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Chat Debate One Night in Altona

Hamburg Altona
© Frank Schier / Unsplash

The lifelong pals Claus Witte, Jürgen Hüske and Michael Abbing have a shared passion: radio. Today fate has flung them to different places, but they each have their own story involving radio as a broadcasting medium. One night they meet up at their old rehearsal room in Hamburg Altona to chat. What about? Radio of course.

Who Is Chatting?

Jürgen Hüske works as a music editor at Freies Sender Kombinat (FSK), an independent left-wing broadcaster in Hamburg. Michael Abbing, himself a former employee of FSK, is now on the payroll at Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), the state broadcasting corporation covering the region of Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Claus Witte is director of programming at the Goethe-Zentrum in Guadalajara and for the past three years has been producing his own radio show – the weekly magazine “Palavern” on Jalisco Radio. 
  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Jürgen and Michael, you’ve known each other since the 1980s, and the three of us have been friends since the 1990s. Let’s take a look at the past together. Jürgen, what was your favourite radio show in the eighties?

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    Good grief, that’s almost 50 years ago now …

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Now don’t go making yourself older than you are! We’ve all only just turned 50 recently.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    Well, by necessity I always listened to WDR’s lunchtime magazine show, Mittagsmagazin.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    How about you, Michael?

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    Mal Sondock’s Hitparade on WDR – he played the coolest music. For instance songs like Video killed the Radio Star were really big at the time, which then went on to be the first music video played on MTV television.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    After all, we do all originate from the catchment area of WDR, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, and there was something really special there: we were also able to listen to British radio, for example the BFBS channel.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Thanks to the British occupation after the Second World War …

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    They did a few good things, including the fact that I met Steve Mason and had my first experiences of techno as a result. But we could also listen to radio from the Netherlands.

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    One thing that stands out for example is that the Dutch short-wave broadcasters, both then and now, sound far louder than the German stations. They simply don’t care about frequency deviation, or as you might say, the “volume specifications”. Here in Germany that’s strictly regulated by the Federal Network Agency, and you get into terrible trouble if you exceed the peak deviation.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    Keeping within the frequency deviation does make sense. Without this regulation, “low budget” stations like Freies Sender Kombinat (FSK), where I work as a music editor, would just be drowned out by the “more powerful” broadcasters with their expensive sound processing equipment. It’s also about competition in the radio business.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    On the subject of FSK – what would you say is an interesting characteristic of FSK? It is something rather special: an independent left-wing radio station that’s been broadcasting round the clock for a quarter of a century.

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    One thing I find incredibly fascinating for instance is the FSK radio listings guide: it’s still a proper printed magazine that’s sent out to individuals and available in pubs.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    And where exactly is it available, just in some random pubs?

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    For instance we have an arrangement with Radio Nordpol. It’s a station that emerged during the pandemic – and it operates from a pub, the Nordpol in Dortmund. When the pub had to shut during lockdown, the management decided to do radio. Now our programme listings are available in the pub too.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    My radio show “Palavern” is one of those children of the pandemic as well. I’m director of a culture centre in Guadalajara, which puts on cultural events using funding from the Goethe-Institut. At the start of the pandemic in 2020 we had to completely cancel our programme, because jazz musicians, graffiti artists and exhibitions could no longer come to Guadalajara and put on a show. So as a team we came up with the idea that I could do a radio show – and that’s how “Palavern” came to be. Since then it’s been on air every Saturday lunchtime from 1-2 pm.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    How do you and the team at FSK manage to broadcast round the clock, Jürgen?

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    We often do night loops at night. I am a fan of decent loops – sometimes I think it’s brilliant listening to music without interruption, without someone constantly chatting over it. We put the night loops in our player and then run them over night.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    So there’s no one sitting in the studio anymore?

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    Nowadays the public radio broadcasters are like that too. There are what we call night takeover radio programmes: instead of all the ARD regional radio centres broadcasting around the clock, a single station produces a programme in a particular genre and the others can use it. For instance WDR caters for the young generation with 1live, NDR does an info night with NDR Info, Bavaria offers a classics night, while MDR plays all-night hits. This saves a lot of night shifts.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    There are no adverts at Freies Senderkombinat (FSK) either, we don’t even have to transmit election broadcasts. This was actually a subject of debate at one point, because there are general regulations about it in Germany. But FSK is independent in this regard too. At our station we have music without adverts and sometimes even without a presenter. “Palavern” still has adverts during the show, doesn’t it Claus?

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    No …?

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    So what is it that comes on from time to time? I don’t always understand it, it’s all in Spanish ;-)

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    They’re jingles, for instance programme announcements. And because it’s a public service broadcaster, they have to keep playing government jingles. It’s party political broadcasts during an election, but otherwise it’s just anti-drugs campaigns.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    What was that thing you sent us recently … wasn’t that a show from Guadalajara.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Yes, it was “La Rocola Arabalera”, a programme that’s over 30 years old. “Rocola” means “Jukebox” and “Arabal” comes from Arabic. It was what they used to call the suburbs in Spain where it was all happening, where the party was. So the show’s called something along the lines of “the (wild) suburban jukebox”. There are two public service broadcasters in Guadalajara, one operated by the government of the federal state of Jalisco, the other by the university. The interesting thing: the current government radio director used to work at the university radio station and is now bringing more and more people who are unhappy with the uni broadcaster over to her station. As a result the Rocola Arabalera show, which ran for 30 years on university radio, now belongs to the government station.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Incidentally I’ve got an amusing anecdote about the two stations: last year I conducted an interview with a German author who wanted to come to the book fair. I’d already edited the whole thing and got it ready. But then on the Friday the university picked a fight with the government and reporting on the book fair was banned on state radio stations, which meant that on the Friday evening at 11 pm I had to rethink my entire concept for the following day. We resorted to playlists then as well.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    Oh gosh, that doesn’t sound very free.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    We even had a police raid in Germany once, in February 2023 – at Radio Dreyeckland, an independent station from Freiburg. The reason was that they had shared a link to an archive article originating from Linksunten at Indymedia, who were under surveillance by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. A huge police unit was drafted in. It’s quite reasonable to wonder whether that was a bit of an over-reaction – and I worded that carefully. It probably turned out that it wasn’t really justifiable, but there aren’t any court rulings yet.

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    Another important thing in Germany is the legal recording, which has to be kept for 92 days. FSK has to do that as well, although it often gets forgotten or fails because the computer’s broken again... If for instance listeners complain because a presenter has supposedly said something “wrong”, then we have to check it on the recording.

  • Jürgen Hueske Jürgen Hueske

    Are there broadcasters in Guadalajara other than the government and university stations?

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    No, not really. If there’s anything, then podcasts.

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    The number of stations in Hamburg is limited too. There’s also Tide – they call themselves “Hamburg’s citizens’ broadcaster and education channel”.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    What about yourselves, when and where do you actually listen to the radio?

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    While I’m cooking at home. And at work I have to listen to it as well, of course.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    I’ve got a radio in the kitchen too, and I listen while I’m cooking or washing up. And in the car, when I drive from time to time. I would think that absolutely loads of people still listen to the radio in the car.

  • Michael Abbing Michael Abbing

    Radio is and always has been really important in the car, partly because of one unique feature: the traffic report. There’s even that TA button – “traffic announcement” we call it in the trade. It doesn’t matter what you’re listening to – as soon as the traffic report comes on, the radio switches to it and then back again afterwards.

  • Claus Witte Claus Witte

    Okay guys, thank you very much for a great interview! I’m sure I’ll be thinking about you even more in future when I’m in the kitchen or listening to the traffic report.

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