Archival Impulses in German Radio

‘Archival Impulses’ in German Radio:
Collecting, Ordering and Reusing Sound, 1930-1960

Carolyn Birdsall (University of Amsterdam)

Lecture as part of the KlangDenken-series at the Institute of Cultural History and Theory (Institut für Kulturwissenschaft), Humboldt-Universität Berlin


Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Georgenstraße 47

Room 0.07




In early 1930, German journalist Hans Tasiemka reported on the pioneering introduction of sound recording and archiving at the Berlin Funk-Stunde station, on the initiative of its director Hans Flesch. According to Tasiemka, these “sound documents” (Tondokumente) would enable a collective sonic heritage for future generations, and were essential to the maintenance of a shared memory culture. Taking this ‘archival impulse’ as a departure point, the presentation will take note of institutional beginnings of sound archives in Weimar, National Socialist and post-war broadcast organisations. While these archives might be framed according to distinct breaks in political systems and media organisation, I will argue for closer attention to certain continuities and overlaps in archival practice during the first decades of German broadcasting. In this vein, it is crucial to acknowledge how ‘modern’ radio drew on pre-existing models for collecting recordings of non-Western languages and music (e.g. Phonogramm-Archiv) and German dialects and musical traditions (e.g. Lautarchiv), as well as pre-recorded sound effects (silent and sound cinema). Practices of collecting, ordering and reusing broadcast sound will be opened up in terms of specific changes (production techniques, medial qualities of radio), but also ongoing social negotiations of recorded sound as form of historical documentation and cultural heritage.