This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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The Big Band broadcasts You Never Heard
by By Lawrence Kandrach © 2014
(From Radio Recall, December 2014)
The place - Western Europe
The date - Wednesday, November 8, 1944
The time - 1:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time
The program - Music for the Wehrmacht
The orchestra - The American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces
The conductor - Major Glenn Miller.
Yes, America's most popular big band of the Swing Era was once again performing on the radio, but no Allied soldier or civilian could hear this broadcast. It was, pure and simple: Propaganda!
How did this come to pass? Glenn Miller had disbanded his civilian orchestra in September 1942 to serve in the United States Army Air Force. During 1943, he created a larger service orchestra (including strings, French horn, etc.) and undertook appearances, first from fixed locations, then progressively more from military installations. These were frequently broadcast across America as the Sustain the Wings program.
In late June 1944, his newly christened "American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces" was ordered to England to provide a morale boost for the servicemen stationed there. When in England, Major Miller's resources included sufficient musicians to staff a full orchestra or, separately, the swing band (17 pieces plus 5 vocalists), the 20-piece "Strings with Wings" ensemble, and the "Uptown Hall Gang" jazz sextet.
By having these multiple components, he was able to better meet the overwhelming requests for broadcasts, recordings, and live appearances at American military bases throughout the United Kingdom. It also enabled him to better initiate planning for the eventual relocation of all or parts of this multi-layered organization to mainland Europe after the continent had been liberated sufficiently to allow for similar activities "over there".
At the same time, the American Broadcast Station in Europe, an element of the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information, transmitted multilingual radio programs to the Continent as one element in the American propaganda effort aimed at occupied Europe. These consisted of news programs, talks, information, and music for periods up to eight hours daily. At some point in 1944, the idea germinated to develop a series of weekly broadcasts of Glenn Miller's incredibly popular big band swing music focused specifically at the German soldier. Thus came into being "The Wehrmacht Hour".
A total of six programs were recorded at the HMV (EMI) Studios, Abbey Road, St. John's Wood, London between September 16 and November 27, 1944. (Yes, you "Baby Boomers", THAT Abbey Road Studio where the Beatles would record two decades later!) These were broadcast on six successive Wednesday afternoons at 1:30 pm starting November 8.
The format for all six broadcasts was identical. A German lady, Ilse Weinberger, served as the announcer. Major Miller, for whom she provided rudimentary language skills, then interacted with her and made his music introductions in "pidgin" German and English. The band and singers performed the numbers and continued the patter until the half-hour segment concluded.
Although there was an emphasis on trying to communicate in German and, thereby, make the whole effort more personal, Major Miller fared rather more poorly in this regard than lead soloist Johnny Desmond, who acquitted himself very well on several numbers. The orchestra, as expected, performed exceptionally well, a combination of Miller civilian band standards ("In the Mood", "String of Pearls", 'Tuxedo Junction"), borrowed hits ("Stardust", "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar"), newer popular swing numbers ("Cow, Cow Boogie", "Jeep Jockey Jump") and romantic offerings ("Long Ago and Far Away", "All the Things You Are").
Interestingly, there was no attempt to encourage the German soldier to lay down his arms and surrender. However, there were several attempts to highlight the positives of democracy and the promise that would bring for the German people once "... we will completely wipe out all Nazi gangsterism ... " In contrast, in the very first program, there was one unmistakable effort to underscore the alliance between America, England, and Russia against the Third Reich during Major Miller's introduction to his version of the "Song of the Volga Boatmen"!
Because these broadcasts were intended solely for propaganda purposes, they were never heard by Allied troops or the American or English populaces. It was only after the war that the 12 inch, 78 rpm acetate discs, recorded under optimum conditions in a studio setting, as well as wire and tape copies derived from the masters and the broadcasts surfaced. Some of these recordings became known as the result of clandestine meetings with a former Nazi, while others emerged through bootleg copies of tapes made from the originals or commercial albums offered by small, specialty producers who declined to reveal their sources.
Finally, 50 years after the conclusion of WW2, a these sources somehow came together and were melded into a multi-volume CD collection of Glenn Miller recordings entitled: Glenn Miller, The Missing Chapters - with Volume 5 being The Complete Abbey Road Recordings (AVID Records, 560, 1995). And, at last, you can all enjoy the broadcasts you were never meant to hear!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kandrach is a "War Baby" who was exposed to the big bands, and Glenn Miller's music in particular, while absorbing radio broadcasts when he was in still in diapers. He has written two prior articles for RADIO RECALL, presented several "First 15" segments at our monthly meetings, and performed in numerous re-creations. He will further discuss the events in this article when he presents our monthly program in February 2015.