Radio station DT64 The Beat and Socialism Rolled Into One

Lutz Schramm, presenter at DT64
Lutz Schramm, presenter at DT64 | Photo (detail): © Boris Claudi

It was impossible to imagine East German youth culture without it – DT64. In 2014 the GDR's radio station for young people would have celebrated its 50th anniversary. DT64 stopped broadcasting in 1993, but for many people the station still enjoys cult status.

It was Whitsun 1964 and the Deutschlandtreffen der Jugend (German National Youth Convention) was taking place in East Berlin. Hundreds of thousands of young people from both East and West Germany had come together to hold discussions, sing-songs and dances. The gathering was accompanied by a special radio station called Sonderstudio Deutschlandtreffen 1964 that had been set up especially for the event – abbreviated as DT64 later on. The movers and shakers behind it promised “99 hours of lively reports, wanted ads and, above all, beat music”. Over the whole Whit weekend there were live reports from the convention, the approach was very laid back and they even allowed the Beatles to be played. Sigmar Krause was one of the organisers of the special studio. He says that DT64 really scored a hit with the young people back then. “After Whitsun we received laundry baskets full of post from young people all over the GDR and from a lot of other places, too. Don’t stop! Keep up the good work! The music was perfect, the program suited us down to the ground.

Beat versus cultural politics

Beat music on the radio – quite a sensation under the socialist regime of the GDR. Western pop music was considered “imperialist” and “decadent” and was barely tolerated by the party leadership. No wonder, then, that DT64 was such a hit with the young people. The live presentation was also something quite new. Before DT64 all the texts spoken by the presenters had been recorded on tape and sounded, as might be expected, dry and boring. The DT64 presenters, in contrast, were witty and used everyday language. Due to its huge success a program called Jugendstudio DT64 started to be aired regularly on the Berliner Rundfunk station in June 1964 and it was listened to all over the GDR.

It was, however, not long before a blustery headwind started blowing. At the end of 1965 the GDR government put an end to the comparatively liberal course its youth and cultural policy had been on and initiated a “cultural crackdown”. Many books, films and even beat music were to be banned. DT64 was also pilloried. The program, however, was so popular among the youth of the GDR that it just could not simply be taken off the air, says Sigmar Krause. “We were criticised, but nothing serious happened to us. They did not dare to take the program off the air, it would have caused a riot.” Instead DT64 was trimmed to adhere to the “party line”. The amount of western music broadcast was reduced and the content was altered to put it more in line with the regime. Like all the other forms of media in the GDR DT64 remained under the control of the party until the political turnabout of 1989 – subjects were prescribed, manuscripts were censored – nevertheless the station still managed to enjoy a certain amount of freedom. The idea was to use government propaganda packaged in pop music to stop the socialist youth of the GDR secretly listening to western stations.

And what was on in the West?

In capitalist West Berlin young people were listening at that time to S-F-Beat or RIAS Treffpunkt These shows for young people aired by Sender Freies Berlin (SFB) and RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) also broadcast, like DT64, a mixture of the latest in pop music, stories and interviews. In the rest of West Germany Radio Luxemburg enjoyed cult status among the young. Furthermore in the 1960s television was starting to become more and more popular, with such programs as Beat-Club, which was launched in 1965. In the GDR, however, things were really quite different – television had not quite got off the ground and radio remained the most important medium.

DT64 becomes an independent station

With the advent of glasnost and perestroika – the reform processes introduced in the Soviet Union by Michael Gorbachov in the mid-1980s – a hint of democratisation started to be felt in socialist countries. DT64 benefited from this, too, as Lutz Schramm knew only too well. From 1986 onwards he was a presenter at DT64. “It was still the Cold War and the GDR government had realised that it was a good thing to have special programs for young people for then they would stop listening to the ‘other truth’ that was being broadcast on radio stations in the West.” In March 1986 DT64 became an independent station that was on air at first for eleven hours, then later for 20 hours a day.

The most decisive reason for DT64’s great popularity was above all the music it played. There were of course rigid quota specifications: 40 per cent of the songs they played came from non–socialist countries, 60 per cent from the GDR or from other socialist countries. The editors had a really difficult time trying get any music at all “from the West”, says Lutz Schramm. “No way could you have the records sent to you directly from the record company. Every now and then somebody had to go to West Berlin and buy them in a record shop. Very often the whole album from the West was played, every track, above all in the popular program called Duett – Musik für den Rekorder. “The whole of side A of Abba’s second-to-last album would be played on one Thursday and on the following Thursday side B would be played”, as Lutz Schramm remembers.

The end of an era

After reunification in 1990 it soon became clear that it would be very difficult for the station to continue broadcasting as the structure of the media landscape in West Germany, i.e. the Federal Republic of Germany, was organised as a federal system. In many cities the fans protested against the imminent closing down of the station – but to no avail. After a few failed attempts to keep the station going in its existing form, on 1st May 1993 it was taken over by the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk station and given a new name – “Sputnik”. After 30 years the era of DT64 had come to an end and was irretrievably lost forever.