Posts tagged ‘Eastern Friesland’

Monday, December 25, 2017

Shortwave Logs, December 2017: Germany’s annual Public-Radio High-Frequency Broadcast

“Gruß an Bord” is one of the oldest programs1) carried on German public radio, and the only one among these that is still broadcast on shortwave. Once a year, that is. The program starts at 19:00 UTC and runs through 23:00 UTC, i. e. Midnight central European time (see table there).

Christmas Eve on Sunday was that one night a year when a public German-language radio broadcaster returns to shortwave: “Gruss an Bord” is a program where sailors’ relatives and friends send greetings to their loved ones on board, wherever on the seven seas they may be2).

From Norddeich Radio to Deutsche Welle

“Gruß an Bord” first went on air in 1953. Back then, according to Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR, northern German radio), coastal radio station Norddeich Radio beamed the wistful messages across the seas.

It hasn’t been aired every year since, according to an NDR press release of 2009, which provides no notes about at which times there had been interruptions.

Some time after its inception, Germany’s public foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle must have taken the task of broadcasting “Gruss an Bord” internationally, while NDR has always been in charge of the content.

Haus der Schiffahrt (House of Shipping Companies), Leer (archive)

Norddeich Radio has been defunct since the 1990s, and Deutsche Welle terminated their German-language broadcasts on shortwave in 2011. “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany does itself in), an angry seafarer reportedly wrote in a protest letter.

From Deutsche Welle to Media Broadcast

It appears that the program was limited to VHF/FM and medium wave in December 2011, but in 2012, NDR bought airtime from Media Broadcast, a company that operates the Nauen transmitter station ( a site formerly used by Deutsche Welle). They also coordinate with other broadcasting sites in Europe.

NDR is a public broadcaster operating in the federal states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Lower Saxony. (As Bremen was part of the American occupation zone in post-war Germany, the city state runs a broadcasting station of its own, Radio Bremen.)

The first hour – and some of the second – of this year’s broadcast were recordings made earlier in December, at Hamburg’s Duckdalben international seamen’s club (or Seemannsmission), a place operated by Germany’s evangelical church. Some time during the second hour of this year’s program, recordings from Leer, a town in Eastern Friesland, Germany’s far northwest, were broadcast. Leer is only a small town, with some 30 to 35 thousand population, but it is a place with a lot of history, and a navigation school. Probably not least thanks to the latter, Leer is considered the place with the second-largest number of shipping companies in Germany, after Hamburg.

In Leer’s “Kulturspeicher”, the NDR’s Lower Saxony broadcasting house also made some recordings, on December 10, to televise a few minutes of them within the state on December 23, in a 3’19” report. (The video should remain online for a few weeks.)

The show felt a bit as if it was from a different era, trade magazine website Radioszene noted four years ago. That’s hard to deny, when you look at the cozy arrangements captured by the NDR cameras.

But then, even in 1979, Werner Bader, head of Deutsche Welle’s German programs at the time, observed that

A minority keeps criticizing, sometimes wittingly, that the two programs [“Gruß an Bord” and “Grüße aus dem Heimathafen”, another sailors’ program] were unctuous. But a majority advocates to carry them forward.
(Eine Minderheit kritisiert immer wieder, in beiden Sendungen gebe es Rührseligkeiten, und sie tut es manchmal auch geistreich witzig. Aber die Mehrheit plädiert für das Wunschkonzert und die “Grüße aus dem Heimathafen”.)

The Audience: families, the wider public …

“Gruß an Bord” is aired by a public broadcaster, and at the same time, it is about family – two rather different target audiences. An NDR editor interviewed in the December 23 report from Leer, tries to match the two:

If this is about feelings, the broadcast is still needed. If someone says that most of the German ships have been equipped with internet for a year now, and that families can skype or text each other, or use Whatsapp – but then, people may sit alone in their bunk, on Christmas Eve, before and after their meals, that’s not the same as if you join everyone else in the mess deck, listening to this broadcast together.
Wenn es um Gefühle geht, dann braucht man die Sendung noch. Wenn jetzt jemand sagt, die deutschen Schiffe sind seit einem Jahr weitgehend mit Internet ausgerüstet, und dann können die Familien miteinander skypen und sich eine SMS schicken oder per Whatsapp kommunizieren, aber da sitzen vielleicht die Leute allein in ihrer Koje am Heiligen Abend, vorm Essen, nach dem Essen, bekommen ihre Whatsapps, das ist ja nicht so, als wenn  man gemeinsam in der Messe sitzt und dann vielleicht gemeinsam diese Sendung hört.

Or as put by an (apparent) senior sailor in a television report from the Hamburg event, the program is

special, because you get the impression that – even if you can be reached by email, smartphone etc. -, the public is aware of you.
Das Besondere an der Sendung ist, dass man eben tatsächlich den Eindruck hat, dass man – auch wenn man über Email, Handy erreichbar ist, trotzdem auch im Bewusstsein der Öffentlichkeit ist.

… and the friends of the high frequencies

I recorded all of the program, and listened to some of it. It remains a reverend institution, and worth listening to. But I think I liked the final twenty-five minutes best. There, letters and emails were read out from an ordinary broadcasting studio – well-structured and carefully thought out messages, rather than improvised talk into microphones.

I have no idea how many people listen to the programs, and where. But when listening to the mails and letters being read out, you realize that a substantial share (if not the majority) of those who listen to the shortwave transmissions must be shortwave aficionados, rather than seafarers:

Bernd Ottenau from Ottenau sends greetings to all members, honorary members and friends of the Radio Taiwan International listeners’ club Ottenau, as well as the international shortwave programs’ German-language editorial offices.
(Bernd Ottenau aus Ottenau grüßt herzlich alle Mitglieder, Ehrenmitglieder und Freunde des Radio Taiwan International Hörerclubs Ottenau, sowie die deutschsprachigen Redaktionen der internationalen Kurzwellenprogramme, und wünscht gesegnete Weihnachten sowie ein gutes neues Jahr 2018.)

A thing Germany has in common with countries like China, India, or Japan are its pasttime associations, and its shortwave listeners’ associations not least. They, too, may be an explanation as to why a radio institution like “Gruß an Bord”, allegedly from a different era, remains on air – at least once a year.

The 6155 kHz relay transmission from Armenia – offering the best signal among all the sites rebroadcasting “Gruß an Bord” – goes off air a few seconds after 23:00 UTC. CPBS Beijing emerges on the same frequency, informing me that it’s the eighth day of the lunar calendar’s  eleventh month today.

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Notes

1) The “Hafenkonzert” is even older – see Related underneath – “Soundscrapes of the Urban Past”
2) Then again, maybe not exactly on all the seven seas. The Pacific Ocean isn’t among the target areas stated by NDR.

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Related

Soundscrapes of the Urban Past, 2013

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