At the Ref Desk (4/6/21): Getting a lot of nice thank-you's this evening... #ChatReference #NationalLibraryWeek [more...]

Daddy Was a DJ to the Germans in WWII

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sat, 6/9/07 (4:42pm)

Family History note: my father, William L. Klein, had a very popular German-language radio show in Chicago called the "Germania Broadcast" [link]. He had been doing it in one form or another since the 1930's and it consisted mainly of music with the occasional skit, etc.

Anyway, once WWII came along, he shifted gears, going to London and doing essentially for the Allies what he had been doing so well in Chicago -- namely producing German-language radio shows -- only now beamed into the homes and barracks of enemy Germany.

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So I knew all this. What I didn't know was the extent of his activity. In a letter written by his superior, George M. Hanfmann, that I just came across while looking for something else, it states that "[h]e organized the entire production of our radio programs...".

This would make sense. George M Hanfmann, my father's superior, was chief of the German Section of 'ABSIE' (American Broadcasting Station in Europe). He was a Harvard Don with no experience in radio (see 'George Maxim Anossov Hanfmann, 1911-1986').

The letter states that my father produced over 1,000 broadcasts in between V-bombs and the London Blitz. Among the most popular was a "half-hour musical program" beamed to German forces. It featured major American talent like Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby and Glen Miller along with commentary in German.

Hanfmann calls it the "most effective program".

Time Magazine in a contemporary account of both the program and ABSIE's efforts in general had this to say:

ABSIE's pride & joy were its musical programs, as American as pie à la mode. According to captured Germans, the favorite Allied program heard in Germany was Music for the Wehrmacht, which featured songs by topnotch performers like Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore. Beaming almost a third of its air time to Germany, ABSIE had solid assurance that its efforts were not wasted. The Nazis tried jamming ABSIE broadcasts, answered ABSIE's news comments on their own stations. ["OWI's ABSIE", Time Magazine, 7/16/1945.]

The article goes on to say that over 80% of Occupied Europe tuned into ABSIE in the months leading to the end of the War.

My father quickly returned to civilian life. He led a successful career in film and recording as well continuing his first love which was broadcasting. He passed away in 1988.

See below for full text of the letter.


American Embassy, London

June 18, 1945

To Whom It May Concern,

This is to certify that William L. Klein has rendered magnificent service to the cause of American psychological warfare against Germany during the decisive period of military operations in Europe. Entering on duty with the American Broadcasting Station in Europe on March 16, 1944, Mr. Klein served with this station as Chief Producer of the German language section until the final defeat of Germany and beyond, staying on even after his release on June 3rd, 1945. His period of service was one of the longest in our station and included the most intensive time of German V-bomb air attacks against London. In 1944, during the summer months of most intensive alerts he unflaggingly fulfilled his duties, never leaving the studio during the air-attacks.

William L. Klein held the position of Chief Producer for all German language broadcasts, but by virtue of his long professional experience, his influence and his advice were of greatest value to the entire production division of ABSIE.

The services which he rendered to the German language output of our station are unsurpassed. He organized the entire production of our radio programs, bringing it to the most exacting standards of professional excellence. He trained producers and announcers, bringing out their best potentialities; and many observers, both within the Allied information services and outside have complimented ABSIE on the excellent performance of our announcers who were made available to Radio Luxembourg and to other American and Allied radio stations in liberated countries and in Germany. Thus William Klein has contributed to the general improvement and expansion of the American radio in Europe.

Beginning, as it were, from scratch, Klein trained the entire production staff, has immeasurably enriched and diversified the programs offered by our section and has attained and maintained the highest traditions of American broadcasting during the months of his service. He produced and supervised during this period more than one thousand broadcasts and is thus entitled to a considerable share of credit for the success of such psychological warfare campaigns as the campaign to promote surrender of the German forces, to instruct the German population about the true facts of the war, and to support the measures of the Allied Military Government.

I should like to emphasize that only a producer of his caliber could have achieved such feats of speed and complete program revision as those which enabled ABSIE to be continuously abreast of even the most unexpected and sudden developments especially during the invasion period, and during the last weeks of the war in Europe. To give just one example: on the evening when Hitler's death was announced, Klein cancelled a complete half-hour program which had been prepared and recorded and went on the air with a completely new half-hour program, while Doenitz was still making the announcement; starting with material for exactly three minutes, and putting on the air one item after another in the smoothest fashion, as they came off the ticker.

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It would be impossible for me to enumerate the variety of new ventures in radio technique which Klein introduced into our programs. But I should like at least to mention the program which was acknowledged to be the most effective program by a test made with German prisoners of war -- our half-hour musical program for the German forces. Initiated by Klein in October, 1944, this program primarily presented American music with German-language continuity in lively and attractive form. Many topnotch American performers made special recordings for this series, including 13 special broadcasts by the Allied Expeditionary Forces Band under the late Major Glen Miller, programs with Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby and the American Army Air Forces Band. These broadcasts also included a series of special programs on American composers. A number of German language entertainers made special recordings of American music with German language text for this program; over 300 recordings were made, all under the direction and supervision of Klein. These recordings, for which the exclusive rights belong to the American Broadcasting Station in Europe, have been requested by and sent to many outposts. We have also been informed that in certain cases they were used in the teaching of German by Allied military authorities.

Another series of weekly features, written and produced under Klein's supervision which has been most popular with our audience, according to unsolicited testimony received from Switzerland, was the feature "Herr und Frau Adabei", a dialogue skit with music which appeared on our weekly programs on Austria via BBC. This series ran for 57 weeks and presented the directive points in the guise of a humorous dialogue with songs and music. It may be mentioned that one of the episodes of this program was used and illustrated by the Russian army paper "Red Star" with full attribution to ABSIE.

There are many other features, the direction of which we owed to William Klein, such as our series on "Words and Facts" and "What the German Should Do", both of which were pronounced most effective propaganda by our listening outposts in Sweden and Switzerland. A number of special features, reporting the events of world history and presenting the best of American radio reporting and production were planned and executed by Klein. I mention, at random, such features as "Christmas with the American forces in Europe", features on Stalingrad, on the fall of Vienna, on the fall of Berlin, on the death of President Roosevelt, on American Memorial Day, on the American-Russian link-up, on VE-Day in London, on the German U-Boat at Westminster, all of which went on the air immediately after the news broke. A monumental series of nine dramatized broadcasts depicting the history of the war in Europe formed the crowning achievement of Klein in this field.

To sum up: during his activity at the American Broadcasting Station in Europe, William L. Klein has rendered distinguished patriotic service to the cause of the United Stated in the decisive period of the war in Europe.

George M. Hanfmann
Chief, German Radio Section
American Broadcasting Station in Europe