Biography and History

The Princeton Listening Center at Princeton University was conceptualized by Princeton Professor John B. Whitton, director of the Geneva Research Center, as an outgrowth of his interest in the increasing use of the radio as a weapon of propaganda, especially as used by the Nazis. At the end of 1938, the School of Public and International Affairs of Princeton University appointed a committee to formulate plans for a continuing study of short wave propaganda. The committee was administered by Harold N. Graves, Jr. and consisted of several Princeton University professors: John B. Whitton, Hadley Cantril, William S. Carpenter, and Harwood L. Childs, as well as Professor O.W. Riegel of Washington and Lee University; and Mr. Brunson S. McCutchen, an engineer. The project was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, and its quarters were established in a house on Alexander Street. The Princeton Listening Center became the pioneer in systematic monitoring: its role was to monitor, transcribe, translate, and analyze shortwave propaganda broadcast from Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, and to some extent, Moscow.

The project was initiated as an experiment in November, 1939. The Princeton Listening Center rapidly expanded and continued its work successfully until June, 1941. By this time, the Federal Communications Commission had developed a strong interest in the project since propaganda was now playing a more significant role in the War.

During the Princeton Listening Center's operations the staff recorded the following types of broadcasts from England, Germany, France, Italy, the U.S.S.R., Japan, the Netherlands, and Hungary: news bulletins, weekly topical talks, radio news reels, features and dramatizations. Every broadcast aired was not recorded; only a representative sample from which the Princeton Listening Center staff studied different aspects of propaganda from the various countries. Aspects studied included the way in which propaganda varied between countries, as well as from one show to another within the same country. Also examined was the way in which specific incidents were reported, atrocity references, attitudes toward various countries, and the way this propaganda affected U.S. listeners.

After the FCC took over the work of the Listening Center, the staff gathered all their information together and published a book called: Propaganda by Short Wave, edited by Harwood L. Childs and John B. Whitton with the Princeton University Press, in 1942 in which they examined the different countries' use and response to radio propaganda.

Source: From the finding aid for AC015

  • Princeton Listening Center Records. 1939-1941 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC015

    The Records of the Princeton Listening Center (1939-1941) consist of transcripts of Axis and Allied propaganda broadcasts monitored by the Listening Center staff from November 1939 through May 1941 until the operations of the Center were taken over by the Federal Communications Commission of the United States government. Also included are subject and research files of the organization, as well as reports published by the members.