Radio Days: The Beginnings of Radio Broadcasting in Inter-War Czechoslovakia

By Kralova, Lenka | Czech Music, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Radio Days: The Beginnings of Radio Broadcasting in Inter-War Czechoslovakia


Kralova, Lenka, Czech Music


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If we want to look at musical production from the 20th century to the present, then it is clear that one of the factors that strongly influenced musical life and cannot be overlooked is the rise of radio and radio broadcasting. Today taken for granted as an entirely common part of everyday life, at the time of its invention radio meant a complete revolution. It was part of the major transformations that came at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century: apart from the capacity to address by radio signal the wide circle of listeners, a huge growth in music production and the development of a new performer-listener relationship, these changes also included new possibilities of sound recording and later equipment making it possible to process the recording further.

Aside from advances on the technical side, which at the very beginning were the prime concerns, the first years of the activities of Czechoslovak Radio saw a general stabilisation of the structure of broadcasting: the establishment of specialised departments and development of programme schemes and formats. Radio involved an entirely new approach to listeners and here we can clearly see the efforts of the first radio staff to create a specific kind of repertoire programming to match the character of the medium. It is interesting that the form of broadcast and programme scheme (types) that the radio created and that stabilised within roughly the first decade of its activities are not so very different from those of today.

The Very Beginnings of Czechoslovak Radio

Regular broadcasting of the Czechoslovak radio, known as Radiojournal, started on the 18th of May 1923. The name "Radio-journal" was the official name of the radio from its inception until December 1938, following he dismemberment of the country by the Munich Agreement, when it was renamed Czecho-Slovak Radio inc. and later Czechoslovak Radio Ltd. (The expression "Radiojournal" was used for the whole institution, and was a synonym for Czechoslovak Radio; it should not be confused with the radio news station of the same name in the Czech Republic today). Radiojournal could pride itself on getting on the air early by international standards--the London station was established only a year earlier, and neighbouring states started such services in the same year. Since radio was a complete novelty and initially households lacked a basic element of it--receiving sets--the first radio production was reproduced publicly in the Sanssouci cinema on Prague's Wenceslas Square.

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The people who came up with the idea of founding a radio station were Eduard Svoboda, an entrepreneur in the film industry and future director of the radio, and Milos Ctrnacty, the cultural editor of the Narodni politika [National Politics] daily newspaper. The original premises of the radio corresponded to the initially improvised operation of Radiojournal. The first transmitter was created by converting the radio-telegraph station in Kbely in Prague. The house in which the transmitter was located, however, was too small for a studio to be created in it--so a studio had to be constructed provisionally in a Scouts tent. The first years of broadcasting were accompanied by a hunt for more suitable premises; after its improvised beginnings the radio had a series of different homes until the end of 1932, when it moved to the building on Vinohradska trida in Prague, where it is still housed today.

The Omnipresent Radio

The year 1925 saw one of fundamental changes for future radio broadcasting. In the first decade of radio, music broadcasting was based wholly on transmission of live music (from 1926 music played from gramophone records was part of broadcast music, but the only music transmitted in this way was popular music). At the beginning live production struggled with serious technical problems--the limited capacity of the first microphones meant it was impossible to record larger musical ensembles, and the conditions of the radio studios were hardly ideal. …

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