Although ham radio transmission was suspended in the US during World War II, there were no rules regarding reception.
Throughout the war, hams and shortwave listeners alike used their capabilities and equipment to perform a valuable and heartwarming service to a great many family members who had a loved one reported as “Missing in action” in Germany.
This almost always involved a member of a bomber crew.
In order to get Americans to listen to their propaganda, the Nazis realized there had to be something of value injected into their program for the intended audience.
Calling Back Home was a nightly 30-minute broadcast on the 31 and 49 meter shortwave bands from German stations DXP and DXB in Berlin.
Ten names of American prisoners would be mentioned in each broadcast along with pertinent info that would allow their family to be contacted by those receiving the broadcasts.
Hams and SWLs throughout the US dutifully tuned in and logged what they heard – often in the prisoner’s own voices – and then they wrote letters.
Quite often, a family would receive multiple letters since the broadcasts were heard by a large number of listeners (mostly on the US east coast).
Those writing the letters received letters of thanks in return. Some of these – and a first-hand account of what it was like to be such a listener – can be read on the website of Morton Bardfield W1UQ (scroll down to “Berlin Radio”) who recently became a Silent Key.
From a write-up by Morton:
For my 13th birthday in 1943 my parents bought me a Philco console radio with a shortwave band. I began shortwave listening almost every night, especially the broadcast from Nazi Germany. I sold newspapers after school and had the money to buy plenty of penny postcards needed to relay the radio messages to the POW’s next of kin.
A ham who is still active, Flavius Jankauskas K3JA, was 16 years old when he wrote a letter concerning the grandfather of Lisa Spahr. Lisa recently found this letter in an old trunk along with those from almost 70 other ham/SWLs who’d heard her grandfather’s name mentioned in one of the Berlin broadcasts.
She has compiled these and letters to other families into a book, WW2 Radio Heroes. Lisa also maintains a blog – POW Letters – where she documents her quest in gathering other old letters of the same type from an age that is quickly receding from living memory.
Here is a description in her own words at what it was like to learn of the great service performed by many radio listeners in the 1940′s:
The second half of this video is particularly interesting: