Werkleitz Festival 24.-26.Oktober 2008

RadioWorkshop - Amerika!

When, on 24th December 1906 in Boston or, to be more precise in Brant Rock/ Massachusetts, the first ever radio broadcast took place, its inventor and also the world’s first radio presenter, Prof. Reginald Aubrey Fessenden could barely have suspected that his country, the USA, would in the coming fifteen years make of radio a means of mass communication capable of reaching everyone everywhere.

The radio pioneers in Australia and Europe looked at this America for a long time with envy. Whilst here negotiations about which government ministry would oversee which radio station were long and protracted, the USA was launching its first radio series, to say nothing of concerts by popular demand. Even telephone conversations were part of American radio’s repertoire from the get-go. Radio presenters in Germany at the time still sounded as though they wanted to move entire stadiums full of listeners to a uniform hand signal or a choral “jawohl”.

Radio historiography today celebrates the year 1923 as the dawn of radio art – the BBC in London broadcast the first ever radio play in October of that year. It was called Danger and was performed completely in the dark, in order that every listener might identify with the plot. And there was, after all, nothing to be seen.
In America at the time radio buffs were turning themselves inside out to discover every which new aural experience. Advertising was a huge catalyst for this. And so American radio was associated for a long time with things familiar to people from their everyday lives, such as Coca Cola and hamburgers, coffee and bagels.

Not that this is meant by any means to be a hymn to the first years of American broadcasting – and yet: something of this fascination with American radio is lodged amongst my earliest associations with America, its spontaneity and surprises. America always implied only 1% familiarity at most. It was clear that there must be so much more to it than I would ever be able to imagine: Red Indians and forests, later the desert, even later Alaska, then the settlement; and conquest, too ...

And later still the things one learned in school: America the warmonger – in Vietnam, Korea; guilty in Chile, in Cuba and, and, and ...
And then I went there – to America; to only one city, Chicago; with a dash of Detroit; for one month in total.
And now America is once again that which it was in my earliest memory:  inconceivable; inconceivably rich and diverse, aggressive and peaceful, endless and narrow – all that rolled into one – and simply inconceivable.
I’ve grown accustomed to perceiving America as a series of excerpts or clips. And when I get a hankering for excerpts then I sink into America’s radio landscape – with its over 200 stations alone in Chicago. Then it becomes audibly possible to see America.

Ralf Wendt


As the supervisor of a youth exchange project, I’m currently touring Europe in the company of participants from Luxembourg, Austria, Poland and Germany. What is America, what is the USA in comparison with that experienced here at this moment?

America is for me nothing real. America is the fantasy of something uncertain, or perhaps an image on TV. Or perhaps this America is also a crazy soap opera, of which I already missed a bunch of instalments.

Udo Israel

Ralf Wendt and Udo Israel led the radio feature workshop ‘Amerika!’ from 1st - 5th September 2008.

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