The Hörspiel or 'listen-play' has had a long history in Germany, even though radio plays first originated in America in 1922 with 'The Wolf.' The German radio networks came into existence in 1924 and works in hörspiel started appearing in 1925. Many German writers at the time like Alfred Döblin, Walter Benjamin, and Bertolt Brecht wrote extensive articles comparing the potential effect radio would have on spoken language to that of what the Gutenberg revolution did for written language .
Between 1933 to 1945 however, hörspiel production was shut down with all its directors fired and replaced with members of the Nazi propaganda machines. In 1945, the reconstruction of the German radio network began. Most of the printing presses had been destroyed during the war along with the ability to mass produce paper, and radios were more pervasively available. The hörspiel therefore, became an acceptable literary form among German writers: there was more of a chance of having a piece played on the radio than to be published. The period between 1947 and 1960 is known as the Classic Period for hörspiel, and it is marked by works about alienation, fear, isolation, and loss of identity within the culture of post-war Germany. Inner reality and the subconscious were of great interest by a people trying to rebuild their lives from the wreckage of their past.
By 1960 interest in the hörspiel was waning largely however, due to a new economic stability and the stagnating effects which television and mass media had the serious artform. German radio, particularly Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Cologne, began to allow more experimental German writers access to their recording studios to produce hörspiel. This new work was marked by language itself becoming the substance of the artform. Particularly there was an introduction of 'quoted' prerecorded audio material in the form of slogans from consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and the jargon of daily speech. Much like the text-sound composition whose development occurred nearly simultaneously, das neu hörspiel was an artform that functioned aesthetically totally within the acoustical domain . The activity in Cologne and other regional German broadcasters such as Bavarian Radio, in presenting a wide variety of new and experimental works has continued to this day.
References and Notes:
1. An anthology of historical and contemporary essays on the potentials and impact of radio on Western culture can be found in 'Radiotext(e),' in Semiotext(e) #16, Vol. VI, Issue 1 (New York: Semiotext(e), 1993).
2. A particularly detailed history in English about Hörspiel can be found in the essay 'Sound Play: The Polyphonous Tradition of German Radio Art,' by Mark E. Cory in Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde, edited by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992). This book also contains other essays concerning the artistic use of radio.
Another publication devoted to the study of the use of radio by artists, can be found in Radio Rethink: Art, Sound and Transmission, edited by Daina Augaitis and Dan Lander (Banff, Canada: Walter Phillips Gallery, 1994).
A World Wide Web page for New American Radio also exists.