Making Sunday what it actually should be: Sunday radio programming and the re-invention of tradition in occupied Germany, 1945-1949

A.W. Badenoch

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    Germany at the end of the Second World War was not only a shattered place, but also a shattered time.1 The physical scattering of populations through the mass movements of war and the atomisation of individuals through the oppressive Nazi regime, followed by occupation and the division of Germany into four occupation zones, left Germans with very few collective 'events' into which they could place their individual experiences. Oral history and other histories of everyday life consistently reveal that the major milestones of political history, the start of the war in 1939, its end on 8 May 1945, and the founding of the two German states in 1949, did not represent biographical milestones for most of those who lived through the period. Instead, they more frequently remember the war's interruption of their 'normal' everyday lives and the markers of the onset of normality at some point in the years that followed. In the place of the war's beginning on 30 September 1939 stand memories of the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad, the first major Allied bombing raid, or the news that a loved one at the front had died. In memory, the first sight of Allied troops or the return home, sometimes years later, of a captive soldier stand in place of the war's official end on 8 May 1945, and (in the West) the currency reform, the first real butter, the first real coffee, the first banana stand in the place of the founding of the two German states.2 But while public political events did not form the most significant rallying points in the everyday experience of many Germans, the continuing presence of the radio, broadcasting from the same stations and received in the (relatively) familiar space of the home, did provide an opportunity for collective 'private' experience, both during and after the war. It was not until the final months of the war that the German radio stations began to experience serious disruptions, and even before the four occupation zones were established in Germany in early July 1945, almost all existing radio stations had resumed operation under the control of the respective Allied occupation armies.3 Monthly radio license fees were collected continuously by the post office without interruption by the collapse of the state and the establishment of occupation.4 In the American zone, radio stations in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich operated roughly independently of each other, while in the British and French zones, centralised broadcasting institutions had been set up which broadcast a more or less uniform programme from all of the stations in the area. In the British Zone, the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, or NWDR, had its main centre in the northern city of Hamburg, and a secondary base in the western city of Cologne, as well as, a short time later, a third centre in the British sector of Berlin. In the French Zone, where there had been no major radio stations before the end of the war, a new network of stations, the Sdwestfunk, or SWF, was established with its centre in Baden-Baden, site of the French occupation headquarters, connected to a number of former relay stations in the territory.5 In the Soviet Zone, the station at Berlin became the central station, with a secondary hub in Leipzig. On one level, this division of radio broadcasting among the Allied powers and their zones was a further mark of the defeat and division of Germany. On another level, however, the new radio order also represented in many ways a return to the decentralised broadcasting system that had been established in the Weimar Republic and slowly centralised by the Nazi state in the years leading up to the war. In addition, while they were controlled by Allied officers, many of whom were returned exiles from Germany, the bulk of the station staff were Germans who had lived in Germany during the Nazi era and had experience—at least as listeners—with the radio programming of that time.6 Particularly at a time when print media were plagued by paper shortages, radio had unprecedented dominance among the mass media. At once the most widely available source of news and one of the cheapest sources of entertainment, Germany's domestic radio stations served audiences that were large, constant, and by and large loyal to their home station.7 The dominance of the radio during this period is widely acknowledged, and it is with some justification that it is one of the better-researched periods both in terms of institutions and programmes.8 Nevertheless, much of this attention has been focused around specific genres of broadcasting, especially radio drama, as well as issues of denazification and re-education.9 It is only recently that scholarship has begun to look at more popular aspects in the programme and the continuities in the programme from previous eras.10 While providing valuable insights into the development of the programme, however, most of the available research on the period has been focussed around the presence and qualities of specific genres of show, and as such has talked past what is most remarkable about the radio as a medium. The aspects of the radio highlighted by the British broadcast historian Paddy Scannell, specifically its ability to create and maintain temporal routines, mark certain times as special or exceptional, and refer to common spaces routinely are precisely the aspects that are perhaps most important to consider when studying its role during a time when the physical, political and symbolic spaces of Germany were being restructured.11 In this article, I will explore some of these aspects through an analysis of the Sunday programmes of the occupied stations. Within all of the routines of radio scheduling, Sunday has long occupied a unique position. On the one hand, it is a site of tradition: in many ways, it can be seen as the most regularly occurring holiday, and indeed it is the site of some of the longest-running broadcast 'traditions' in Germany.12 In addition to its status as 'tradition', Sunday is also when, until the 1950s, people have had the most free time, as the 2-day weekend did not become standard in the Germany until the 1950s. Until the late 1950s the radio was recognisably the 'dominator of domestic free-time' in most households.13 As surveys from the 1930s through the 1950s consistently reveal, the 'valleys' in the curve of radio listening percentages on Sundays were often on a level with some of the 'peaks' of weekday use.14 The position of Sunday as both individual free time and collective traditional time goes hand in hand with a number of both concrete and imagined spaces that range from individual homes to the entire nation. These various visions work through and across a number of different genres, and indeed are integral to understanding them. Although the popularity of Sunday programming has been widely recognised, both in the use-statistics from the stations and in the lives and memories of the listeners,15 the Sunday programme, as a concept and category unto itself, has been largely overlooked as a topic of academic discussion in German broadcasting history.16 Some work has focused on individual Sunday shows, to be sure, but the study of how these shows worked together, and how these practices were maintained over time has yet to be conducted for even a short period of time.17 By pointing to conventions of the Sunday programmes that were adopted in relatively uniform fashion by the various radio stations shortly after the war, this article will look at how these programmes functioned during a particular period of time, as well as highlight a fruitful realm for further historical study. My primary purpose here is to call historical attention to a series of programmes and genres that have gone largely unnoticed, and argue for their importance, particularly during this critical period of time in Germany's history. In particular, I will show how the Sunday programmes of the Occupation era helped to shape visions of the space of Germany and, as such, played a vital role in legitimating the new radio stations to their audiences. In order to do this, I will first explore in further depth the historical interconnections between the radio, the spatial and temporal ideas of Heimat, and practices surrounding Sunday in Germany. I will then go on to explore the development of Sunday programmes in the occupation era and show how such visions were integrated into them. For the most part, this account is primarily of the stations in the western occupation zones, which would go on to become the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. This is due mostly to the greater availability of appropriate primary material from the era. As becomes clear through comparing schedules, however, the Soviet-controlled zone followed most of the broadcasting conventions laid out here. Indeed, in many cases there were far greater programming continuities there before and after 1945 than in the western zones.18 The consistency of such programmes through time and between zones point at once to their not being considered detrimental to the re-education effort by the occupation authorities, as well as to a level of general popularity among radio audiences.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)577-598
    JournalHistorical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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