photo by StockSnap, via Pixabay
There were a couple of things missing from this morning’s drive time when Germany’s capital city went back to work on the first business day of 2021.
One of those missing items was drivers. Metropolitan Berlin is due to be on lockdown through at least the remainder of this week to stem the spread of COVID-19. But even when drivers and passengers get back on the road, they will no longer be able to listen to a local broadcast of American radio. That vestige of postwar occupation and the Cold War is now part of history.
KCRW, the Los Angeles outlet of National Public Radio, recently pulled the plug on a sister outlet it had operated in Berlin under the same call letters since 2017, according to a report last week in Politico. The station said via Facebook that its last day on air was Dec. 13, 2020. Before it shuttered, KCRW Berlin aimed “to build an engaged community and become the destination for unparalleled English content in our city and beyond.”
KCRW took over from NPR, which had operated the channel as “NPR Berlin” for slightly more than a decade. Prior to that, a commercial broadcaster in the city carried Voice of America newscasts on a frequency it purchased after it was released by the American Forces Network. AFN set up shop in the then-divided city shortly after World War II ended in Europe, along with another U.S.-backed broadcaster, RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), which broadcast in German.
Although the audience for an English-language American public broadcaster nine time zones away was undoubtedly small – NPR stations are not ratings powerhouses even at home – I have no doubt KCRW’s presence will be missed, and not only by expatriate Americans. English is widely used in Europe as the common denominator among people of many native tongues. What better way to practice English comprehension than to eavesdrop on Morning Edition, conveniently broadcast to Berliners between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.?
Of course, listeners in Germany – and around the world – can listen to Morning Edition and other NPR programs via the internet. In fact, you can find pretty much any commercial or public radio broadcast online. They are available at the outlet’s own site, on the home pages of broadcast networks like NPR, or via content distributors such as SiriusXM and Radio.com. Many popular shows also release individual episodes as podcasts, allowing listeners to listen through one of the many podcast apps available for their mobile devices. The main limitations for accessing broadcasts by internet involve geographic limits imposed by licensors, but these are more significant in television and video than in radio.
In fact, radio may have been more thoroughly altered by the internet than any other mass media. “Clear channel” broadcasts on the AM band used to give certain powerful stations a range of thousands of miles, but only at night. Now even a small college station, or an outlet on the United Kingdom’s remote Falkland Islands, can reach a global audience every hour of every day.
I regularly listen to all-news stations from Los Angeles and New York City when I am at the beach in northern Florida. I check in most mornings with the BBC and the CBC on my Amazon Echo smart speakers. Meanwhile my old shortwave radio (a gift from my parents nearly 40 years ago), where I first tuned in to those outlets, sits disused in a closet.
Another of my old shortwave favorites was Germany’s own Deutsche Welle state broadcaster. Now I read its English-language news report on dw.com to keep up with the continental European perspective on current events.
KCRW Berlin may be missed, but I doubt it will be deeply mourned. More than 75 years have passed since Allied troops entered that war-shattered city. Berlin, and Germany itself, have been wholly reconstructed in the interim. Our forces remain in Germany as a fellow NATO member, but our future role there, and in Europe overall, is very much up for debate. What is not debatable is that Germany’s airwaves are, and should be, fully the property of that country’s citizens. America does not need a foothold on the radio dial to keep its place in that country’s past, or its present.