Ole Frahm/Friedrich Tietjen

Radio re: ports

At the beginning was the sound that no one heard.
Radio’s history, as is known, is military and industrial history, but it is 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 fact, as a natural part of society. Little is heard on the radio about its own conditions and requirements, its respective production, and just as little can be found out 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 escaped developing its very own mythical origins. This myth creates 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 there never had been the bitterly poor genius Paul Nipkow there never would have been television. There is always one in every row full of coincidences which converges to form the line leading to the invention of the respective instrument; 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, 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 U.S.S. Columbus run the first pirate radio with music for a few days to the amusement of their likewise bored colleagues on other ships and the irritation of their officers. Later, in 1909, Joseph Harrolds from San José, 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 respective 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 air in Berlin.
The progressive history as told by media experts does not 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 naturalized the communicative structure of both conversation and radio. But wireless communication works differently than conversation. Those who broadcast cannot determine who the listeners are – which for Marconi, the inventor, seemed to be a defect of radio. In a radio interview in 1937, he confessed that at first he was 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, those who send cannot determine who will receive what is sent, that that which is sent is potentially sent TO ALL - this 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 a diagnosis of the paranoid military-men and they seek therapy in constantly refined methods of coding and decoding the reports and orders. In order to have as little as possible to do with the enemies, only a few frequencies are placed at the disposal of the civilian population and listening in on radio communication beyond the scales of sealed radio devices is made punishable.

What 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 arguments for why there are a few senders faced by a lot of listeners who are not 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, the programs, as contingent structures, offer the listeners reliability through their daily routine. At the same time, they request no more than continued listening to a program, a show and to set the clock. TO ALL describes as unique solution, creating a - revolutionary - break in the daily life of the masses from out the silence of the studio, and the various programs assure through their permanent broadcasting, their credibility as a report of daily life in that 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 1a.m. and 1p.m. for subscribers with sealed receivers. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century and as a result of the ever expanding railways, that the local times in Europe were abolished and replaced by one unified time. The radio waves travelling with the velocity of light guaranteed synchronicity more precisely than chronometers. In place of their ticking, today radio controlled clocks and the patchwork of voices announcing the time, make chronometry audible. Radio reproduces these marks 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 popmusic, the midday shows provide a political side dish to lunch and at 5p.m. 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 indicates: from everywhere to everywhere. The squawking voices from telephones out of experts' living rooms and the camp hospitals of disaster areas come wireless and in real time to hospital wards, swimming pools and bedrooms. The fleeting nature of those reports can be influenced by their repetition. The report's status is a result of the fleeting nature authorized 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 is no coincidence that intellectuals placed their hopes in the masses brought together in this way as a historically powerful force in the 1920s and today, do not want to hear much about such strategies.

To present a unified time to everyone collected in different sites simultaneously is the most far-reaching possibility of the radio; no sender fails to inform their listeners about how late it is. Radio creates the mass of single listeners as participants in one present, as a unified but diffuse subject, whose behavior as stimulated by the radio limits them as a mass, together, 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 do not listen to radio: they are not broadcasting. 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 the refugee's lodgings and holiday homes, doorman's quarters and the manager's office, brothels and women's shelters. The implicit class-lessness, subdivided in the radio-realm by the category of taste, can only be realized because it is imaginary and therefore inaudible.

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

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

Whereas radiophony, 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 military 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 actually precedes emergency calls and demands attention by ALL.
Since then it has 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 sets to turn on. For this reason, Goebbles, freshly appointed Minister of Propaganda, as the first practitioner of political interception, stimulated the production of low range receivers so that they would be inexpensive enough for all to hear the Führer’s voice and no dance music other than the Führer’s. 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 TO ALL first became clear at this point as the interception is installed through the widespread distribution of receiving equipment: all have become potentially reachable, all could hear but never do. The indirect sending and therefore the indeterminate nature of the reception has massive effects for the design of the program structure of individual senders: the mass of those receiving must be imagined as a mass or a segment of one. The definable audience for radio is produced by the media. The different forms of broadcast - state radio, pirate and private stations - can be presented as models of operationalizing this paradoxical inherent tension.

A second operative condition joins in with this problem: whereas the U.S.S. 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 public to a few dozen radio amateurs around San José - for the price that their sets could only receive: 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 on the one hand although not TO ALL but FOR MANY can be broadcast, and on the other hand which possibilities are available for the listeners to influence their relationship to the broadcasters. These two problems determined by the instrument’s constitution have led to various attempts at solution.
For example:
*Through the installation of a homemade long range receiver unaffordable by a single worker alone, The German Worker's Radio Club in the 1920s organized 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 then implemented as a pirate sender in 1932, when emergency decrees hindered the delivery of the Communist press. The listeners organized 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 what did not differentiate public-legal and commercial radio.
*Radio Alice from Bologna on the other hand used a loophole which arose after the broadcasting monopoly was declared unconstitutional in Italy in 1976 and thousands of small stations abandoned 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 open. TO ALL became FOR ALL who participated. The program became decomposable, 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 reports on the organization 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, 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, at no time was interception unfolded indefinitely. On the contrary. Free radios today are constituted as local stations with programs, whose structural conditions as left-wing radio do not differ from those of public-private commercial stations.

Free radio enjoys ephemeral electromagnetic production conditions. Not due to a lack of responsibility, but rather, due to the knowledge that the effect, necessary daily, 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. Every moment is more important is made even more precisely the main principle of radio by advertising as every moment is paid for dearly. What is decisive is the continuity, uniform time. Free radio tries to make political, every moment is more important when it forms its program as a definition of the present and obliterates the comparative: every moment is important. The desired collective’s presence should realize itself as an intervention in history.

Interception as a prerequisite of all radio is used by free radio in the same way as by the public-private stations. Both are bound to a narrow range of broadcast. Think global-act local is their motto, which in the meantime has become acceptable for even a Church congress, with which they produce the unity of time and place, which radio by means of interception has eliminated (all listen from different sites and therefore at different points in time and therefore simultaneously). Free radio unifies the time of its smaller sites as do the other stations, which their concept of presence tries to rise above yet nonetheless remains bound to the same acting model which makes it authentic. This type of radio produces the phantasm of the real through a discursive event whose effect is the idea of historical change. Whereas the listeners of public-private radio stay at home because they can't change the real anyway free radio makes believe that a demonstration is the real thing. Realized this way events are no longer produced by discourse but become myth of change in the historical continuum. If the possible task of local free radios were to produce an expanded space in which the effect of a 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 tied to the attempt of overcoming the apparatus’s conditions rather than making them audible. Allowing people to speak themselves, everyone to speak, to have an open sender like Radio Alice denies the impossibility of its realization 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 free radio the event is brought in 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 is seldom that just one 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 the distance of these scattered sites from the loudspeaker, the site of the likewise scattered listeners and helps in any case to fill the accounts set aside for desasters of transregional organizations: FOR ALL does not refer to all, but at least lets their charity gain the status of a substitute. In complete contrast is the claim of local, free radio that propagates for one world but sticks to its own frequency from its own single location, and leaves other locations untouched: lots of local nations. The two reports do not differ on the possible politicization of the listeners. They 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 is not possible - and certainly not through radio which technically creates this desire for presence.

Whereas 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 cannot be overcome because of the constantly returning contingency, which makes it likewise necessary for free public radio. TO ALL places on both realizations of radio the demand for an international free radio that cannot homogenize time and space. As unlikely as it seems, the medial conditions are highly interesting 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 of I am part of it as a question, as a problem which cannot be solved. Whereas local radio attempts to claim that the event is something special, a possibility for general objections, international radio remains primarily in 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 nonlinear. Whereas local radio urges participation in local events and celebrates the return of the ability to act in that they limit their effects to the 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 is always just 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 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 report on free radios must disturb the production of phantasmal 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 productions are already available. Free radio must first answer the question of which other conditions of production are possible within existing productions and their power. That is 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 favorite 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 radios in that it does not demand empathy but rather, change, and does not make events linear but rather deterritorializes them.

The world must become Bologna 1976.

Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt
German version first published under the title »radio b richt« in: »vor der information/before information«, issue 3/4, vienna 1995