Music and literature on the radio: savings culture in broadcasting

When public broadcasters reform their programming, it is increasingly at the expense of classical cultural programs.

Listening to the radio and learning about contemporary culture? Not so easy anymore Photo: Hubert Starke/Westend61/iamgo

"Music from all genres and away from the mainstream" is the brand promise of "Nachtclub" on Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR). Stefan Gerdes, the editor in charge, says, "What we’re doing there is a bit of auteur cinema, and that’s exactly what we want to keep it." But auteur cinema has seen better times in terms of attention economy, and that can now also be said about "Nachtclub." Since the beginning of the year, it’s been running mainly online at NDR Blue – and no longer linearly in NDR Info’s late-night program. That has disadvantages: The name "NDR Blue" is off-puttingly familiar, the level of awareness is modest, and it’s hard to discern a concept. In addition, the special programs now run less frequently than at NDR Info.

The poorer general conditions for "Nachtclub" have to do with two trends. Spiegel Online noted back in 2016 that "slots for author music radio" had "become rare. The reason at the time: At the WDR program "Funkhaus Europa" (today: "Cosmo"), 17 music journalistic programs disappeared in one fell swoop.

Recently, Radio Eins (RBB) ended the program "Roots," in which journalist Wolfgang Doebeling presented original varieties of popular music in a unique way. In the forum of Rolling Stone magazine, Doebeling spoke of an "involuntary retirement".

Classical culture, too, always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to public service reforms: In September, RBB Kultur canceled a whole bunch of magazine shows. WDR is currently trying with all its might to transform its cultural radio station WDR 3 into a program that tends to appeal to everyone, but just not to the culturally interested cultural radio target group.

"Outdated understanding of culture"

There are two reasons for the changes at "Nachtclub." Since the beginning of the year, "ARD-Infonacht," whose production NDR took over from MDR, has been running in the old slot at NDR Info. And NDR wants to save 300 million euros within four years. One freelancer praises the "Nachtclub" editorial team for making an effort to evenly distribute the fee losses among presenters – in some cases more than 50 percent.

After all, Norbert Grundei, head of "audio strategy" at NDR, announced a "new nightclub format with a focus on German music" for March. At N-Joy, the wave for the younger set.

Soon to be no longer with "Nachtclub" is Ruben Jonas Schnell, his framework contract expires. He concentrates on the online radio station he founded, Byte FM, where "Nachtclub"-type music is broadcast 24 hours a day. He criticizes the NDR for an "outdated understanding of culture". Classical music and jazz are placed above what is presented on "Nachtclub": "Hip hop, techno, rock, indie, R’n’B, outernational – that’s more culturally relevant than most classical music and even most jazz," Schnell says. "Music journalism à la ‘Nachtclub’ would deserve a prominent slot on NDR Kultur."

NDR strategist Grundei comments that NDR Kultur has evolved in recent years "with great openness to an expanded concept of culture." At the moment, the "very committed new management team is in the process of setting up the program for the future. It’s conceivable that "Nachtclub" offerings could also make an appearance there.

Some people appreciate "Nachtclub" but shrug their shoulders at the changes: music journalism is out of date, no one needs to be made aware of new music because of Spotify. Ruben Jonas Schnell thinks the opposite is true. "Precisely because so much music is accessible at all times as never before, classification is important – at least for those who don’t want to rely on an algorithm."

Transparency note: The taz cooperates with Byte FM on the program taz.Mixtape.