Internationalizing the Spanish Broadcasting War

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The radio receiver is the mouthpiece of culture in the home of the worker! Respect its property! Propagate its acquisition!

The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) was the first war in which the radio played a vital role as a medium of propaganda and information.

What began on July 17, 1936 as a Nationalist coup d'état directed by General Franco against the Republican government soon expanded into a proxy war between Europe's right wing and popular left-wing movements. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy intervened on the side of the nationalists, while the international federation of communists (Comintern) and later the Soviet Union sent aid and eventually arms to the side of the Republicans.

With the help of Comintern, the Republicans maintained control over most of the major transmitters of the country, except Seville, which had been taken early by forces from the coup. On their side, the insurgent Nationalists had built a network of high-powered amateur transmitters prior to the coup, and soon received a mobile 20kW transmitter from the Germans as well. The mobility of small transmitters also allowed the earliest instances of what became known during the Second World War as "black broadcasting," but were known in Spain as “ghost-broadcasts;” that is, programs that appeared to be Republican but were actually Nationalist.

Broadcasting also helped carry propaganda messages outside of Spain. Transmitters for both sides relayed messages to the world from inside the country, and the shortwave services of Portugal, Italy, the Vatican, and Germany supported the Nationalists, while Radio Moscow, the world's first major international broadcaster, broadcast in multiple languages for the Republican cause.

Portrayed in the poster here as 'the mouthpiece of culture' (including the many languages available), citizens were encouraged to tune in to the available stations - but not to steal radios to do so.

How to cite this page


Suzanne Lommers, 'Internationalizing the Spanish Broadcasting War', Inventing Europe,


  1. Brinkmann, Sören. “Bilder Eines Krieges: Europa Und Der Bürgerkrieg in Spanien.” In Europäische Öffentlichkeit: Transnationale Kommunikation Seit Dem 18. Jahrhundert, edited by Jörg Requate and Martin Schulze Wessel, 250–272. Frankfurt am Main; New York: Campus, 2002.
  2. Davies, Alan. “The First Radio War: Broadcasting in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 19, no. 4 (1999): 473–513.
  3. Graham, Helen. The Spanish Republic at War, 1936-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  4. Lommers, Suzanne. “Europe - On Air : Interwar Projects for Radio Broadcasting”. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012.

About this tour


Media conflicts: the complicated relationship between 'media' and 'revolutions'

Over the years, technological innovations have created new opportunities in conflict situations. Control of the media means not only the power to have your message heard, but also to drown out or disrupt the messages of your adversaries. Innovations like satellite communications, the internet (which enabled anonymous posting of information), and recently the social media (which allows the free sharing of information between large groups of people) have changed the ways in which resistance and conflict have been organized.

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Propaganda broadcastinng

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