The year is 1962. It’s been 17 years since the United States surrendered to the Axis Powers after the Nazis dropped the Heisenberg Device on Washington, DC. The formerly United States of America is split with the Japanese Pacific States to the west, and the Greater Nazi Reich to the east. This is the world of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name. This is the world of Resistance Radio – a four hour long pirate radio broadcast bridging the gap between seasons of the show.
Special Delivery from the Underground
After the war, the German company Electronica Musikanten won the contract to rebuild America’s infrastructure. In the process, they developed “Uber Fidelity Vinyl”, an evolution in high quality audio recording technology that has become the standard for music. But while the technological standards of music have improved, the cultural influences have suffered, with the Reich condemning any music influenced by gospel, jazz, blues, and R&B as “subversive”. Over the past few days, a number of perfectly innocuous mailings from Electronica Musikanten went out, containing the patriotic album Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung Werkstoffe – the Children’s Songbook for Character Building.
Upon opening up the package, everything checks out as advertised. One Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album, a flyer for a Reich Youth Music concert, and a spare needle for the record player, just in case. Nothing a government censor would think to explore any further. But if they did, they might notice instructions at the bottom of the flyer: “fold page over to make the arrows touch”. In an alternate timeline, MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee would make the American populace intimately familiar with this type of puzzle. In The Man in the High Castle‘s timeline, fold-in artwork belongs to the Resistance.
The secret message from Resistance Radio Headquarters points to the location of a speakeasy pop-up and concert at SXSW later this week…but that’s still just skimming the surface.
Packed inside the Kinderliederbuch zur Charakterbildung album sleeve is a vinyl record with music from the resistance, along with a do-it-yourself kit to turn the enclosed propaganda packet into a manual record player using the enclosed needle and a quarter. One side of the record features Sam Cohen’s take on House of the Rising Sun, while the other features Sharon Van Etten’s cover of The End of the World. The call to arms: “tune in to the Resistance at ResistanceRadio.com”.
Pirate Radio From the Neutral Zone
While the Resistance needed to rely on subterfuge to sneak its subversive music across enemy lines on Ultra Fidelity records, the pirate radio stations on ResistanceRadio.com are brazen in their opposition to their fascist oppressors. Going to the website pulls up a stylized Electronica Musikanten radio set dominating an otherwise non-descript apartment. Pirate radio DJs Miss Evangeline, Bob Montez, and Jake Rumiel are the voices of resistance radio, lending their own unique spins on what it means to resist oppression.
Jake Rumiel was a famous radio personality before the Allies lost the war, producing a program called Comedy Cavalcade. Suspecting that Jewish comedians wouldn’t fare well under the Nazi regime, he fled west and continued releasing comedy segments with his new program, Firing Squad. As the name suggests, Rumiel’s comedic stylings might best be described as “gallows humor”, joking about how he’d ask the Nazis if they liked his jokes if he was ever put in front of a real firing squad. While the joke is grim, the threat is real, as both Bob Montez and Miss Evangeline breaks down the history of Resistance Radio: while Jake Rumiel was one of the early pirate radio broadcasters, a man named Henderson was what gave Resistance Radio its name. As the father of the radio revolution, Henderson was hunted down and executed by Japanese Kempeitai forces on air, shouting “resist.”
Bob Montez is a conspiracy theorist that takes a grand tour of actual crackpot theories, told through the lens of Nazi occupation. Music still contains subliminal messages…but instead of pushing our nation’s youth to devil worship, the messages indoctrinate Americans to be loyal to the Reich. Did you know that playing the “I’m young, I know” lyrics from Grandaddy’s Love Hurts cover backwards spells out “why not Wehrmacht”? The evidence is clear, when you listen to Bob Montez. The moon landing was still faked…only this time, the thoroughly debunked “flapping flag” theory happened a decade earlier, in 1959. Almost all of Montez’s claims and conspiracies have their roots in conspiracies from our timeline, so on one level, it’s tempting to write off everything he says as false. And yet, in an act of cognitive dissonance, it’s all too tempting to believe at least some of the theories. Because we’re dealing with literal Nazis here. Maybe this timeline is different. Montez’s program is so fascinating and alluring because, in a radio show dedicated to pulling every patriotic heartstring, it’s a warning against blindly embracing “fake news” just because it agrees with your preconceptions.
Miss Evangeline has the most auto-biographical of the pirate radio crew, treating her 80 minutes as a mix of anecdotes from the early days of the resistance and instructions for the different ways to resist in occupied territory. Her oral essay on American identity is possibly one of the strongest moments of the campaign, warning against accepting things as normal. “When push comes to shove, the reality is, we handed our country to a Nazi madman, and threw practically everything good we ever stood for out the window. That is the reality of America today. But the idea of America? As long as any of us can still see the light coming through the fog, there’s still a chance for us to grope our way back to that higher role. To be our best selves, instead of our worse.” To be clear, this quote is from 1962 and is about America literally giving Hitler the reins of our country. Nothing overtly draws comparisons to the current political climate, although it’s understandable how some people are drawing that comparison.
Miss Evangeline also offered some gentle ribbing at people rooting through the Resistance Radio experience looking for secret coded messages. In describing the many forms of resistance, she flippantly notes,
Or, you could do like me. And put on a radio show every night complete with secret codes, from one resistance cell to another. Now that would put a whole new spin on what I’ve been doing, wouldn’t it? Or maybe I just like the idea of keeping all them Jackboots and ‘Pons busy trying to find secret messages in my show so their attention stays on shit that don’t even matter.
Hey boys, I know you’re listening.
Those who are listening closely might notice a few extra stations in between the primary pirate radio frequencies, acting as Numbers Stations: one that relies on Morse code, one in German, and another in Japanese. The Morse code station hints at more messages, claiming that “Resistance hiding messages in the frequencies.” The German and Japanese Numbers Stations? Those spell out one of the greatest, most contextually-relevant puzzle solutions I’ve come across in years.
The real treasure trove of secret messages is likely the four-hour audio drama itself. The three DJs make a few off-hand references to newsworthy events from The Man in the High Castle‘s first two seasons, and the show itself has integrated the broadcasters into the show itself, with the writers weaving its presence into season 2’s narrative soon after the idea of Resistance Radio was pitched. The rich alternate history developed through DJ banter may find its way back into the show in season 3 through Bob Mendez’s more outlandish theories or Miss Evangeline’s narrative history of the cultural resistance.
Music of the Revolution
The heart of Resistance Radio is its music. As each of the three DJs make clear in their own unique ways, music can be a vector for resistance, especially when the government deems certain elements subversive. The challenge for Sam Cohen and Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse), the producers of Resistance Radio‘s sountrack? Re-imagine the history of music for a darker timeline, where many of the pivotal musical influences of the age were forced off the grid.
The resulting 18-song album, when placed in its transgressive context, does a better job of selling the idea of seeking out a show about a world where the Nazis were in charge than any review could muster. As Burton explained to NPR, “you get a little time machine and create it in studio, recording a certain way…It’s kind of like doing a film. You can get the sets and the costumes, and then you put the actors in that position. And that’s how a lot of people learn about those periods.”
Providing that context is both the most compelling and frustrating thing about Resistance Radio. Because the radio segments are playing on loop, the digital broadcast is artificially enforcing a return to scheduled content. Missed a segment? Unless it was one of the few snippets fixed in time on the campaign’s Soundcloud, you’ll either need to wait the full four hours for the channel to loop again, or find the content you’re looking for on one of the other channels.
If what you’re looking for is one of Cohen and Burton’s covers, that’s only a temporary problem, as Amazon is releasing the full album in April, featuring music from artists including Sharon Van Etten, Beck, The Shins, and Norah Jones. While you can purchase it in mp3 and CD formats, there’s also the option to buy it in vinyl for the full experience. Sam Cohen and the Resistance Band will be performing in Austin at the Belmont for SXSW on March 14th. In the interim, you can always check out ResistanceRadio.com, and catch up on the first two seasons of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime Video.