Sir Freddie






Q: You also describe how you used humour on RIAS to get the message across. Can you tell me about that?

A: Yes, we - I was quite sure that the heavy hand of Nazi propaganda had given the German listeners a belly full of that sort of narcissistic or bombastic propaganda. I thought they would enjoy a laugh, that they would enjoy humour. Berlin humour particularly is famous. the Berlin cabaret, the Berlin theatre has always been a humorous theatre. I tapped the people who were there. The Walter Grosz, the other people who were no longer in concentration camps and no longer living in fear and could give full vent to their wit. This I used on RIAS constantly. When we were attacked we never came back with vituperation. We came back with laughter. We made a joke of the attack made upon us, let us say, in Radio Berlin. Radio Berlin loved to refer to me as 'der unheimliche Mr Heimlich', the the gruesome Mr Heimlich, the unreal, the etc. Well of course I played on that and enjoyed it, and encouraged my people to do so. We used humour every place except when real danger hit us. I'll give you two instances. One was when because of the lack of electrical power we had loud speaker wagons going through the streets of Berlin giving the news, several times a day, and night. And when we learned that the Western political Parties had been thrown out of the Stadthaus, Rathaus, the principle government building, we were there, actually, we learned about it by being there and broadcasting it: the first real Communist putsch that was every broadcast blow by blow. But my loudspeakers went through the streets calling to - with most dramatic, had a fine actor make a tape: "Berliner und Berlinerin, ihr Stadt ist in gefaehr. Your city is in danger." shouting this. We produced a half a million people at a protest demonstration with the help of the, of the British commandant incidentally. And also at other another instance was the ...


Q: I want to ask you to describe how RIAS managed to mobilise the people for the great protest rally at the Reichstag in September 9th, 1948.

A: First of all we had broadcast a play by play description of the events leading to the expulsion of the Western political Parties from the Soviet sector. we were horrified as was all the Western press and all of the military government people. The announcement came over RIAS constantly that day, and that night our loudspeaker trucks went through the streets appealing to the people to stand fast with their Western allies, that is to say their own German, West German allies. The mayor of Berlin, Doctor Reuter, came over to my office. His office was not far from RIAS, the Schneberger Rathaus, and he asked me, or he was accompanied I remember by Doctor Otto Suer and by Carl Huberts Rheniger of the FDP, the Freie Deutsche Partei. These three politicians asked me if we would pull out all stops to support a protest demonstration in front of the Reichstag in what they called the Platz de la Republique. I said, "Yes, provided the British and American commandants approve of it, and we'll certainly recommend that they do it." General Howley of course was very enthusiastic and General Herbert supported it. From the British side we this was in the British sector - a field was cleared, it was merely rubble, it was pock marked with bomb craters and, a terrible place, you really couldn't have a demonstration of any kind there, the way things were. It had to be cleared and bull-dozed down, which was done. RIAS went full out on the air and with our street trucks to urge the people to go there. As I have said we made our announcements with top flight actors and top flight writers writing their copy. Then the people came. Hundreds of thousands of them came. We realised it was going to be big when Western new media started flying in from London, New York, St Louis, etc. Nearly a half a million people showed up. That night I had a protest from an American officer who accused me of trying to start World War Three, and I assured him we were trying to stop it. What my statement to his at that moment was, that I was following the American Constitution, the right of the people peaceable to assemble and to protest for redress of grievances. And that redress you know, took place in front of the Allied Control Authority building despite the shooting that came from the Soviet sector, the Lord Mayand the heads of every Party marched down the Hauptstrasse the ACA buil. It got headlines all over the world, and I think it did two things. I triggered the blockade, it was certain that the blockade would come down after that, and it stiffened the resistance of the Germans. Up to then they had been largely apathetic still, but this dramatised it. This showed them first of all they could resist, they could protest and that the Western Allies were indeed going to stand by them.

Q: February 1948, when you started at RIAS, what kind of impact did news like the Czech coup d'etat in Prague have, the Communists taking over there?

A: With the assistance of British and American intelligence services - the CIA were always at my beck and call, actually there - with the assistance of those two services we were able to stay on top of the story that was unfolding in Prague, and to broadcast, and we did. We actually dramatised the events leading up to the to the assassination of the Czech leadership, as we understood it had taken place, and this electrified all of Germany. By this time we had a lot of people listening to us and Germans in Leipzig, Magdeburg, Dresden were as aware of those events taking place as the people in Paris and London, even though they were denied direct news from their own occupying authorities, the Soviet Union, who killed the story, they spiked the story. But RIAS broadcast it. Then because of our success with the stories unfolding in Prague, we had also dramatised the matter of the same sort of thing going in Hungary when Mindszenty, Cardinal Mindszenty was tried, and we did a blow by blow account of that, with the help of the Western intelligence services. The Western intelligence services, and this is an amusing side thing, helped us with personnel. For example I needed a really top flight musician to head my musical department at RIAS because in Europe, unlike the United States, the director of music of a large station is a very important man and always a top flight musician. I wanted a young man who had performed magnificently at Bayreuth in 1946 but he was in Budapest. With the help of the Intelligence Services I got him, his wife, his children and his mistress out of Budapest, and he became the director of music for RIAS.

Q: During the blockade, what kind of feeling was there about Soviet intentions? Was there a feeling that the Soviets might take over the whole city?

A: Oh yes. Oh yes, as a matter of fact this was part of the disinformation programme of the Soviet propaganda arm. It was constantly reiterated that they were going to take over on the 16th of next month, or the 23rd of the month following. Yes, these rumours were planted deliberately, sometimes even getting into the Western newspapers, a newspaper in Stuttgart or some other place. How that happens I leave up to you, but - as a counterpoint to that a rumour was always planted that the Americans and the British were going to leave on such and such a date, and of course that would leave the Soviet in charge. or the American leadership was going to abandon the political, the German political leaders. We would handle that in RIAS this way: a story would appear that - Colonel Tupanov, the political adviser to the Soviet administration had threatened Wilhelm Pieck, this Communist leadership, that if he did not do as he was told he, Tupanov, would see to it that he was sent to Siberia. Then RIAS would say, "Well, we agree with Tupanov. That's the way they should be handled. Germans who won't obey should be threatened with that. As a matter of fact, I'm going to recommend to General Clay that if Mayor Reuter doesn't do as he's told, we'll send him to Texas." Well, of course every German wanted to go to Texas, (cough) so the laughter would begin, and we would counter a disinformation project.

Q: You had other psychological warfare projects like naming informers and spies in the Soviet sector. How did that begin?

A: Well that was a, a little dirty trick that I take credit for. In RIAS I still maintained my connection with, as I have said, with the Western intelligence, and with Western newspaper people and so forth, and I heard a great deal about how the Soviets were using informants and rats throughout the throughout the eastern part of Germany, or Eastern Europe. So I asked the intelligence services if they would provide me names of any of these people that they knew. And to my surprise they had scores of names. So I made a list, constantly weekly, and where I would see this name appear on a British list and an American list I would run a line and I would have confirmation of the existence of this chap. Then I would run it through German sources, and the Germans were beginning to develop an intelligence service too. And they were quite often able to confirm my names. So I would say, "I'll have Hans Schmidt. Hans Schmidt is an informant for the NKVD. He is employed in the Mayor's office in Rostov." RIAS then developed a programme and it began interestingly, we used the old BBC drum beat, bum-bum-bum boom, when that appeared on RIAS everybody quickly learned: something's up. It would be followed then with an announcement: "Listen to RIAS tonight at ten. Bom-bom-bom bom. Hr RIAS. Heute an zehn Uhr." At ten o'clock bom-bom-bom bom. Then a minute of silence, and a voice would come on and say, "Achtung. Rostov. Achtung Rostov. Zeller Strasse, Thirteen, the fourth story, apartment four E, Hans Schmidt. He is an informant for the NKVD." Well this bomb would appear every few nights in RIAS for maybe five minutes. there was consternation in the Soviet circles as we quickly learned. The Western press picked it up. The New York Times, referred to it as 'a hand grenade in the Soviet coat closet'; people began to appear in RIAS to tell us that they were Hans Schmidt, that they really weren't informants for the NKVD, but they had escaped from the Eastern Zone, which set up something of a problem for us. But these so-called Spitzelsendungen were devastating to the Soviet as a an anti-propaganda device they were dramatic, they were honest, they were true, we did broadcast anybody's name that we weren't pretty sure of.

Q: What's a Spitzelsendung?

A: Spy, or intelligence agent broadcast.

Q: Could you say that?

A: Spitzelsendung is a spy broadcast.