, as we now know it appeared on stage. Robert Maxwell, a British scientist in the early 1800’s is said to have accounted for electromagnetic fields by means of mathematical definition. A few years later, German scientist Heinrich Herz developed a proof of this theory[7]. Herz built an electromagnetic wave generator and managed to send these waves a few feet across a room; “He showed that the nature of their reflection and refraction was the same as those of light, confirming that light waves are electromagnetic radiation obeying the Maxwell equations” (Spark Museum).

This sending of waves may be regarded as the first deliberate broadcast ever. As such, Maxwell and Herz had no vision of their invention becoming a specific medium (Radio) and it were other people who picked up the principles of radio waves in order to utilize the phenomenon. In the earliest days of this episode in the maturing of radio, suggestion was to replace the already existing wired telegraph as Radio was imagined to have benefits due to its wirelessness. Both British as US Navies, were particularly interested in the idea of what was then called ‘wireless telegraphy’. In fact, “the U.S. Navy was so interested in the wireless telegraph that it lobbied the government to give it a complete monopoly on the technology; it was too important to let businesses use it, the Navy thought, much less ordinary folks” (UVM.edu. undated).

A comparison with the earliest days of the Internet is stunningly similar. Perhaps inspired by Vannevar Bush’s ideas about organizing the immense and ever growing mountain of information and its amounting problem of information management and unlocking and dissimilation, but in any case, the invention of Packet-switching is regarded as a typical comparison to the invention of Radio.

In the early 1960s, computer scientists were looking for ways to decentralize communication. It was early Cold War and the United States of America and its allies were preparing for the worst. Up to that moment in time, and apart from radio communication, phone communication was arranged through a centralized network using switchboards to connect to receivers. Centralized networks are quite vulnerable because communication depends on the activeness of switchboards between the networks. In comparison to Herz’s discovery of the spark gap in 1888 as the earliest radio transmitter in which pulses of electronics were sent from one diode to another, producing sound, packets of information were pulsed into an distributed network, easily finding the receiver. In fact, the way radio waves are distributed can be compared with distributed networks. Or, as The Rand Corporation’s Paul Baran stated in his memorandum RM-3420-PR which he prepared for the United States Air force Project Rand in 1964, which delivered the ARPA net as one outcome, “a key attribute to the new media is that it permits formation of new routes cheaply, yet allows transmission on the order of a million or so bits per second, high enough to be economic, but yet low enough to be inexpensively processed with existing digital computer techniques at the relay station nodes” (Baran, p.17).

It wasn’t until 1906 that the crystal detector appears on the market, making Radio broadcasting for amateurs cheaper and thus more available. Before the introduction of the crystal detector, only small groups of amateurs focused on Radio, apart from professional use, mainly by navies and armies and postal authorities throughout the world. The example of the introduction of the crystal detector can easily be compared with the introduction of the microcomputers in the early 1980s. Before their introduction, computer communications was done by a relatively small group of amateurs, people who as a matter of hobby, enjoyed experimenting with computers.

There are in fact many more comparisons to be made between the rise of Radio and the Internet. In 1912, radio amateurs organized in the Radio Relay League, just as in 1984 ARPAnet was split into a military part and an ‘experimental’ part, specifically made available to all who wanted to experiment with computer communications. In both cases, technology became cheaper and thus more could invest in required apparatus. Another relevant comparison is the that both Radio evolution and Internet took a while to grow and gain critical mass to eventually turn into a mainstream technology, available and adapted by fast groups of people, not just experimenting amateurs but people commonly referred to as the ‘late majority’, in opposition to groups labeled as ‘innovators (experimenters)’ and ‘early adopters’. Exemplary for this type of evolution is that

At first corporate executives do not pick up the evolution towards mainstream of certain technology. This did not happen right after World War l as communications corporations tried to hold on to wired Telegraphy and Telephony and made hardly any effort to adapt to Radio as was the similar case in 1993 when “U.S. News & World Report interviewed seven major executives about the future of computer communications, including Bill Gates, and the heads of AT&T, IBM and Motorola, and no one mentioned the internet” (www.uvm.edu).

On the other hand, there have always been people who sensed the potency of the medium and its technology, envisioning future developments. In terms of Radio, one of the great visionaries was the Austrian born US immigrant H. Gernsbach, editor of the magazine Radio News who may be regarded as one of the great promoters of Radio. In his book ‘Radio for All’, Gernsbach unfolds the sheer magic of Radio to a large audience, “not acquainted as yet with radio art” but as “the keynote of the book has been simplicity in language, and simplicity in radio” most likely all readers would have thought to be able to understand, especially as “the vacuum tube […] has been touched upon very lightly and only where it was absolutely necessary” (Gernsbach, p.5).

Even before having explained the more technological aspects of Radio to the layman, Gernsbach starts of with a depiction of the Future Of Radio in a frontispiece by the famous artist Frank Paul[8].

frank paul







Frank Paul, http://www.frankwu.com/Paul-listing5.html

The drawing is astonishing. Taken from left to right, we observe a radio heater (remote operation of domotronics?), radio controlled airplanes (a discussion only currently becoming more public), crewless ships (id.), radio power distributor (again an current evolution of power technology transferring kinetic energy into electric energy through Bluetooth which is radio), a radio clock (which has been around since WWll). Then there is something Paul refers to as ‘correspondence by radio’, an arrow pointing to what may be interpreted as a fax machine, Television and automatic radiophone and, to finish off our circle of radio-related futurology, a radio business controller, resembling an interactive screen for buying and selling stock. There is one rather strange part, an umbilical cord connecting the radiophone with the world, depicted as a globe.

Grensbach’s book, although emphasizing that technology is only dealt with when necessary, is really about how Radio is being made, what the natural phenomenon of waves are (which he explains in an enlightening fashion in chapter two, ‘Wave analogies’, p.15)) and appears to be rather gendered which we may interpret as a sign of the time as it is 1922 when the book was published. All in all, Grensbach’s book serves as an example of a topos in media archeology; it are ‘innovators’, evangelists even, who promote certain technology as they forecast the potency of such technology. It happened with radio as it happened with contemporary digital media. And it are the media theorists who experiment with the powers of media, as the leaders in the Interbellum did and our contemporary utopia-seeking frontrunners from every fractal of the socio-economical spectrum still do and most likely will remain doing so, using media technology not pondered by us yet. And whatever the contemporary media are in a certain Zeitgeist: “In the name of ‘progress’ our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old” (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967, quoted in Lister et al. p. 60).


History repeating: are contemporary media analogies of Radio?

The question now rises if there are analogies between (traditional) Radio and our contemporary mainstream digital media with Facebook and Twitter as leading examples. Are we allowed to compare these media? For sure the digital media of our days resemble certain aspects of traditional Radio; we can listen to Spotify if want to hear our favorite music, we can actually listen to any radio station broadcasting entertainment content, journalism or information.

We can approach the question of analogies from different angles. Questions then occur like: do we listen to Radio when listening through the Internet or, are we listening to Internet remediating Radio or, what makes Radio differ from new digital media that have the same (intrinsic) agency namely mass medial qualities, including manipulation of the public opinion and even sentiment, enhancing the process of the Spiral of Silence?

According to Bonini, the analogy lies in the perceived active presence of the producer: “The most successful Facebook and Twitter pages analyzed so far all share a specific and clearly recognizable dramaturgic structure: frequent, cyclical and regular updates, every day. Facebook and Twitter provide a flood of data, and posts and tweets will quickly flow off followers’ screens. Tweeting frequently will build a bigger following. Radio producers have to show listeners that they are always alive; always present, and they have to convince them to visit their page more often during the day. They have to build expectations among their followers. Posting 15 tweets a day, but all in the same half hour, will not do, as most of the followers will not even see them. Radio producers have to educate the public, making them feel that their page is constantly updated with valuable contents” (Bonini, 2012).

So, proper programming and offering ‘valuable’ content are essential for any given medium to stay ‘on air’, be they new digital media or traditional Radio which leads us to the question what the status of propaganda is today in comparison with the what it used to be and whether our contemporary media landscape allows or distorts the purposes of the those who propagate.

Is the phenomenon of propaganda still around and if so, does Radio still play a role? To answer that question, one must understand or at least scope the spectrum of impact. The field of force of question and demand determine the modern Western world and it is said that there is a market for everything, every thought as well. Propaganda aims at influencing the sentiment of a groups of people toward a certain cause, be it massive like Nazi’s wanting to build the Third Reich, Hutus wanting to break away from Tutsis (or vice versa) or Dutch Prime Ministers wanting to get general acceptance for their policies like Mr. Colijn and his mythical Radio speech in which he soothed prewar Netherlands by saying that ‘nothing is wrong; go to sleep’. This inveterate myth lets us believe that Prime Minister Colijn uttered these words at the eve of the audacious invasion of the Germans on May 10, 1940 but that is not true. AS, amongst other sources, the Nederlands Dagblad of December 9, 1980 states, Colijn spoke his famous words in a Radio speech on March 11, 1936 when explaining that the invasion of the Germans of the Rhine land had led to the decision to keep the current militias a couple of months more under arms until the situation had stabilized (Nederlands Dagblad, 1980).

“He who molds the public sentiment makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to make”, Abraham Lincoln speeched. In Lincoln’s view, public sentiment was everything and public sentiment, at least the molding of it to one’s satisfaction, is exactly what propaganda implies. From that perspective, media are relevant to the propagators thus instigating that owning the media is crucial in achieving one’s objectives. No wonder we saw urban camouflaged citizen-warriors in Libyan cities trying to occupy the broadcast and telecommunication towers from Moammar al-Qadhafi’s forces. By the time the citizens enforced themselves, Kaddafi’s propaganda had failed its purpose; all Libyans knew that the great Colonel had impertinently lied to his flock.

It is said that Facebook took over the role of Radio in those chaotic days of what now is referred to as the Arab Spring. People organized their rallies, other gathering and protest marches by making use of social media, Facebook in particular, as their tool for communication. And along with the directives of where and when to meet to face the tiran’s troops, insinuative messages as a matter of stimulation, motivating the crowds to participate in the quest for freedom, must have intertwined. There may not be such a thing as neutrality when using media for a purpose.


While preparing this text for constitution, the United Kingdom entombs the ‘Iron Lady’, former conservative Prime Minister baroness Thatcher. The date is April 17, 2013, forty odd years after – may I phrase rhetorically – the posturing epics of the War of the Falklands. This paper is not into political yes-or-no’s as its designation is to manifest the uncanny qualities of mass media, deployed for political reasons, focusing severally on Radio and, for all that matter, radio-like media in later eras of our contemporary digital culture with its proper mass medium.

A mastodon of British power and politics of the eighties of last century as she was Thatcher truly understood the potency of mass media. Rumor has it that she was the first politician to purposely stare into the camera’s lens thus bypassing the interviewer and addressing the viewers directly. Obviously that is a media myth as many other ‘great’ leaders before her days of government (from Churchill via Hitler to Stalin) already knew the trick. Still, I would like to dedicate this text to Thatcher and in her wake all politicians who attempt or have attempted to make clear their thoughts about society and ruling in particular and how to make use of media and even further, propagate their thoughts; do propaganda.

Fact is that when Thatcher entered Downing Street 10 for the first time (and the first female Prime Minister of the UK) as Prime Minister, The Times did not report on it due to ceased publication because of an industrial dispute. And, at the end of 1979, there were more rumors around media and politics. Thatcher not only understood the potency of mass media as a tool for her own gratification, she also understood the political advantage of ‘owning’ the media. Therefore she helped her friend Rupert Murdoch break the powers of the print unions, broke the TV duopoly of ITV and the BBC in the UK and unleashed the British advertising sector, mainly by supporting Saatchi & Saatchi in becoming one of the most influential advertising chains globally[9]. Thatcher often crossed cutlasses with the BBC and other (public) broadcasters in their attempt to maintain an independent journalistic discipline.

Perhaps this appurtenance of the media by politicians is the greatest of all topoi when discussing Radio and other media s tools of propaganda as today’s actuality shows, be it Berlusconi’s Italy or Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.

In any case, as I am finishing this text, I put on BBC Radio to experience today’s memorable event the way people have done for as long as a century, listening, not seeing but imagining. Perhaps, Radio is the apparatus of imagination and in that sense, Noelle-Neumann’s theory may proof its righteousness; people are influenced by imaginative content and deliberate prejudice of those who own the media. Has it ever been otherwise? Meanwhile, I listen.



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[2] The November Regime was the common Nazi denominator for the Weimar Republic’s government.

[3] To be more specific, Topoi are about “What matters in history is not whether certain chance discoveries take place, but whether they take effect”, as Huhtamo cites C.W. Ceram in his ‘Archaeology of Cinema C.W. Ceram: Archaeology of Cinema, translated by Richard Winston, London: Thames & Hudson, 1965, p.17, taken from Huhtamo’s text as referred to’.

[4] In fact, the citizens of Amsterdam were instructed to turn 1 their radio receivers according to their family names: http://www.annefrank.org/nl/Subsites/Amsterdam/Tijdlijn/Oorlog/1943/1943/Radio-inleveren/#!/nl/Subsites/Amsterdam/Tijdlijn/Oorlog/1943/1943/Radio-inleveren/

[5] Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thirty-second president of the United States of America entitled his December 29, 1940 ‘fireside chat’, a series of  ‘The Great Arsenal of War’. In the best tradition of the art of pep talking, Roosevelt speeched alternating formal and less formal radio talks that served as updates on the president’s views, in this case the president’s contemplation of entering the Second World War as ally against the Axis powers “to meet the threat to our democratic faith” as he states towards the end of his speech, broadcasted on national radio. A couple of months later, the US entered the war in an active way. A transcript and audio recording is available at http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrarsenalofdemocracy.html.

[6]Würde der Rundfunk zu einem Kommunikationsapparat öffentlichen Lebens umfunktioniert, könnte das Publikum sowohl beim Theater als auch beim Rundfunk für Neuerungen sorgen, um die mächtigen Institute „zur Aufgabe ihrer Basis zu bewegen’ Taken from Brecht’s article Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat.

[8] Susan J. Douglas has used the very same future depiction in her article ‘Amateur Operators and American Broadcasting: Shaping the future of Radio. (1986).

[9] Facts taken from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22120480, visited April 17, 2013.

Written by Kees Winkel

April 19, 2013 at 07:59

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