Zero Hour

The Propaganda War From Japan

The article now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on radiodx.com for a period of five years from November 1st 2001. Author: James Wood, from ‘History of International Broadcasting Volume 1’ published by The Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1992 and included by kind permission of the publishers.

In the spring of 1943, Eight Section G2 embarked on a new project: a radio program called Zero Hour. By this time, NHK had developed much experience in planning and scripting high-quality propaganda programs. The idea in essence was to make American soldiers homesick, tired of killing, and waiting to be killed.

This motive should be seen in the context of the life of the American soldier on lonely Pacific islands, where life consisted of just that: eating, sleeping, killing, deprived of a normal sex life and the privilege of feminine company. By beaming powerful SW broadcasts to these troops, with programs that stirred the sensitivity and imagination of the listener, the Japanese authorities stood a good chance of achieving their objective. The programs would remind the soldiers of the good things in life which they were missing out on.

Zero Hour was broadcast at 7.15 in the evening, coinciding with a time of boredom and loneliness after a hurried meal eaten in dismal surroundings, or in foxholes. In June 1943, a US news bulletin reported:

‘Between the Tokyo broadcasts and the intermittent Japanese air raids, life is far from dull. Tokyo has beamed a shortwave broadcast to the Russell Islands and Guadalcanal. The program is far from dull and is called Zero Hour. The fellows like it because it cries over them, and really feels sorry for them. It talks of food, the girls back home they miss, and how the munition workers back home in their town are stealing their girls and wives.’

The tragedy was in its truth. The GI’s, the Japanese authorities and the American military authorities all knew it to be true.

By the summer of 1943, Japanese propaganda broadcasting was proving to be effective. Worse still, from the American viewpoint, it was capturing larger listening audiences. In the autumn, Major Tsuneishi decided to capitalise on its success by giving the broadcasts an all-American radio station flavor. The propaganda base was to be expanded by bringing in more POW’s to work for NHK.

Fifty-three allied prisoners were brought in. They were housed in a facility in the Kanda district of Tokyo, which was given the name ‘Surnagi Technical Research Center’. To the first POW’s who arrived, it was known as Bunka Camp. From December 1943 to February 1944, POW’s arrived at Bunka Camp. All had been screened for their experience and suitability for the work, and given the straightforward choice of co-operating or dying. They co-operated.

Some were put to work in the receiver monitoring stations operated by the army, the airforce, the navy and the Domei press monitoring station, while others joined Cousens, Ince and Reyes in the studio work. Lieutenant Edwin Kaebfleish, Ensign George Henshaw, and Sergeant John Provo were selected as announcers for a new program, modelled on Zero Hour but with new script writers. The program was called Red Sun.

Other prisoners were put to work on other programs: War on War, Post-War Calls, Australian Program, and Civilian Air Program.

The tall, long-limbed American POW’s were soon popular with the female typing and secretarial staff at NHK overseas broadcasting bureau. Associations and romances developed from working in proximity. Lieutenant Reyes, who was single, was permitted to marry Katherine Morooke, one of the Japanese announcers.

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