Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Interview with René Wolf

René Wolf teaches Modern European History at Royal Holloway University of London and runs the academic podcasting service backdoorbroadcasting.net; in May 2010 Palgrave Macmillan published his book "The Undivided Sky. The Holocaust on East and West German Radio in the 1960s"

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in 1958 in Kobe, Japan of German parents. My parents moved out there in 1950 to work for a German multinational. I lived in Tokyo up to 1970, when we returned to Germany. I left Germany in 1976 with no formal qualifications and came to London.

2) What had you been doing, before working in the university?

I had a variety of jobs, from window cleaner, dishwasher, picture-framer, waiter, barman, actor, theatre director until in 1982 I became involved in running a Jazz club in London, which I did for the next 10 years. Due to ill health I had to stop my night-time life and started to study, first A-levels, then a History degree, then a Masters, and finally a PhD, which I completed in 2006.

3) How and when did you discover your interest in the radio?

When I was about 8 years old my father gave me a transistor radio - a little Sony one. I kept it under my pillow and listened to it at night - to pop music of the time (1960s) with DJs like Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem on the American Forces Network (AFN) and a variety of Japanese stations. Later I aquired a shortwave radio and listened to broadcasts from all over the world - I must have been 10 or 12 at the time. This continued - I still listen to some shortwave today - although it's easier today with internet radio.
The book (which was my PhD thesis) came out of that interest, and initially I wanted to just write about the radio's ability to transcend space (esp the Berlin Wall), but what I found in the archives really dictated the content - the Auschwitz Trials and Germany's past.

4) Do you think that the radio was important in building a "new identity" in West and East Germany after the World War II?

Radio was certainly very instrumental in establishing a new German identity. The most important phase for this, I think, were the early years immediately after the war, when radio was in the hands of the Allies. Initially it was the Soviet radio which had the 'friendly' approach, wheras the Western Allies were more interested in using the medium for de-nazification and broadcasts from the Nuremberg Trials. This soon changed and the ideological battle-lines were drawn. But it is important to note that East German radio was not just Marxist-Leninist propaganda. Especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s the GDR radio output was very impressive, which was not always the case with all the regional broadcasters in the West. But the focus of my study lies more with some of the (mostly left-leaning) radio journalists of the West, who were extremely important in forging a new German identity.

5)What was the treatment for Germany during the Copenaghen Plan of 1948?

The 1948 Copenhagen Radio Frequency Plan allocated two AM wavelengths to Germany as radio, and expecially medium wave, was considered a powerful media tool in the eyes of the Allies. In reality this was far more complex and the shortage of AM stations did not make the slightest bit of difference. Most stations were available either on the LW or SW bands and many people still had old crystal sets. The old 'Volksempfänger' were all tri-band (LW, MW, SW) and in the same year as the Copenhagen Plan, 1948, Telefunken AG was already producing radio sets with VHF (FM) as standard. The switchover the more localised FM transmission happened throughout the 1950s, in East and West, although the GDR did not (along with many other nations) adhere the the Copenhagen Plan. Frequency allocations, along with 'Jamming' are two of the great myths of post-war radio history, hyped up in the frenzy of the Cold War. In reality radio broadcasts were diverse and lively, and above all, everywhere.

6) What happened to the East German Radio right after the re-unification?

East German Radio was already quite diverse and localised at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two main stations, DDR1 and DDR2, as well as the station aimed at West Germany, Stimme der DDR, the station for Berlin, Berliner Runfunk and the Youth Radio Station DT64 were all integrated into more localised radio stations in the five new Bundesländer. These very much followed the Western model of main broadcast studios in the state capital, and smaller ones in the regions. At present, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is covered by the (Hamburg-based) NDR, Thüringen, Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt are integrated into the MDR, and Berlin and Brandenburg are covered by the BBR. There are a few exeptions to the complete integration of East German radio into the West German media, most notably 'Deutschlandradio' which is really the continuation of the old 'Deutschlandsender' and can trace its history back to 1926. This international broadcaster has a very high quality output and rivals, if not surpasses, Germany's other international radio broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
What of course is so interesting now is that all these are available on the internet, digital, live and not live, which of course makes a mockery of the 1975 Geneva Frequency Plan.

7) How did GDR radio describe the events of 1989?

On the whole the East German media reported what was going on, as 'Peristroika' had also somewhat taken hold in the GDR. There was an uneasy undertone, and a lot of confusion in the reporting on 9 November 1989. The radio output managed to create a clearer analysis by the evening of that day, but the the day was really a 'television event', from that fateful utterance about new East-West travel regulations by Günter Schabowski a press conference to the opening of the check-points and the mass of East Germans flooding into the West.
Much more interesting is the archive material of the reporting on the Leipzig demonstrations, which started about a year earlier. There you have initially a very hard-line coming from the SED, and then factual reporting of 'disturbances' more like reporting about rowdy football fans.
The German Radio Archive (DRA) in Berlin-Babelsberg is a goldmine of material, most of it not digitized yet, and I fear that lots of the very old magnetic tape will not survive.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Interview with Grant Goddard

Grant Goddard is one of the best expert of radio and he runs a very interesting blog about radio and its evolution in UK and abroad.

I asked him an interview.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in the 1950’s in Surrey, just west of London.

2) What is your first memory of listening to the radio?

In the 1960s, I remember 'Big L' (Radio London) booming out from the car
radio. The music was exciting, the DJs were entertaining - it was a great
introduction to radio. I also remember listening to Radio Luxembourg in the
evenings, playing songs that other stations did not. Then there was the
excitement of BBC Radio 1 launching in 1967 to fill the gap after Big L had
closed down. It was a time of great changes in radio, which made the
experience inspiring for young people.

3) When did you start listening to the radio and why did you like it?

I listened to radio for the music. I had always loved pop music and radio
provided the opportunity to hear all sorts of new artists, new songs and new
styles of music. We had a tape recorder that we used to record our favourite
songs from the radio so that we could listen to them whenever we wanted.
Radio provided my music education, for which I am eternally grateful.

4) When did you start working for a radio?

My first involvement in radio was in the early 1970s, when I worked for AM weekend pirate radio stations in London, including Radio Concord, London Weekend Radio, Skyport Radio and Swinging Radio England. I initially answered the listener phone line and then presented programmes, on my own and also with my friend Jerry.

5) In your book "DAB digital radio -licensed to fail" you seem very
skeptic about the success of digital radio in UK; do you think there's
no hope for digital radio in the foreseeable future?

I believe that digital radio has a great future. The problem in the UK is
specifically about the DAB platform and the way it has been implemented. The
technological developments that have enabled radio to be distributed all
around the world, and to a dazzling range of connected devices, are
absolutely incredible for the radio medium. Unfortunately, DAB had been
marketed in the UK as a means for existing radio broadcasters to maintain
their control over the radio market. Increasingly, consumers have been
disinterested in DAB radio, as demonstrated by declining sales of DAB
receiver hardware in the UK. The outcome is that DAB will not succeed as a
replacement for existing FM/AM broadcast radio. But digital radio as a whole
has a positive future.

6) What is your opinion about DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale)? and DRM+?

It seems that DRM will be useful for longer range radio broadcasts, though we are in a period when shortwave is being used less and less by international broadcasters. Those places that are most reliant on shortwave (Africa, Latin America, etc) are likely to have the slowest take-up of new, relatively expensive hardware technologies such as DRM. As a result, it is hard to see DRM as anything more than a supplemental technology to analogue reception. Just because a technology is inherently better does not guarantee its take-up (viz Betamax and digital compact cassettes).

7) As a paradox, could we say that in Italy digital radio has more chances for success than in the UK because Italy has basically skipped DAB and it's going straight to DAB+?

The biggest challenge for implementing DAB is the economics of radio, rather than whether the codec is DAB or DAB+. There are at least three economic issues. Firstly, consumers update their radio hardware infrequently, requiring simulcasting on analogue and DAB for at least 10, maybe 20, years, which at least doubles a station’s transmission costs for a long period. Secondly, advertisers use radio because it is a ‘mass’ medium, so they have no interest in using DAB until it reaches millions of people, which results in no revenues from the DAB platform for the first 10, maybe 20, years. Thirdly, consumers already have a large choice (compared to TV) of analogue stations on AM/FM, so it is hard to find ‘new’ radio content that will motivate them sufficiently in large numbers to buy new DAB radios. These economic issues make it unlikely that DAB+ will have any more success than DAB.

8) Are you sure that there is future for "radio on radio spectrum" or
is it just a waste of time because internet-radio will rule above any
other alternative systems?

I think that broadcast radio (FM/AM) still has a future because reception is
so robust, as a result of 50+ years of investment in the extensive
transmission systems. I can stand in the middle of nowhere and still pick up
broadcast radio. Internet radio cannot match that level of universality at
present. Eventually, the IP platform may be able to compete head-on with the
broadcast platform, but we are not at that stage yet. For the next few
years, internet-delivered radio is a very useful supplemental platform to
broadcast radio that offers the consumer a much wider choice of content and
the ability to timeshift programmes. It is important to remember that, when
local or national emergencies happen, it is broadcast radio that citizens
turn to for information, because electrical power cuts bring IP networks
(and even television) to a standstill. A single transmitter on long wave can
cover almost the whole UK - that is a difficult distribution system to beat!

9) Since your youth, you've beeing seeing huge change of radio-set (a topic that it's rarely discussed), from analog radio-set to digital display (including RDS) of today sets. What's your opinion about it? Is there any evolution that you'd like to see in the near future?

At the end of the day, it is content that drives people to listen to the radio. All the technology does is make it possible to deliver that content to them. Some of the most popular radio stations have had less than perfect reception experiences – Radio Luxembourg on AM, Laser 558 on AM, Atlantic 252 on long wave, and all the FM pirate stations – but consumers will sacrifice quality for content any day. This is why people are happy to listen to low-fi mp3’s on their mobile phones. I think this phenomenon will remain. The biggest difference between then and now is the huge choice of stations offered by IP. When I grew up, there were never more than a handful of radio stations to choose from. Now, there are thousands. The challenge now is to enable consumers to find something of interest to them and to help them navigate their way around the global menu of radio available to them. We need a Google for radio that will deliver search results to a listener, however arcane their request for a radio station to match their tastes.
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