Jazz on the radio

There are many facets to the jazz and improvised music we hear on the radio: programs about styles from the past or the very latest in improvisation, recordings by musicians from particular regions, concerts and, sometimes, even festivals.

This variety has above all been brought about by the ever-growing promotional work done for the scene over the last few decades by Germany’s public broadcasting corporations, whereas in the private sector the opportunities for listening to jazz are few and far between, with Berlin’s Jazz Radio as an example.


The presence of jazz on German radio is very much geared to the approach adopted by the public broadcasting stations to this genre of music. They are in fact one of the mainstays of the German jazz scene both on a regional, as well as national level. The reason for this is that they are instrumental in organising close cooperation between the working pool of the public broadcasting corporations (ARD), the Deutschlandfunk station, Deutschlandradio Kultur and the jazz musicians, festivals and local event organisers.

On a regional level festivals and radio concerts provide platforms for the local scene, alongside activities organised by clubs, universities and the local councils. They facilitate the informal exchange of news and information within jazz networks about artists or groups, even in areas that are far away from the main conurbations.

The ARD with its extensive range of programs plays a vital role here. With about 380 hours of regular jazz programs every month a total of 4,500 hours of jazz music were broadcast in 2008 over the airwaves, cable or internet and were able to be received all over Germany. Additional jazz programs, for example, about festivals with concert broadcasts or historical features, accounted for a further 800 broadcasting hours.

Alongside the jazz programs on the radio there are also the telerecordings of individual jazz events, like the Burghausen Jazz Festival made by Bavarian TV, which are then broadcast in the various other German states via several Channel Three – Germany’s regional public channels. Nevertheless, apart from a few special features on cultural channels like arte and 3Sat, jazz is hardly ever seen and heard on television in Germany.

Radio and sponsorship

The term “jazz scenes” implies the existence of different regional spheres that boast diverse forms of dynamic potential. A region’s strength can be assessed on various location factors like the number of event venues, festivals or concert series. An important factor in the context of these festivals or concert series is the supportive function of the public broadcasting stations.

It is not a case of the media exploiting a festival, but more an upgrading of a town, region or a federal state from the point of view of media policy, as well as the actual support and sponsoring of the event itself. In 2008, by hooking local festivals up with the editorial staff of jazz radio programs, a total of 28 festivals and concert series all over Germany, for example, were able to be documented as having enjoyed the benefits of this particular aspect of support.

Recordings, Prizes, Big Bands, Internet

Due to the radio stations’ technological facilities they provide the perfect environment for studio productions and these are of great help indeed to young jazz musicians when trying to get their careers off the ground. For many artists recordings and productions like these are important steps along the road to success, as they represent a hallmark of acoustic and creative excellence that goes way beyond the actual recordings themselves. It is a kind of musical visiting-card, often opening new perspectives of the work of an artist.

The jazz prizes of various German radio stations like the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR), Südwest-Rundfunk (SWR) or the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) ensure furthermore that national attention is paid to the local jazz scenes. Politico-cultural series like the WDR’s Jazzstädte in NRW (The Jazz Cities of North Rhine-Westphalia) support a sustainable access to the music, equally as much as “Jugend jazzt” (Youth goes jazz) which is a more nationally oriented event. Furthermore the ARD is proud of its orchestral prowess with its regional orchestras like the hr Big Band (Hessischer Rundfunk), the NDR Big Band (Norddeutscher Rundfunk), the WDR Big Band and SWR Big Band. When it comes to recordings and concerts, they have proved their worth so many times that they are among the top ensembles of the genre.

Alongside the classic radio programs Internet presence is becoming more and more important. All of the stations in the ARD pool are represented in the cyber world of the Internet and offer various streaming services and features. It is also the place where a rapidly growing competition is coming into force from both nationally and internationally active private web radio stations. What the public stations have to offer however is an absolutely viable alternative to the private broadcasting stations, especially when it comes to the educational objectives of the German Constitution, like editorial quality, variety of content and a clear profile.