Bertolt Brecht

Portrait: Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht, photograph by Jörg Kolbe, 1954
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0409-300 / Kolbe, Jörg / CC-BY-SA

Bertolt Brecht

Playwright and radio enthusiast

Radio would be the best conceivable communications apparatus in public life - an immense channel system – (…) if it were to understand (…) that it needs to make the listener not only listen but also speak - and it should not isolate him but rather involve him.

Bertolt Brecht, Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat (The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication), 1932

Bertolt Brecht was still a young author when he was commissioned to write his first educational play, entiteld Lindberghflug (Lindbergh’s Flight), for the Kammermusikfest (chamber music festival) of Baden-Baden in 1929, but he was also an established one thanks to the popularity of his The Threepenny Opera (1928). Inspired by the previous year’s Atlantic crossing by the American Charles Lindbergh, Brecht used the play to express his ideas about the democratic use of new radio technology. It was intended not only to entertain but also to actively involve audiences, for example by contributing prepared vocal music passages.

Brecht incorporated his pedagogical ruminations on the media landscape three years later into a speech entitled: Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat (Radio as Communications Apparatus). He was particularly vocal about what he saw as the need to break the rigid, one-way broadcaster-listener dynamic. Alongside the incorporation of experimental art forms (as distinct from bourgeois theatre, for example) Brecht expected the medium of radio to provide current, political information rather than pre-produced content. In 1927 his text Vorschläge für den Intendanten des Rundfunks (Suggestions for the Director of the Radio) called for, amongst other things, the nationwide broadcasting of parliamentary debates and regular discussion programmes with expert guests.