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«| Helmut Scherer and Beate Schneider MUSIC ON RADIO AND TELEVISION In the beginning was music: music presided over the very birth of German ...»

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The oldest of all contemporary music festivals:

the Donaueschingen Festival

| Helmut Scherer and Beate Schneider


In the beginning was music: music presided over the very birth of German

broadcasting on 29 October 1923, when the first truly general free-to-air radio transmission was broadcast from Vox House in Berlin. Twelve pieces of music were

played from 8 to 9 pm, beginning with a cello solo by Fritz Kreisler and ending with the national anthem, performed by a military band from the German Reichswehr.

Broadcasting – meaning both radio and television – and music have been closely related from the very outset. In particular, music is the mainstay of radio programming, where a central focus falls not only on music itself but on reports about music and musical events. This is one reason why most people obtain the bulk of their music consumption from radio. Music is, by the nature of things, far less important on television. But here, too, quite apart from broadcasts of concerts, operas, portraits of musicians and special features, music has a wide array of functions, ranging from background accompaniment to signature tunes. In short, broadcasting, and especially radio, is a premier medium for the communication of music in German society.

Besides their own programmes, Germany’s public broadcasting corporations also serve as major vehicles and promoters of culture. They maintain their own musical ensembles, organise their own concert series and act as patrons on a broad scale.


The most important legal foundation for Germany’s broadcast services is its constitution, the Grundgesetz (‘Basic Law’). Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court has repeatedly emphasised the public mission of broadcasting and stressed that part of this mission is a ‘responsibility toward culture’.1 This responsibility is borne not only by Germany’s public broadcasting corporations but by private commercial broadcasters as well, with the public networks functioning to a certain extent as role models.

The legislative authority for culture, and thus for broadcasting, resides with Germany’s federal states. A second important legal foundation for the shape of Radio Fritz, broadcast by rbb Music on Radio and Television | Germany’s broadcast landscape is thus the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting and the Telecommunications Media, or Rundfunkstaatsvertrag. Its preamble refers specifically to the cultural mission of broadcasting: ‘As a result of the expansion of broadcasting programmes in Europe owing to new technologies, the diversity of information and the cultural offerings in the German-speaking countries are to be strengthened’.2 Here, too, a distinction is made between the demands placed on public broadcasting corporations and private broadcasters. The former are explicitly assigned the task of ‘meeting the cultural needs of society’.3 In the case of private broadcasters, programmes transmitted nationwide are obligated to contribute ‘to cultural diversity in the German-speaking and European area’.4 The special mission imposed on Germany’s public broadcasting corporations justifies the fact that they also create their own cultural events and maintain their own musical ensembles for this purpose.

With the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting, Germany’s federal states created a uniform framework which has been augmented by regulations specific to the state concerned. Among these are the states’ own public broadcasting laws and their own media laws for private broadcasters. As a rule, these laws are seldom used to narrow down the stipulations set down by the Federal Constitutional Court or the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting with regard to culture. However, several media laws at the state level impose stipulations on particular forms of music in private radio, so that the granting of permission to broadcast is frequently connected with the allocation of a music format by the state’s media authorities.


In the post-war years Germany’s broadcasting landscape was shaped by the media policies of the victorious Allied forces. Owing to its misuse as a propaganda tool by the National Socialists, broadcasting bore a particular stigma. It was at this time that the Western Allies developed the model of a decentralised, publicly-funded broadcasting network for Germany. This system has retained its basic features to the present day and was adopted in the newly formed eastern states following German reunification. The Federal Constitutional Court, in

its First Television Decision on 22 February 1961, reaffirmed the basic principles:

broadcasting authority resides with the federal states; broadcasting services are a public mission; they must be free of government interference and independent of particular interest groups; and broadcast services may also be operated by private commercial entities. The special technological and economic circumstances of the time justified the monopoly status of Germany’s public broadcasting corporations.

In a later decision the Court emphasised both the admissibility of private broadcasters and the special role of public broadcasting. In 1984 the so-called ‘cable pilot projects’ laid the cornerstone for Germany’s dual broadcasting system, which is distinguished by its combination of publicly-funded and private broadcasters.

Public Broadcasting Corporations

Public-service radio and television programmes in Germany are presented by nine regional broadcasting corporations. In television these include a nationwide broadcasting network known as ‘Das Erste’ (First Programme) plus three digital channels, all of which operate jointly within the framework of the ‘Consortium of public-law broadcasting corporations of the Federal Republic of Germany’, or ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland). There are also seven ‘Third Programmes’ with largely regional offerings broadcast throughout the federal state concerned, either separately or in conjunction with other regional broadcasting companies. Another nationwide broadcaster, likewise with three digital channels, is ‘Das Zweite’ (Second Programme), which is short for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF). Public-service television is also responsible for the niche channels KI.KA (children’s programmes), Phoenix (news and documentaries) and BR alpha. International cooperative programmes, such as the Franco-German cultural channel Arte and the joint German, Austrian and Swiss project 3sat, enjoy special status.

All in all, Germany’s nine regional broadcasting corporations operate 58 analogue radio programmes (see Figure 10.1). Though usually broadcast via VHF (Very High Frequency) in the participating federal states, they are also available nationwide by cable or satellite. Several programmes are transmitted via DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), and almost all are available in the Internet via live streaming.

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Radio programmes with Radio programmes with Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) Hessischer Rundfunk (HR) Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR)2 Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR)2 Radio Bremen (RB) Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB)2 Saarländischer Rundfunk (SR) Südwestrundfunk (SWR)2,3 Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR)4 Total ARD Deutschlandradio (DLR) Total 1 Many programmes with analogue reception can also be heard with digital reception (DAB, DVB-S, DVB-C or Internet).

2 Institution serving two or more federal states, each with its own state-specific programmes.

3 The regionally divided broadcasting of SWR2 via ADR is not included as a separate programme.

4 The regional division of the WDR2 programme in the Internet is not regarded as a separate programme.

Source: Compiled by Helmut Scherer and Beate Schneider from information supplied by Consortium of public-law broadcasting corporations of the Federal Republic of Germany [Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or ARD] (http://www.ard.de/radio/alle-wellen/-/id=135130/cf=42/wkmjpm/index.html) and the online offerings of the broadcasting corporations.

For public radio, a model has been established in which the regional broadcasting authorities operate on several different wave lengths, each of which addresses a specific target group and helps to fulfil the programming mission in a different way. A good illustration of this is Bavarian Radio (Bayerischer Rundfunk,

or BR):

• ‚Bayern 1‘ is an entertaining service and information-oriented programme with an emphasis on regional newscasting and a nearly 70-percent focus on music, mostly consisting of oldies.

• ‚Bayern 2‘ sees itself as a cultural and information programme with a broad editorial range of topics from politics, culture and science. Roughly 55 percent of its air time is taken up with talk programmes.

• ‚Bayern 3‘, BR‘s second mass-audience programme, is a typical background programme with a heavy focus on services and a large proportion of music. Unlike Bayern 1, it is aimed at a younger target group and presents mainly pop and rock music.

• ‚BR-Klassik‘ has roughly 80 percent music in its air time, which consists mostly of classical music, but also has small admixtures of jazz and world music augmented by magazine broadcasts, features and special formats for children and young people.

• ‚B5 aktuell‘ is devoted entirely to information. It broadcasts news at 15-minute intervals, interspersed with in-depth reports.

• ‚Bayern plus‘ is a digital and medium wave programme offering mainly German hits of the last 50 years and traditional Bavarian folk music as well as information and services.

• ‚on3-Radio‘ is conceived as a radio project for young people. It is transmitted primarily via the Internet, but is also receivable via DAB, cable and satellite.

It explicitly invites young people to take an active part in creating its programmes and promotes local and regional music.

In other words, each station has a specific task. Bayern 1 and Bayern 3 ensure a broad reach and high audience acceptance among relatively young or relatively old listeners. Bayern 2 and BR-Klassik service the culturally-minded social groups and go a long way toward fulfilling the broadcaster‘s cultural mission. B5 aktuell helps to realise this mission with its large volume of information. Bayern plus and on3-Radio enable Bavarian Broadcasting to test the potential of new transmission technologies and, in the case of on3-Radio, to develop new programming concepts.

In addition to its nine regional broadcasters Germany also has two other public-service broadcasting corporations: Deutschlandradio, which now broadcasts three programmes with a focus on information and culture, and Deutsche Welle, which broadcasts radio services worldwide from Germany. The latter has the twin

–  –  –

missions of conveying an image of Germany and German culture around the world and supplying information to Germans living abroad.

Private Broadcasters In 2009, according to the Association of State Media Authorities for Broadcasting in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Landesmedienanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or ALM), Germany had 360 general-interest and niche TV programmes operated by private broadcasters on a (mainly) local or nationwide level.5 In the audio sector, 244 private broadcasters competed with 70 public-service programmes in 2009. The vast majority of private programmes are broadcast locally, regionally or state-wide; national channels are the exception. The private companies usually offer format programmes, i.e. they define their image by means of music of a dominant ‘flavour’, thereby determining the choice and loyalty of their listeners.

Most of the formats are oriented on popular music and mainstream broadcasts. Differences reside only in the up-to-dateness of their musical offerings and whether the music is primarily sung in German or English.


Music is of crucial importance in radio. The proportion of music transmitted on public-service audio broadcasters has remained relatively constant over the years and currently lies at 62.5 percent (see Figure 10.2). Nonetheless, the broadcasters differ in whether their programmes are talk-oriented or heavily music-oriented.

Figure 10.2 Music and talk programmes on ARD radio broadcasters

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1 Deutsche Welle (DW): German-language programme and foreign-language programmes combined.

2 The sum total of the percentages for programme formats conflicts with total percentages for programme genres, the reason being that music broadcasts contain sections of talk and vice versa. Different totals result when the genres and formats are counted separately.

3 Including foreign-language programmes, where however the programme formats are not itemised.

Source: Compiled and processed by the German Music Information Centre from ARD-Jahrbuch, vols. 2004 and 2009, ed. Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Hamburg).

Music on Radio and Television |

A typical example is NDR 2, where music takes up slightly more than 70 percent of the air time. In contrast, North German Broadcasting (Norddeutscher Rundfunk, or NDR) also operates NDR Info, which devotes only 26.6 percent of its air time to music. Even higher is the talk component of information broadcasters such as B5 aktuell or hr-info, where the percentage of music approaches zero.

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