Grenzenlose Unterhaltung. Radio Luxemburg in der Bundesrepublik 1957–1980

Berg, Katja
Medien und Gesellschaftswandel im 20. Jahrhundert
Göttingen 2021: Wallstein Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
491 S., 60 SW-Abb.
€ 46,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Richard Legay, Institut für Geschichtsdidaktik und Public History, Universität Tübingen

The various services of Radio Luxembourg were quite popular in Western Europe throughout the second half of the 20th century. Interestingly, despite this popularity, the commercial station has never been studied as extensively by historians as public broadcasters have been. Broadcasting historians who studied the station, such as David Dominguez-Muller1, Denis Maréchal2, and, more recently, Anna Jehle3, focused on the French-language programmes. Scrutinising the German-language service of the station, Katja Berg’s book sheds light on the popular programmes that were broadcast to West Germany and the impact of the station on the rest of the media landscape, making it a very welcome addition to our understanding of European radio history. Katja Berg’s work also answers current scholarly calls to embrace a transnational lens in media history, such as the one by Golo Föllmer and Alec Badenoch.4 The book reviewed here also echoes Christoph Hilgert’s Die unerhörte Generation5, with its strong cultural focus on British and German youth. Therefore, Grenzenlose Unterhaltung is not only a fresh take on the history of an understudied broadcaster, it is also part of a wider movement renewing European contemporary media and cultural history.

The monograph, adapted from the author’s doctoral thesis, studies this pivotal station in Germany, while maintaining a focus on the tensions between national and supranational levels. The study begins with the first German-language programmes in the late 1950s and ends with the official opening of the media landscape in Western Germany to private stations in the early 1980s. Rather than telling a business or organizational history of Radio Luxembourg, Berg studies the station as part of a wider “radio ecology”6 by connecting it to other media institutions of the time in Europe, especially in the Federal Republic. The author’s main aim is to show how the station introduced a dual broadcasting system, both public and private, already before the 1980s as it is commonly thought. To do so, she makes use of a rich corpus of sources, including institutional archives of RTL Group and other broadcasters, such as Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and Süddeutscher Rundfunk (SDR). The corpus also includes a variety of periodicals and numerous listeners’ surveys. One noteworthy characteristic of the publication is the rich corpus of illustrations and the detailed annexes, especially the programme listings. These are tremendous resources for fellow broadcasting historians, and their inclusion should be praised.

To address the author’s aim, the book is organised in a thematic manner. After the introduction and before moving on to the heart of her work, the author develops a brief point on transnationalism as an engine for change, and offers a clear definition of her understanding of the concept, which is at the heart of a station like Radio Luxembourg. Three thematic chapters then follow and constitute the core of the research. The first one focuses on Radio Luxembourg and the creation and development of the German-language service in the Federal Republic, and is of particular interest due its scrutiny of commercial interests of the station. This chapter shows how the station did its best to understand the German market, dominated by public broadcasters, to establish itself as a strong voice. It also reveals the efforts made in marketing and advertising, which is notably seen by the covering of major sporting events such as the Winter Olympic Games in Japan in 1972 and the presence of Radio Luxembourg at various major audiovisual, and even automobile, exhibitions around Germany.

Building on this, the author then develops some of her most innovative findings in the following chapter, which is dedicated to the impact of Radio Luxembourg on the West German media system, the tensions with public broadcasters, and the changes in the perception of listeners in the country. Presenting the examples of Südwestfunk (SWF) and WDR, two regional institutions that were part of the national public broadcaster consortium, this chapter sheds light on the ways in which the transnational commercial broadcaster influenced other stations. For instance, Berg argues that the WDR was strongly influenced by Radio Luxembourg when it began in 1963 intense discussions to further programmes for car drivers, a programming innovation that the commercial broadcaster was particularly attentive too, notably thanks to its partnership with the ADAC, the German automobile club. In other words, this chapter reveals the ways through which the transnational commercial broadcaster influenced and even shook up the national media landscape of West Germany.

In her third chapter, Berg turns her attention to the tensions between entertainment and information and shows how the German context also influenced Radio Luxembourg. Indeed, as television gained viewers and public broadcasters offered more musical programmes that proved to be popular, the commercial station needed to adapt. Facing these challenges, Radio Luxembourg started to include more information in its broadcasts. Registering mutual observations and adaptations, Berg traces how the German-language service of Radio Luxembourg evolved throughout the studied period and shows how the various actors of the media landscape influenced each other.

Katja Berg’s book is not only an outstanding and much-needed historical account of the German service of the commercial station Radio Luxembourg. With its exploration of the transnational dimension and the impact the commercial station had on broadcasting in Germany, Grenzenlose Unterhaltung also makes a substantial contribution to media and cultural history more generally. The studied station is both a transnational and a commercial broadcaster, making it stand out in the larger broadcasting landscape of the period, in Germany and beyond. This makes the book a very valuable contribution to media history. Given the station’s status and reach, Berg’s study will also be of interest to researchers with a focus on popular culture, on youth culture, and on contemporary cultural and social German history. Grenzenlose Unterhaltung is also a good example of research based on current trends in media history, such as the need to go across borders, whether they are national or between media. In other words, Grenzenlose Unterhaltung is a fresh take on contemporary German media history, on both its topics and methods.

1 David Dominguez-Muller, Radio-Luxembourg: Histoire d’un média privé d’envergure européenne, Paris 2007.
2 Denis Maréchal, RTL, histoire d’une radio populaire: De Radio Luxembourg à, Paris 2010.
3 Anna Jehle, Welle der Konsumgesellschaft: Radio Luxembourg in Frankreich, 1945–1975, Göttingen 2018.
4 Golo Föllmer / Alexander Badenoch, Transnationalizing Radio Research: New Approaches to a New Medium, Bielefeld 2018.
5 Christoph Hilgert, Die unerhörte Generation: Jugend im westdeutschen und britischen Hörfunk, 1945–1963, Göttingen 2015.
6 Föllmer / Badenoch, Transnationalizing Radio Research.

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