Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
Did you know that exactly 92 years ago, on October 29th, 1923 at 8 PM Berlin witnessed the birth of German public radio? On that day the first regular radio programme was broadcasted from a makeshift studio in Potsdamer Strasse 4?
“Radio-Stunde” (Radio Hour) was a brain-child of Hans Bredow, the then Under-secretary at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, whose belief in the possibilities of the medium was as firm as his grip on the team he was in charge of. Despite the doubting, critical voices – many failed to believe that something as intangible as radio waves could be transmitted without a cable – he promoted the development. After the first successful public broadcast in Germany, a Christmas carol “Quiet Night, Holy Night”, transmitted by the military radio station in Königs Wusterhausen south-east of Berlin on December 22nd, 1920, he knew that Berlin could and had to follow with a regular broadcast.
Three years later the pretty basic radio studio set up inside the VOX-Haus, an impressive edifice of a building at Potsdamer Platz built by and for VOX Records, began its first broadcast. Using the wavelength 400 metres and transmitting at the frequency of 750kHz, the first ever “Radio-Stunde” was put on the air.
The antenna, hanging on two masts and stretching from the roof of the Vox-Haus to the top of the Esplanade Hotel in Bellevue Strasse, was badly synchronised with the poor-power transmitter. That meant that reception must have quite unsatisfactory to the potential listeners, too.
“Potential” as with high probability no private persons not involved with the project could and would have picked up the radio waves anyway: there were hardly any receivers available. On December 1st, 1923 the whole of Germany owned 467 of them. But that did not prevent radio broadcasts from becoming the new, sensational form of entertainment. By 1926 there were already over 1 million radio sets standing in German offices and households. But even at the price of 2,00 Reichsmarks per year, until 1933 and the introduction of the Volksempfänger (People´s Receiver) – a welcome development immediately abused by the Nazis for their propaganda shows – radio remained a luxury for many. German radio was born in the midst of the greatest financial crisis in history. Some of the more ingenious citizens with access to spare parts used their private initiative to be able to listen to radio broadcasts: they built their own, obviously illegal as unregistered, receivers.
So positive was the response to the medium in Berlin and elsewhere that already in 1924 the broadcasting studio could move from the 3rd floor to the top floor of the building in Postdamer Strasse 4 (today No. 10). It also expanded there: the initial 8 rooms put at its disposal became 25 rooms a year later. One of the first radio presenters was actor and director, Alfred Braun, who also made the first ever broadcasts from outside the studio. Radio programme transmitted by Funkstunde AG, as it was called since 1924, was in many respects like today´s broadcasts are. (Or should be, if scraped clean off the thick layer of commercials and the often unbearable blah-blah´s.) It contained music, language courses, crafts lessons for kids, news from around the globe and football as well as horse races reports.
But that came a bit later. On October 29th, 1923 the kind voice coming from the box announced: “Achtung! Achtung! Here is the VOX-Haus in Berlin at the wavelength 400 metres. Meine Damen und Herren! We would like to inform you that today marks the beginning of an entertainment radio broadcast, which will include music shows presented through a wireless-telephone medium. The use of the service requires a permit. Our first musical piece is: a cello-solo with grand-piano accompaniment. Andantino by Kreisler. Played by our Kapellmeister [bandmaster] Mr Otto Urack. Piano played by Fritz Goldschmidt.” You can listen to the original recording made on the day in the VOX-Haus here.
Berlin – and German – radio was officially born.