West Germany's Cold War Radio: A Crucible of the Transatlantic Century

in German Politics and Society
Yuliya Komska

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“Mr. Radio (der Radio) is man’s greatest achievement,” a young Bavarian

named Maxl announced in the op-ed column of Der Rundfunkhörer, a journal

of the state’s listener advocacy association, in April 1954.1 His initial

enthusiasm, the letter made obvious, fizzled out fast. Elsewhere, Mr. Radio

may well have been a paragon of mobile greatness, road-ready thanks to

cars and portable following the introduction of transistors in 1953.2 Yet, his

country’s Mr. Radio, Maxl regretfully remarked, was deeply flawed, and

this circumstance had nothing to do with the advances of this “gentleman’s”

televisual competitor, which would need as many as six more years to reach

a quarter of all households.3 Rather, a slew of intrinsic shortcomings

plagued the imaginary character’s transmission, programming, and reception

in Maxl’s family residence—the home of the West German everyman.

The purposefully naïve wording of the boy’s letter, possibly penned by the

editor and association’s president Hans Gebhard, whose own frequent contributions

were nearly identical in tenor and substance, barely veiled a long

list of tongue-in-cheek complaints. The latter showed just how vulnerable

radio, this “hegemon of domestic leisure,” was during the first full decade of

the Cold War—the seminal overture to this special issue’s chronology.4

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