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One Hundred Years of Radio: Medium of Enlightenment

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When Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in May 1927 with his propeller aircraft, dubbed the “Spirit of St. Louis”, it was a pioneering act in many respects. The Atlantic crossing, for which the pilot needed 33 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds, is considered the first event in media history that the whole world was able to follow live thanks to the tuned-in radio stations.

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Lindbergh, who had previously been ridiculed as a “flying fool”, rose overnight to become the most famous person alive. When he returned to the United States a few weeks later and stepped in front of the microphones in Washington, 30 million listeners across the country switched on their devices. “No returning hero has ever been received with greater honor,” wrote The New York Times.

“Radiozeiten” is the name of Stephan Krass’ book, in which the Atlantic flight also plays a key role because Bert Brecht took it up as the material for his radio play “Lindbergh”, which, with the music of Kurt Weill, was published in Baden-Württemberg in 1929 as a “radiophonic cantata”. Baden premiered. In a didactically revised version, all voices came from the radio except Lindbergh’s.

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The listeners should sing his part. An early form of interactive radio, which was intended to fulfill Brecht’s demand to transform broadcasting “from a distribution apparatus into a communication apparatus” and to turn every receiver into a potential transmitter. But the demand for the scores was limited. Few wanted to take part.

Almost a hundred years ago, on October 29, 1923, the first official radio program in Germany was broadcast from the Berlin Vox building on Potsdamer Strasse. The organizer was a “society for wireless instruction and entertainment”, and among other things, Franz Lehár’s operetta “Frasquita” was broadcast.

Popular by speakers

Seven years later, in 1930, there are already 52 stations and more than three million listeners. Contributing to the popularity is that manufacturers are starting to build speakers into receivers to eliminate the need for cumbersome headphones. Listening thus became a community event.

Stephan Krass, who was radio editor at SWR for many years, prefers to follow anecdotes rather than follow a strict chronology. One could also imagine his book as a feature, with a sonorous chattering voice. In the famous magic eye, which used to light up slowly when it was switched on, he sees an indication that radio is an “electronic medium of enlightenment”.

Contributed to submission

But the blackout followed when the National Socialists turned radio into a propaganda instrument from 1933, with which listening to “enemy radio stations” could be punished with the death penalty. The inexpensive version of the “people’s receiver”, also known as the “Goebbels snout”, broadcast Hitler’s speeches in every household. The radio, the cultural scientist Claudia Schmölders stated, had “contributed much more to subjugation” than all films.

Krass enthuses about the “heroic epoch” of radio in the post-war period, when the public service broadcasting established by the Western Allies had become “not just a sound medium, but absolutely the leading medium” in the young Federal Republic.

After the booming speeches of the Nazis, people apparently wanted to hear authentic voices, often those of writers. The voice with which Gottfried Benn read five poems from his volume “Trunkene Flut” in the NWDR in 1950 is described as “quiet and calm, not strained, a little cold”.

The poet, who is a dermatologist in his main job, did not listen to the recording, preferring to sit in his Berlin bar “and hiss my beer”, but heard from patients that “it was moving, the music came at the end”. The radio also experienced literary highs at the SDR in Stuttgart, where Alfred Andersch and his successor Helmut Heissenbüttel commissioned authors such as Wolfgang Koeppen, Ingeborg Bachmann, Max Frisch and Heinrich Böll to write essays.

Great history that the current program could pale in comparison to. But Stephan Krass, who ends up devoting his own chapters to pirate stations and podcasts, believes in the future of the medium, even if linear distribution is becoming obsolete. The message of his knowledgeable and highly amusing book is: please tune in and listen.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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