Wartime Wednesday: Wunschkonzert
Early in the Third Reich, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels realized that radio would be extremely effective in disseminating Nazi messages on a wide scale. Citizens were already addicted to radio’s ability to broadcast music, news, drama, and comedy directly into their homes. However, not everyone owned one. They were expensive, and people were struggling under the economic depression. Luxuries like radios took a back burner.
Not one to be beaten, Goebbels worked with manufacturers to invent an affordable product, and within a short time the Volksempfänger was created. The “people’s receiver” was constructed with Bakelite (an early, low-cost plastic), cardboard, and cloth and cheap enough for even the poorest German to purchase. No one seemed to notice or care that the national arms in the form of an eagle and swastika on either side of the tuner unmistakably identified the unit as part of the Nazi’s advanced propaganda machine.
Even while the war was going well for them, Nazi authorities knew it was important to maintain the morale of people on the home front. Their brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, and others were away in combat. Food and other day-to-day necessities were either heavily rationed or unavailable. Media reports stressed the frightening aspects of war to say nothing of the actual bombing raids, the general public experienced. Uncertainty and fear hung over the country.
Thus began the Wunschkonzert (“wish concert,” or better “concert by request”) first transmitted on October 1, 1939. The program featured messages from soldiers at the front for their loved ones back home, interspersed with songs that listeners, whether at home or at the front, requested. The day after the broadcasting house put out an appeal for letters more than 23,000 arrived.
When the war began to go badly for the Germans, the program’s content changed to include a higher percentage of propaganda than music and entertainment. During bombing raids, the program would be interrupted by a two-tone signal that indicated Allied planes had been spotted. Music would resume, then then after another call, the announcer would provide locations of the air-raids. When Russian troops swarmed Berlin in April 1945, the program ceased.