German Radio Celebrates 100 Years
It was on December 22 just last year (2020), that Germany celebrated its centenary of radio broadcasting with special radio programming to honor the occasion. Just 100 years ago, on Monday December 22, 1920, Dr. Hans Bredow and his fellow staff personnel at the Koenigswusterhausen Radio Station presented a special program of music and talks to honor the Christmas occasion. This historic radio event in Germany occurred just seven weeks after the famous first broadcast from mediumwave KDKA (8ZZ) in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in the United States.
The small town known as Koenigswusterhausen is located in the German Mark (state) of Brandenburg, and it is just a dozen miles southeast from Berlin. The German spelling for the name of this town can be transliterated into English several different ways, and it can also be shown as one word or two words. In medieval times, Koenigswusterhausen was featured as a royal city, complete with an ornate castle.
That original historic 1920 radio program in Germany began around 2 pm on December 22 with an opening announcement identifying Koenigswusterhausen, and the first piece of music, as would be expected, was Silent Night, Holy Night, in German, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. Several staff members of the radio station presented instrumental and vocal music as their contribution to this original though quite short radio program.
The live broadcast was presented from a temporary indoor studio in the building that was subsequently identified as Senderhaus Nr 1. The studio which was soundproofed for the occasion with army blankets, and the only available microphone was the mouthpiece of a telephone.
At the time, there were four Morse Code army operated wireless transmitters in use at Koenigswusterhausen, and Senior Technician Erich Schwarzkopf modified one of those units for the occasion. Schwarzkopf was himself also a talented violinist.
The transmitter was a 5 kW spark unit and it radiated the spontaneous programming of live and recorded music on longwave 2400 m (125 kHz). The twin antenna towers stood at 330 feet high.
At the time, the general population in Germany were forbidden to own a radio receiver, so very few people heard this original first radio broadcast one hundred years ago. The only receivers permitted back then were installed in official government buildings, newspaper offices, and banks, though it is admitted that some privately held receivers were in operation. It is suggested that the entire audience of official listeners in Germany who tuned in to this historic radio broadcast numbered around just seventy, though with a few clandestine listeners the total may have been just a little higher.
However many listeners in other countries in Europe, as well as radio officers on ships at sea, heard this first radio broadcast from Germany. Radio monitors in Luxembourg, Holland, England and Scandinavia, as well as elsewhere, heard the broadcast and they responded with letters of appreciation.
This 1920 Christmas broadcast was not the first occasion in which Dr. Hans Bredow presented a radio transmission. The BBC in London noted an earlier series of experimental radio broadcasts that were made from the western war front in continental Europe. Back in May 1917, Bredow transmitted music and speech for the benefit of German troops with the use of army radio equipment.
In honor of the centenary of radio broadcasting in Germany, a local organization known as the Friends of Konigswusterhausen planned a whole series of commemorative events. The special centenary broadcast last year was planned as part of the Brandenburg (State) Festival, and it was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm on Tuesday December 22, 2020, exactly 100 years precisely to the minute.
The original planning indicated that the memorial broadcast last December would be heard widely on 810 kHz mediumwave, as well as on FM 93.9 & 105.1 MHz, and on shortwave 5960 kHz from Nauen. However due to the Virus pandemic, these elaborate plans were considerably modified.
Dr. Hans Bredow officially retired in 1939, though in May 1945 he was appointed as the district president in Wiesbaden. Throughout his life time, he served in the development of radio, and he is honored to this day in Germany as the father of radio broadcasting in their country.
The German Shortwave Service at Koenigswusterhausen
As we turn to the radio scene at Koenigswusterhausen, which is located a dozen miles south east of Berlin in Germany, we note that four major buildings upon this estate have been in use as transmitter houses during the past 100 years. This facility was originally an army encampment and it was in use for the testing of very early wireless equipment.
In 1911, an army battalion began experimental transmissions on a hill that was known at the time as Windmill Hill. Initially primitive mobile transmitters were set up on horse drawn carts and the antenna wires were attached to small aerial balloons.
What is now identified as Sender Haus Nr 1 was constructed specifically for the installation and operation of experimental wireless transmitters and it was inaugurated as the German Army Central Radio Station in 1916. That building, which still stands to this day, is the oldest transmitter building in Germany.
After the end of World War 1, the Koenigswusterhausen estate was taken over by the German Post Office in September 1919 for use as their main wireless communication station. Morse Code transmissions provided quick business communication, mainly with similar though smaller wireless stations throughout Germany. The original callsign in Morse Code for Koenigswusterhausen was LP, though quite frequently the station was also identified colloquially as KWH, as would be expected.
Just one year later, Dr. Hans Bredow supervised what became their now historic Christmas Broadcast on December 22, 1920, an event that is acknowledged as the beginning of radio broadcasting in Germany. This truly historic broadcast was presented over a modified 5 kW spark transmitter that radiated on 350 m (857 kHz). (Some authorities state that this broadcast was noted on 2700 m 110 kHz.)
Senderhaus Nr 1 became the first transmitter building at Koenigswusterhausen for regular radio programming on what are now recognized as the longwave and mediumwave broadcasting bands. Several very tall self supporting towers were erected close by to the transmitter building, and smaller towers carried the feeder lines from the Senderhaus to the antenna towers.
After the 1920 introductory broadcast, a new broadcasting transmitter was constructed and installed into Haus Nr 1, and it was taken into a regular program service three years later with Sunday music concerts, on October 29, 1923. Over a period of time, this transmitter was noted on various longwave channels, such as 2370 m, 2400 m, 2700 m and even 4000 m (127 kHz, 125 kHz, 111 kHz and even 75 kHz).
In 1925, the nationwide Deutschlandsender broadcast service was established at Koenigswusterhausen, with several high towers and a 4 kW transmitter on 280.4 m (1070 kHz) that was subsequently upgraded to 75 kW. During the late 1920s, several lower powered transmitters were installed progressively, and they were in use for program broadcasting and also for regional communication.
These transmitters, and the channels in use, were identified with similar callsigns, such as for example, AFP and AFT. In 1936, a diesel generator was also installed in Haus Nr 1.
These days, a large and important radio museum is housed in this same Sender Haus Nr 1. On display is a grand assortment of old wireless and radio equipment, including some of the original transmitters. One special transmitter on display is a 100 kW Telefunken that had previously been installed at Horby in Sweden.
Due to the increasing need for wireless and radio transmitters in Germany, a second transmitter building, Senderhaus Nr 2, was constructed in 1923. Initially several telegraph transmitters with power levels up to 50 kW were installed, though soon afterwards a longwave broadcast transmitter was also installed.
Then in 1932, a powerful 100 kW Telefunken broadcast transmitter was transferred from Tegel, 5 miles northeast of Berlin, and it was re-installed in Haus Nr 2. This unit, which became quite famous as Sender 21, carried programming from studios in Berlin as Berliner Welle, on 1635 m (183 kHz).
During the dramatic events of the European War in the middle of last century, the radio stations at Koenigswusterhausen (and Zeesen also) were on the air for a cluster of services: Program broadcasting to central Europe and beyond, jamming unwanted incoming radio signals, decoy transmissions, and wartime communications.
It is also true that these radio stations at Koenigswusterhausen remained largely undamaged during belligerent fighting. As the Russian army moved in towards the city of Berlin in 1945, their forces were commanded to capture the Koenigswusterhausen/Zeesen radio stations without damage.
Senderhaus Nr 3
We have presented the story of two of the major transmitter buildings (Senderhaus Nr 1 & Senderhaus Nr 2) that were in use in the now historic radio station at Koenigswusterhausen near Berlin in Germany. Now we tell the story of Senderhaus Nr 3, and its usage over the past almost one hundred years.
Such was the increasing need for radio transmitters in Germany in the extended aftermath of World War 1 that a third transmitter building was constructed at Koenigswusterhausen in 1924. The specific location of this new transmitter building Senderhaus Nr 3 on Radio Mountain was identified as Part B. Three Morse Code transmitters were installed in Senderhaus Nr 3, together with several new antenna systems nearby, and this new radio equipment was in use for commercial and news communications.
Back in those days, the design and appearance of German radio transmitters was very different when compared to the American and British transmitters. Many of the German transmitter controls and their associated meters were installed on a sloping bevel panel at a lower level, not on the main outer cabinet panels at eye level as in the American transmitter housing.
Many of the radio receivers made in Europe during the period between the wars, indeed up into the 1970s, showed the names of various radio broadcasting stations on the glass dial plate according to the transmitted wavelength. As a well known and powerful longwave radio broadcasting station, the name Koenigswusterhausen was often printed on the glass dial plate of German made radio receivers, so that listeners could turn the dial pointer to the desired position and thus tune in to the programming from that station.
Now with three transmitter buildings and the associated multitude of antenna systems, that was enough radio equipment at one location; there was no additional space at Radio Mountain for further expansion. Koenigswusterhausen was filled up, and if any additional installation was needed, then a new location would be sought.
Towards the end of the European War in the middle of last century, as Russian troops approached Berlin, they were ordered to capture the twin Koengswusterhausen and Zeesen radio stations undamaged. The final broadcasts from Koenigswusterhausen under the World War 2 German administration occurred towards the end of April 1945. On April 25, the few remaining radio personnel at Koenigswusterhausen-Zeesen closed the stations down and fled.
At the end of that same year (1945), the Russians installed a 10 kW longwave transmitter into Senderhaus Nr 3 and this carried the main program stream from East Berlin. In August next year (1946), a 100 kW longwave transmitter was installed and this carried the Deutschlandsender program, also from East Berlin. This unit was on the air for more than 30 years until it was closed in 1997, though it still remains in place.
In 1952, the fourth floor of an old furniture factory building at 50 Nalepastrasse, in Oberscheineweide, suburban East Berlin, was redesigned for use as the head office and studios for an extensive network of longwave, mediumwave, FM and shortwave radio stations throughout East Germany. The East Berlin studio complex was in use until 1991, one year after German reunification. Their shortwave stations were located at Koenigswusterhausen, Zeesen, Leipzig, and Nauen.
In 1964 a locally assembled 70 kW longwave transmitter was installed, and this unit remained in service for nearly 30 years until it was closed down in 1992. This silent transmitter also remains in location.
Due to economic and environmental problems, the entire station at Koenigswusterhausen was closed in 1997 and all transmitter buildings, including Senderhaus Nr 3, remained partly empty. However these days, the entire complex is an important and very interesting radio museum, that illustrates the century old history of radio broadcasting in Germany.
This story is a combination of features written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX programs of February 7, May 16 & June 21, 2021