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RADIO RE:PORTS

Ole Frahm / Friedrich Tietjen


At the beginning was the sound that no one heard.

Radio's history, it is known, is military and industrial, but it's also the history of air. Radio gave air a new meaning. Air became atmosphere, its invisibility an audible noise. The blue of the sky is electro-magnetic.

The radio is not an everyday object like a car or computer. It is smaller, cheaper, less conspicuous. It is just there. Everyone who has grown up with the radio uses it matter-of-factly, as a natural part of society. Little is heard on the radio about the conditions and requirements, the production of radio itself, and just as little can be discovered about its origins. Those who look into radio's history uncover what radio delivers on an everyday basis: a report.

Just like other media, radio seems not to have avoided developing its very own mythical origins. These mythical creations are responsible for discoverers like Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. Without the cave-painters of Lascaux there would never have been comics, no books without Gutenberg, no cinema without Lumière and if it weren't for the bitterly poor genius Paul Nipkow, there never would have been television. In every row of coincidences, which converge to form a line leading to the invention of an instrument, there is always that single linear connection that explains everything.

The radio myth could possibly sound something like this: Sir Francis Drake, Chief engineer of the British Post Office and the Golden Hind Insurance Co. is interested in the possibility of obtaining information about British ships crossing the seas. After his own failed attempts he is led, in 1896 (the year comics and film emerged), to the dissipated student Filippo Marinetti. In 1901, the first major long wave transmitter station is installed on the Cornwall coast. In 1906, Reginald A. Fesselnden from Massachusetts successfully broadcasts not only Morse code but also tone, sound and noise. In 1908, a few bored operators on the USS Columbus run the first pirate radio with music for a few days to the amusement of their bored colleagues on other ships and the irritation of their officers. Later, in 1909, Joseph Harrolds from San Jose, California, operates the first station with a regular program (music and news). During World War I, radio telegraphic technology is further developed by patriotic heroes and engaged to amuse, spy on and deceive the enemies. In 1917, Russian stations send Leon Trotsky's "words like lightning" - TO ALL - around the world. In 1922, the local station WEAF in New York is the first to sell commercial air time and in 1923 the first German station goes on the air in Berlin.

The progressive history as told by media experts doesn't avoid the myth which retroactively totalizes the state of radio today. Dates and names provide proof of a truth that subjects the history of radio to a unified linear time whose mightiest agent has become the radio itself.

Radios do not determine who turns them on. Radio is monologue, simple and cheap to receive, it reaches multiple distant parts of the world in real time and broadcasts around the clock.

Radio is tone, sound, and noise.

Listening to radio seems to be something, which is not learned.
It seems to be listening like all other listening. Communication sciences completed the picture when they chose the model of sender and receiver as a base for several theories which thereby mutually naturalised the communicative structure of both conversation and radio. But wireless communication works differently than conversation. Those who broadcast can't determine who the listeners are; which for the inventor, Marconi, seemed to be a defect of radio. In a radio interview in 1937, he confessed that at first he had been a dire opponent of it. He searched for a long time for methods to prevent a station from being heard by others than those for whom it was intended. The phenomenon that the sender can't determine who will receive what's sent, that that which is sent is potentially sent TO ALL is known as interception.

It presented a serious problem in the military use of wireless communication. The dialogue of orders and obedience, announcement and confirmation must be able to be kept secret to achieve victory on the battlefield. "Enemy listen in!" is the diagnosis of paranoid military-men who seek therapy in constantly refined methods of coding and decoding the reports and orders. To maintain as little exposure as possible to the enemies, only a few frequencies are placed at the disposal of the civilian population and listening in on radio communication beyond the range of sealed radio devices is made punishable.

But that which the military considers a defect is a condition for civilian radio. Those who send can be heard by the masses, however, the right to send radio is as exclusive as the ability to receive wireless.
Costs, complicated licensing and the limited number of useable frequencies serve as regulative and pragmatic reasons why there are a few senders faced by a lot of listeners who aren't noticeably able to influence or change what is sent. The dialogue which was possible with the wireless (YESSIR!) mutates to pure monologue with the radio. Its usability as a proposal, as a call TO ALL to act is rarely used. Proceeding with programs - one FOR ALL- is more common. Regularly repetitive, those contingent structures, the programs, offer the listeners reliability through their daily routine. At the same time, they request no more than continued listening to a program, or a show and to set the clock. TO ALL describes the unique solution of creating a -- revolutionary -- break in the daily life of the masses from out of the silence of the studio, and the various programs assure through their permanent broadcasting, their credibility as reports on daily life, and their contingency is made invisible. They provide a linearity of time through permanent repetition. At the very least, usually on the hour, programs report the change of time.

In 1906, the first public radio service in Germany began: a station near Nauen (Brandenburg) transmitted a time signal at 1am and 1pm for subscribers with sealed receivers. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century, as a result of the ever expanding railways, that the local times in
Europe were abolished and replaced by one unified time. Radio waves, travelling at the speed of light, guaranteed a more precise synchronicity than chronometers. In place of their ticking clockwork, chronometry is make audible today through radio controlled clocks and the patchwork of voices announcing the time. Radio reproduces these segments and provides the daily program: well rested voices and stimulating melodies stream out of alarm clocks. On the highways, accelerator pedals are pressed in time to traffic reports and pop music, the midday shows provide a political side dish to lunch and at 5pm, the price for advertising spots increases. Those who are not tired enough from work or the lack of work can lull themselves to sleep at night with night-time talks, melancholic jazz or soft rock. The Nauen station, pioneer of unified time in Germany, fell victim itself, however, and ceased broadcasting on July 1, 1990.

A radio report implies: from everywhere to everywhere. Squawking voices coming from telephones in experts' living rooms and the camp hospitals of disaster areas arrive wireless and in real time at hospital wards, swimming pools and bedrooms. The fleeting nature of those reports can be influenced by their repetition. The report's status results from the fleeting nature of authorisation by the speaker's voice, which can make the name of the press office superfluous. The report does not have to be true to contribute to the production of the present. There was an invasion from Mars; there was war in Iraq. TO ALL produces -- by way of claim and presence -- the first collective media event and with that, its concept as a new category in history. It's no coincidence that intellectuals in the 1920s placed their hopes in the masses brought together in this way as a historically powerful force yet today, do not want to hear much about such strategies.

To present a unified time to everyone collected in different sites simultaneously is the broadest possibility of the radio; no sender fails to inform their listeners about how late it is. Radio forms a mass of single listeners as participants in one present, as a unified but diffuse subject, whose behaviour as stimulated by the radio warns them all together, as a mass, not to go out onto the street when there is sheer ice. As an imaginary mass in which ALL are suddenly the same, even if they don't listen to radio, they aren't the broadcasters. Their differences, their similarities, do not disappear. The comparisons are simply withdrawn. They become unnoticeable like the marginal delay which separates the radio's light-speed from imaginary real time. Broadcasting itself creates no precise differentiation, no class distinctions. Deutschlandfunk whispers into refugee lodgings and holiday homes, doorman's quarters and the manager's office, brothels and women's shelters. The implicit classlessness, subdivided in the radio-realm by the category of taste, can only be realised because it's imaginary and therefore inaudible.

Radio was only free at the beginning, in sounds that no one heard.

The history of free radio is no less mythological in the reports than that of radio. Less can be learned of big men, and more of heroic attempts to appropriate the apparatus. In what respect these attempts provided liberation, releasing media possibilities with political effects, is hard to say; radio's history itself can be interpreted as a report on its own release.

Whereas radiophonics during the first years of the twentieth century was an exchange of Morse codes and sounds, and therefore interesting only for the new marine and army wireless operators, Fessenden developed the premises for general interception by bringing sound, tone and noise on air. Conscious of this innovation, he started his program with the Morse code -.-. --.- that precedes emergency calls and demands attention by ALL.

Since then, it's been possible to participate in wireless communication with no more than ears and a receiver. Those who want to be heard BY ALL must be sure that all have working apparatuses to turn on. For this reason, Goebbles, as freshly appointed Minister of Propaganda, and the first practitioner of political interception, stimulated the production of low range receivers so that they would be inexpensive enough for all to hear not dance music but the Führer's voice. This, combined with the death penalty, nonetheless failed to prevent a sufficient number of people from listening with more powerful receivers to the BBC during World War II, allowing the spread of enemy propaganda into the Reich.

The paradox of Lenin's appeal TO ALL first became clear at the point when interception was installed through the widespread distribution of receiving equipment: all became potentially reachable, all could hear, but that's never the case. The indirect sending and therefore the indeterminate nature of the reception had massive repercussions for the design of the program structure of individual senders: the mass of receivers must be imagined as a segment of one mass. The media produces a definable audience for radio. The different forms of broadcast -- state radio, pirate and private stations -- can be presented as models by which this paradoxical inherent tension is made operational.

A second operative condition joins in with this problem: whereas the USS Ohio's operators were almost exclusively audible to a few colleagues on other warships who were also capable of answering by wireless, Harrold extended the audience by a few dozen radio amateurs around San Jose -- on
the condition that their apparatuses could receive broadcasts only: the moment of birth for radio as we know it.

Those who currently broadcast must confront these problems which arise from the constitution of the apparatus: how can, on the one hand, although not TO ALL but FOR MANY be broadcast, and on the other hand which possibilities are available for listeners to influence the broadcasters. These two problems determined by the instrument's constitution have led to various attempts at a solution.

For example:
*Through the installation of a homemade long range receiver, not affordable in the 1920s by a single worker alone, The German Worker's Radio Club organised group listening to the German programs of Moscow's station WZRPS. This led to the demand for the installation of a worker's station which was later implemented as a pirate sender in 1932, when emergency decrees hindered the delivery of the Communist press. The listeners organised themselves to be a part of ALL and in the end they themselves became the broadcasters.

*In the opinion of the producers of Radio Caroline, the BBC did not play music FOR ALL so they installed the first commercial pirate station beyond the territorial waters which, according to their own statements, was heard by several millions between 1964 and the end of the 1960s. In this case, listeners decided to become senders in order to be able to have something to listen to. But Caroline did not try to change the instrument itself, it tried to deal with its paradoxes in different ways than the BBC. By breaking the monopoly, Caroline was the first of Britain's private stations which although not licensed, promoted the advent of licensing and made clear the similarities between public-legal and commercial radio.

*Radio Alice from Bologna on the other hand, took advantage of a loop-hole, after the broadcasting monopoly was declared unconstitutional in Italy in 1976 and thousands of small stations put out their antennas. Mostly commercial, they were at least not illegal. Alice, as one of the few non-commercial stations, in contrast to Caroline, tried to change the technical apparatus in one respect by combining it with the telephone. All listeners could become senders for the duration of a phone-call and on the other hand, the doors of the studio as well as the microphone were opened up. TO ALL became FOR ALL who participated. The program became decomposable; it could be constantly interrupted. The concept worked in that Radio Alice boosted Bologna's political movements discursively with the well known consequence that after less than a year during several riots following the murder of a student by a carabiniere, the studio was occupied by the police. The transmitter used by many voices was demolished.

The history of free radio is a history of reporting on the organisation of interception in relation to listening and broadcasting. Today's model, the governmental control of broadcasting (by licensing) and listening (by the prescribed sealing of the sets and subscription fees) is not self evident. Pirate radios remind us of this. None of the attempts could eliminate the constitutional paradox of the apparatus. There were always those who would broadcast and those who would listen and at no time was interception lost to its uncertainty. On the contrary. Free radios today are constituted as local stations, whose programming and structural conditions, even as left-wing radio, don't differ from those of public-private commercial stations.

Free radio enjoys ephemeral electromagnetic production conditions. It's not a lack of responsibility, but rather, the knowledge that a daily presence is a condition of political change.

"Every moment is more important" is the motto of public-private radio. Everything has to be heard and at any moment a more important piece of news, a more smashing hit or important announcement might appear. Advertising makes the motto "Every moment is more important" even more clear as the main principle of radio is every moment is paid for dearly. What's decisive is the continuity, the uniform time. Free radio tries to make "every moment is more important" a political motto by forming its programming as a definition of the present and obliterating the comparative: every moment is important. The presence of the desired collective should understand itself to be an intervention in history.

Interception as a prerequisite of all radio is used by freeradio in the same way as by the public-private stations. Both are bound to a narrow range of broadcast. "Think global-act local" is the motto, which in the meantime has become acceptable everywhere, with which they unite time and place, a condition which radio has eliminated (all listen from different sites and therefore at different points in time and therefore simultaneously). Freeradio unifies the time of its smaller sites as do the other stations whose concept of presence attempts to rise above, yet nonetheless remains bound to the same acting model which provides authenticity. This type of radio produces the phantasm of the real through a discursive event whose effect is the notion of historical change. Whereas the listeners of public-private radio stay at home because they have no chance of changing reality anyway, free radio creates the belief that a demonstration is the real thing. Understood in this way, events are no longer produced by discourse but become the myth of change in an historical continuum. If the possible task of local freeradios were to produce an expanded space in which the effect of feedback between the "free" sender and the receiver is heard as a present moment and the discourse itself becomes an event, then this task remains bound up with the attempt to overcome the apparatus' conditions rather than making them audible.
Allowing people to speak for themselves, allowing everyone to speak, to have an open sender like Radio Alice denies the impossibility of such a realisation and veils the power structures inherent in the apparatus: sender or receiver -- who decides who becomes the sender? And still, the site of the broadcast remains only Bologna. Decisive for free, local radio is the uniformity of the location.

One product of the radio is the phantasm of an event. For normal local radio as well as for freeradio, the event is introduced as a point in time in many locations that can then be calibrated to it. The event's medium is the report, live on the radio, at certain times, usually said on the hour. It's seldom that just one announcement alone comes from the loudspeaker. The differences between reports, between the diverse spatial times and time spaces is made uniform through the program. Normal radio, with its uniform time created through reports of events in disparate locations, rarely produces an ability to act. It guarantees that these scattered sites are at a distance from the loudspeaker, the site of the likewise
scattered listeners, and helps in any case to fill the disaster-accounts of multi-regional organisations: FOR ALL does not refer to all, but at least allows their charity to achieve the status of a substitute. In complete contrast, local, freeradio propagates one world but sticks to its own frequency from its own single location, and leaves other locations untouched: a multitude of local nations. The two reports do not differ in the possibilities for politicisation of the listeners. Listeners remain consumers, in one case of information, and in the other, fair trade of coffee. Whereas public-private radio produces "I am informed", local radio produces "I am part of it" without mentioning that such participation isn't possible -- and certainly not through radio which creates this desire for presence through technology.

Although public-private radio attempts to veil the paradox of TO ALL with the help of listener numbers (to say it a bit too summarily), the paradox can't be overcome because of the constantly returning contingency, which is likewise a necessity of free public radio. TO ALL demands the condition of an international free radio that is not able to homogenise time and space in both manifestations of radio. As unlikely as it seems, the medial conditions are of great interest for the strategies of local free-radio stations.

International radio reports on related but non-uniform sites. Its motto is simply "act globally". It formulates the statement "I am part of it" as a question, as a problem, which can't be solved. Whereas local radio attempts to claim that the event is something special (a possibility for general objections), international radio primarily remains within the paradox of reporting on events as individual occurrences. International radio can lay claim to making the paradox audible. Its connections remain contingent, their effects however, are transversal and non-linear. Whereas local radio urges participation in local events and celebrates the return of the ability to act by limiting their area of effectiveness to a bordered off site, international radio supports different action, the production of other events with unpredictable effects.

Correspondingly, international radio has no morning program in which the news can be told at the beginning of a new day. Or it remains only a morning show. In any case, it has no program. Its only program is the time difference: it makes the difference in time audible and with that, the difference of locations. The differences between the production sites of events are thus thought of as a possibility.

Making the differences of time and place and their lack of uniformity audible is the function of the noise. Although public-private radio and local radio repress this noise out of their program, international radio welcomes it as a technical condition of the apparatus. Global radio makes the sound audible: not as an original no-sense or sound of the material, or as a play on the true nature of radio, but on the contrary, as a product of sense, sound, tone and noise. Global radio locates itself in the space between sense and no-sense, sound and noise, which can't be located: in-between spaces of the event as the production of media practices. In the in-between space, global radio becomes geoide in that it dissolves the rounded unity of one world, expands, folds and tears it.

In this respect, the account of freeradio must disturb the production of fantastic events in order to be political. To do that it has to change the apparatus from which it believes it cannot be liberated. It has the same requirements as Günter Anders -- it stares (a snake) at the product (the rabbit) instead of eating the means of production (the mechanism that produces the product). It concentrates on that which is supposedly transmitted and not on the transmitter. Whoever believes that there is a correct, or even funnier, absolutely no manipulation, blocks out the necessity that the products are already available. Freeradio must first answer the question of which other conditions of production are possible within existing products and their power. That's not only the question of who owns the apparatus, but also how it can be transformed. That means first determining the conditions of production and subverting the conditions of reception. That begins with broadcasting on frequencies, which were previously only sounds, a broadcast that soon returns to noise. The favourite condition to attack was the monologue character of radio. Radio Alice showed that there are communication models beyond a dialogue in which the words of the caller, the sounds of their location, are distributed by the station to many locations in the city, thus multiplying a location and creating new public spaces. Comparable attempts in the 1920s, simply placed a microphone on the street to broadcast directly over the airwaves. For Alice it was the apparently peripheral, unimportant, daily audible which could be considered revolutionary. The events received a different status: discontinuous and each to be produced. Real time as the production of a unity, used for its decomposition. Radio Alice thus presents itself as a model for international radio in that it doesn't demand empathy but rather change, and doesn't make events linear but instead, deterritorial.

The world must become Bologna 1976.

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German version first published under the title "radio b richt" in: Vor der Information # 3/4, Vienna 1995.
Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt and Charlotte Eckler