Category Archives: World War 2

American Radio 1942: WGAC, Augusta, GA


Seventy-five years ago, this day’s issue of Life Magazine, April 27, 1942, carried a photo essay about American radio as it went to war.  The article claimed that war marked the end of a “rich era” which brought fresh problems to the medium. It predicted, with little supporting evidence, that declining advertising revenues were on the way. It asserted that “war has thrown new problems at radio–of presenting fact and propaganda, of keeping commercialism and patriotism decently separated, of informing and stimulating the public.” It acknowledged a few bright points, such as the program “This Is War,” whose production is shown above.

It carried summaries of the current offerings, such as comedy, soap operas, and music, and asserted that programming often catered to the lowest common denominator.

WGAC studio and transmitter.

WGAC studio and transmitter.

The most enlightening part of the feature was the magazine’s look at what it viewed as a typical small station, WGAC, Augusta, Georgia, which then ran 250 watts from 6:30 AM to Midnight.  It carried the NBC Blue network, and had a range of about 60 miles day, 15 miles night.

The station is currently licensed to  Beasley Broadcast Group, Inc. and broadcasts on 580 kHz, 5000 watts daytime, 840 watts nighttime.


WGAC broadcast of service of St. Paul’s Church.

WGAC commentator and Augusta Herald editor Sam Moss.

WGAC commentator and Augusta Herald editor Sam Moss.

Thomson, GA, high school girls Barbara Burch, Lucy Lockett, and Winona Colton, WGAC's star trio.  "They sing in close harmony just like the big-time girl trios."

Thomson, GA, high school girls Barbara Burch, Lucy Lockett, and Winona Colton, WGAC’s star trio. “They sing in close harmony just like the big-time girl trios.”

KSTP Morse Code Lessons, 1942

1942April27BCOn this day 75 years ago, April 26, 1942, KSTP radio in St. Paul, MN, began an innovative program, as described in the article shown here from the April 27, 1942, issue of Broadcasting.

According to the report, the station was doing its part to help satisfy the great demand by the armed forces for radio operators, by conducting weekly programs designed to teach young men and women the international Morse code.

The weekly program aired Sundays at 9:30 AM, and “used drama, as sugar-coating for the lessons.” It was built around a small family, one of whom was an amateur operator. Script writing was done by Jack Hill of the St. Paul Radio Club, using lessons from the American Radio Relay League.

After the third week’s episode, the station planned to incorporate “teaser announcements” into the program in an effort to determine how many would be interested in lessons one night a week in classrooms in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The St. Paul Radio Club would furnish instructors for those courses.

The program seems to have been a great success, as reported in the September 1942 issue of QST (pp. 80-81). The fifteen minute weekly programs resulted in a total of 325 Twin City residents signing up for the classes, initially held at KSTP’s Minneapolis and St. Paul studios, with advanced students moving on to classes at the YMCA.

According to QST, transcripts of the radio broadcasts, featuring the “Strong” family, were available by mail by writing to Hill at 1138 Fauquier Avenue (now known as Bush Avenue) in St. Paul.

75th Anniversary of End of Civilian Radio Production


As we previously reported, on this date 75 years ago, April 22, 1942, the last civilian radio receivers rolled off the assembly lines.  For the duration of the war, no more radios or phonographs would be produced, the nation’s industrial output instead being devoted to the war effort.

The photo here shows one of the last RCA radios to be produced before the deadline.  This ad, which appeared in the May 1942 issue of Radio Retailing, shows RCA Victrola No. 17,199,547, which was the last set to be produced at RCA’s Camden plant, on April 7, 1942.

With no more new sets available, the nation’s radio servicemen were acutely aware that they would bear the full responsibility of keeping the nation informed and entertained by keeping existing sets running.


1942 Aircraft Detector


Seventy-five years ago this month, the April 1942 issue of Radio Craft showed the defense-minded electronics hobbyist or serviceman how to put together this aircraft detector. According to the magazine, the detector would be of particular interest to civilian defense units around the country. Cost of parts was set at $50, and the detector used readily available parts. In tests, it was able to pick up conversations at three blocks, and the sound of a bomber ten miles away.

Detail of horn-microphone assembly.

Detail of horn-microphone assembly.

The “ear” consisted of an old phonograph horn with a sensitive microphone mounted at the base. The four-tube battery operated amplifier employed three 1H5GT and one 1G4G tubes and allowed the operator to scan the skies for approaching planes with headphones.


1942 Ground Current Communication


During World War II, Amateur Radio was off the air for the duration. However, unlike the situation in the First World War, hams were allowed to keep their equipment, and there were no restrictions on listening. Hams were eager to communicate, and with radio unavailable, they were eager to explore other possibilities. Starting with the March 1942 issue of QST, each issue included an experimenters’ section, which discussed many of the possibilities. Among the possibilities were carrier-current radio over power lines, and modulated light beams.

The first ideas started to trickle in 75 years ago this month in the April 1942 issue, and some of the first experiments focused on ground current communications. Leslie C. Merrill, W1NEI reported his preliminary results with the schematic shown above. The receiver consisted of the audio section of his receiver, and the transmitter consisted of the venerable spark coil from a Model T.

From the transmitter, the signal was fed to ground rods three feet apart. At the receiving end, the ground rods were only two feet apart. Despite the close spacing, he was able to copy the signal fifty feet away.

Merrill reported that he lived out in the country, and had the possibility to space ground rods 3/8 mile apart. By extrapolating his initial results, he speculated that a range of 30 miles might be possible with a similarly equipped station at the other end.

We’ve previously covered similar ideas.  In 1940, Popular Mechanics carried plans for a similar setup with a range of about 75 feet.  And in the First World War, the Signal Corps had a field buzzer that could be configured with a similar setup.  And a 1957 “Quist Quiz” showed a similar setup using a telephone, and even noted that old timers would be familiar with such a hookup.

Escape of Gen. Giraud, 1942

Gen. Giraud during his daily walk during imprisonment, 1940 or 41. Wikipedia photo.

On this day 75 years ago, April 17, 1942, French General Henri Giraud escaped from prison in the Nazi Königstein Fortress near Dresden, one of the largest mountain fortresses in Europe.

In 1940, Giraud was commanding in the Netherlands where his men were trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes.  He was at the front with a reconnaissance patrol when he was captured by German troops.

Giraud spent the next two years planning the escape. He spent the time learning German, memorizing a map of the area, and making ropes out of smuggled-in pieces of twine, copper wire, and bedsheets.

Just before the escape, the 63-year-old General shaved his mustache, climbed the wall, and descended the steep rock on which the fortress lay. He jumped aboard a moving train, and eventually made his way to Switzerland, from which he transferred to Vichy France.

When word of the escape spread in France, the Nazis were beside themselves, and an order to assassinate Giraud was issued, along with orders to arrest his family members.

He tried to talk Marshal Pétain out of continued collaboration, to no avail. He was then secretly contacted by the Allies, and eventually took a submarine to Gibraltar, where he met with General Eisenhower. He was flown to Algiers in November, but Vichy French forces there initially refused his command and his plea to join the Allies.

Giraud’s 1942 escape was actually his second escape from the Germans. In the First World War, he was wounded and left for dead on the battlefield before being taken prisoner and placed in a prison camp in Belgium. He escaped after two months by pretending to be a roustabout with a traveling circus, eventually returning to France via the Netherlands.

Bataan Death March, 1942

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Bataan Death March,
which began on April 9, 1942. After the fall of the Philippines, the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly transferred between 60,000 and 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war. The prisoners were marched about 60 miles and then placed on trains.

During the march, between 5000 and 18,000 Filipino solders died, as did between 500 and 650 Americans. The march was later judged to be a Japanese war crime.


Clandestine English Receiver in Norway


The 1945 issue of Radio Missionary Log, the program guide for HCJB, Quito, Ecuador, carried this letter and photo which the station had received after the war. The writer, Kjell Gaarder of Norway, wrote that he had received HCJB on the receiver shown.

HCJB did not carry a Norwegian broadcast, but Mr. Gaarder listened to the station’s Swedish broadcast. He noted that there probably hadn’t been many reports from Norwegian listeners during the war, since the Nazis had seized all radio receivers in 1941, and prohibited listening on pain of death. But Mr. Gaarder reported that he “received, however, a small three-valve receiving set from England by parachute,” and had listened to HCJB with it.

According to the program guide, HCJB was broadcasting in Swedish ninety minutes per week, from 4:30-5:00 PM U.S. Eastern Standard Time (the same as local time in Quito) on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The broadcasts were on 12.5 MHz, the station’s main frequency, with 10,000 Watts. The Swedish broadcast would have also gone out with 1000 watts on 9.9 and 6.2 MHz.

Curiously, the book The Portable Radio in American Life mentions an RCA engineer named Kjell Gaarder, who made some adjustments to a small radio in 1940 to make it smaller.  It seems inconceivable that two small radios in different parts of the world just happened to have a connection to someone with the same unusual name.  It seems almost certain that the RCA engineer in America in 1940 was one and the same as the person who just happened to receive a radio delivered by parachute a few years later.

I suspect that Mr. Gaarder returned to Norway during the Nazi occupation, and probably participated in the resistance, as evidenced by his British radio.  There must be an interesting story here, and I hope some reader can give me some clues as to that story.

World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion, by Lisa L. Spahr

We previously reviewed the book World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion by Lisa L. Spahr.  The book collects numerous letters from shortwave listeners to families of World War II POW’s held by the Germans and Japanese.  Names of prisoners were broadcast by Berlin and Tokyo radio, and these listeners contacted their families to reassure them that their loved ones were alive and well.

The Kindle edition is currently being offered at a sale price, and it’s well worth downloading this interesting book.  You can do so at the link below.

Canadian POW Sgt. Brian Hodkinson


Then 16 year old Hodgkinson at the CKY microphone, circa 1930. Manitoba Historical Society photo.

Then 16 year old Hodgkinson at the CKY microphone, circa 1930. Manitoba Historical Society photo.

This postcard from RCAF prisoner of war Sgt. Brian Hodkinson appeared 75 years ago this month in the March 1942 issue of CKY’s program guide, Manitoba Calling.  Prior to the war, Hodkinson was an announcer at the Winnipeg station.  With the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the air force, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down and held prisoner for the duration of the war.

This card was sent to a friend in WInnipeg, Dr. John Toole, and reports that the Germans were treating him well.  He requested “cigs. & chocolate, etc.” via the Canadian Red Cross.  Dr. Toole shared the card with the radio station.

Hodgkinson spoke little of the war years, but after much prodding by friends, he did put his memoirs on paper.  After the war, Hodgkinson moved to the United States and was for many years a newscaster and commentator at WHK, WERE, and WDOK in Cleveland.

After his death, a manuscript for a book was found.  It was published in Canada in 2000 as Spitfire Down.

The book is a fascinating look not only at Hodgkinson’s time as a POW, but also at his training.  The RCAF had to get pilots in the air as fast as possible, and the training was intense.  Hodgkinson recounts that he got lost on his first solo cross country flight, which was supposed to be from Ottawa to Kingston.  He got lost, and finally spotted an airport, which turned out to be Montreal.  Low on fuel and daylight, he landed and called his base for instructions.  After some discussion, he was told to return to Ottawa the next day.  He got lost again, and once again he landed at an unfamiliar airport.  When a friendly airport worker came out to meet the plane, he asked where he was, and was told that he had landed in Ogdenburg, New York.

Since the United States was still neutral, Hodgkinson realized that his navigation blunder would result in his spending the duration of the war in an American internment camp.  So he asked which way it was to Ottawa, and promptly flew north.

Despite these false starts, Hodgkinson was quickly sent to England, and on one of his first missions over France, he was shot down.  Most of the book recounts his experiences in a hospital in France, and then in prison camps in Germany.

One feature that stood out was the fluent English speakers that Hodgkinson encountered.  While he and his other prisoners in the hospital in France noted that before long they would be speaking a mixture of three languages, there were English speakers among his captors.  The first that he encountered was the doctor who oversaw the treatment of his injuries, Dr. Rudy Meinhoff.  Hodgkinson was surprised to hear the doctor address him with a clearly American accent.  It had turned out that the German doctor had practiced in Milwaukee before the war, and had even attended a medical conference in Winnipeg.

Hodgkinson (front row, center) along with fellow prisoners, 4 New Zealander and 1 English, 1944. Manitoba Calling, Apr. 1944.

Hodgkinson (front row, center) along with fellow prisoners, 4 New Zealander and 1 English. Manitoba Calling, Apr. 1944.

And upon his transfer to the German prison camp, Hodgkinson’s interrogator was Wehrmacht intelligence officer Col. Gustave Metterling, who also surprised Hodgkinson with an American accented English.  Before the war, Metterling had lived in New York, where he made a career of selling forged oil paintings, often made to order by wealthy buyers.

The book is not available in the United States, but used copies are available at a reasonable price on Amazon.  In Canada, it’s also available at

The book is a fascinating look at the war by one who had to sit most of it out.  According to Worldcat, relatively few libraries, American or Canadian, have a copy.  But it is apparently still in print from its Canadian publisher, and reasonably priced copies are available on Amazon.  It’s definitely worth seeking out.