“Attention, attention! This is Dresden calling!”

 

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The MIRAG broadcasting studio in the Dresden MIRAG House at Beuststrasse 13
© Photo from: Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft RRG – DRA

 

“… and now we are going over to …”

“The Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk A.G. (central German radio company) had established a wider network of external radio stations than most German broadcasting companies. Their key motivation in this was making use of the highest quality performances and events in the various areas within their remit for the benefit of radio broadcasting.”
We can read about this in the July 1925 issue of the radio programme magazine “Die Mirag”, which reports that plans are afoot to establish an extensive studio network in the entire central German region in a short space of time.

We need first and foremost to keep in mind that at the birth of radio there was no highly developed sound studio technology nor any perception of scientifically-based acoustics. Even the term “studio” in today’s sense of the word was unknown; people spoke instead of a “transmission room” and of a “spoken-word room” or at most of a “recording room”. The technical equipment situated between the microphone and the transmitter did not occupy much space in those early days: indeed, in a retrospective dated 1929 they are referred to as “primitive”!

The pioneers were sure of one thing, however: the “spoken-word room” had to be fitted with some sort of sound proofing:
“Specially equipped rooms are used for radio recordings. The walls, ceiling and floor are all fitted with special panels. The walls are generously upholstered and there are thick curtains, while the feet of those providing entertainment for the listeners are positioned on a soft floor covering that is provided with practical numbering so that the musicians can find their appropriate places quickly,” according to a 1924 programme newspaper.

Today it is almost inconceivable that there are no sound recordings from those first five years of radio – everything was live (!) or else commercial records were played.
It is astounding how forward-looking those early radio pioneers were in the 1920s; the broadcasting model of a “three-state-wide transmission area” (that is, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) is still in place to this day at Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk.

 

The MIRAG ancillary broadcasting station in Dresden
by Tobias Knauf

“Of the broadcasting stations outside Leipzig, the one in Dresden deserves special mention. Even before the Dresden station was properly established, there was a sort of studio operating from the Hotel Reichspost …” according to the “Sächsische Funk” magazine in the October issue of 1924.
Only elderly Dresdeners who knew the Saxon capital before the fire storm of February 13, 1945 will now remember the Hotel Reichspost, the aerial spanned between the Kreuzkirche and the tower of the Rathaus, or the villa in Beuststrasse, where programmes were produced that brought MIRAG the reputation of a much acclaimed “concert broadcaster” among other German broadcasters in the days of the Weimar Republic.
Compared with MIRAG’s other regional studios, the Dresden station was to some extent an independent operation that for a while broadcast its own regional transmissions featuring all manner of programmes, employed its own personnel and had access to a wide circle of freelance staff .

 

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The MIRAG broadcasting studio in Dresden located in the Hotel Reichspost, 1924

 

Dresden goes on air

The first time that spoken-word or musical contributions recorded in Dresden were broadcast via the Leipzig transmitter was on October 26, 1924.
Two string quartets by Beethoven and Mozart played by the Dresden String Quartet comprising Gustav Fritzsche, Fritz Schneider, Hans Riphahn and Alexander Kropholler were performed “live” in an office of the central postal authority and transmitted via open lines to Leipzig.

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Hotel Reichspost was the location of MIRAG’s first sound studio in Dresden
© Photo from TRIANGEL magazine, issue 9/1998

In view of the provisional nature of the arrangements, MIRAG and the central postal authority in Dresden came to an agreement whereby the broadcasting facilities would be relocated to the former Hotel Reichspost at Grosse Zwingerstrasse 18.

To this end, a studio was set up in the lobby and foyer while amplifiers and control rooms were located on the ground floor along with a cloakroom and a waiting room. The management was accommodated on the first floor.

That was the prerequisite that provided Dresden artists with the opportunity to be heard in their home city on the radio.
In addition we have permanent studio facilities in the opera house and the Gewerbehaus venue,” writes Delvendahl.

By employing the architect Eugen Emil Horath, MIRAG won the talents of a man who would in future be wholly responsible for programme planning, announcements and management of the Dresden station as well as for all structural and artistic decoration for the entire broadcasting company. As a result, Horath was able to use his experience of Leipzig when fitting out the Dresden broadcasting house.

 

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The management team at the Dresden station:
Director E. E. Horath – Head of Culture Dr. Ernst Latzko – Announcer Horst von Tschirschnitz – Literary Director Kurt Arnold Findeisen

 

The Dresden broadcasting company

By the beginning of 1925 a technical infrastructure was in place in Dresden which enabled independent programme transmission, though not to the same extent as in Leipzig.
The commencement of transmission on February 22, 1925 marked the end of the first development phase of popular radio in Dresden. At that time, a total of 10,781 fee-paying listeners were registered in the postal district of Dresden, while just four weeks later the number had risen to 23,872.

In the ensuing months the staff of the broadcasting company management was expanded. In addition to Horath as Head of Broadcasting the author Kurt Arnold Findeisen was engaged as Literary Director, Theodor Blumer as Head of Music and Carl Blumau as Head of Drama.

Every week at least one member of the Dresden staff travelled to Leipzig in order to discuss programme planning with the management team there.
In the first two years the secondary station in Dresden transmitted its own programmes once or twice a week.
Usually on Tuesday afternoons the broadcaster would transmit one concert from Leipzig and one from Dresden throughout the Central German region.
The two half-hourly evening talks were transmitted on the same day from Dresden to the Leipzig station.

The most popular programmes from Dresden included opera and operetta, chamber music and Singspiele.
In the sphere of spoken word, Dresden made a name for itself first and foremost with contributions about traditions in the neighbouring regions, such as the Lausitz, eastern Saxony, Bohemia and the Vogtland, as well as through lectures about hygiene and legal knowledge. The scope sounds remarkable, though over the entire period spanning 1924 to 1932, it was Leipzig that contributed the lion’s share of programming.

With the expansion of the regional studio and the increased use of mobile transmission technology, and following a change of management in Leipzig (Ludwig Neubeck was appointed in 1929, followed by a restructuring of departments), Dresden’s share of programme input was diminished by degrees. Some of the first permanent freelance staff included the Dresden String Quartet, music director Schmidtgen, the tenor Robert Bröll, the baritone Karl Zinnert and the sopranos Wanda Schnitzing and Helga Petri as well as as the authors Ottomar Enking and Heinrich Zerkaulen.

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The Dresden Radio in-house orchestra after a rehearsal in front of the entrance to the studio at Grosse Zwingerstrasse 18.
Gustav Agunte (seated right) was the orchestral director
© Photo from TRIANGEL magazine, issue 9/1998

In the late spring of 1925 the management in Dresden decided, along the lines of the Leipzig model, to build up a permanent small orchestra under the direction of the violinist Gustav Agunte.
According to statistics most of their performances were of popular music for the midday and afternoon concerts. When chamber operas, operettas and Singspiele were on the programme, the orchestra was augmented by members of the Dresden String Quartet and freelance musicians.

 

Revolting singers

At the outset, the Dresden broadcasters had problems in engaging well known artists to be involved in the radio programmes:
There was a clear reluctance to engage with new technology and then there was the question of fees. The “stars” initially refused to have anything to do with the new venture – for artistic reasons.
The artistic director applied for a budget allocation so as not to endanger the planned programme schedule. And so it was agreed that fees would not be below the rate of 150 Reichsmark, the minimum fee for a State Opera soloist. That said, the problem was soon solved once the second-rank soloists started offering their services at much lower rates.

 

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The new MIRAG radio building at Beuststrasse 13 in Dresden © Foto in TRIANGEL 9/1998 – DRA

 

The new Dresden MIRAG-Building

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Studio in the Dresden MIRAG House
Supplement from the Dresdner Anzeiger newspaper of July 28, 1929
© Photo from TRIANGEL magazine, issue 9/1998 – Archiv Schütze, Dresden

In January 1926 the Reich Postal Authority claimed that the business rooms in the former Reichspost hotel were needed for postal business, so that the radio station was obliged to look for alternative office space.
The company considered buying a piece of land in a quiet location since rental rates in the city centre were simply too high.

After a long search they found a suitable plot in Beuststrasse, now Mary-Wigman-Strasse.
The location was perfect: a neighbourhood of villas, just a few minutes’ walk from the main railway station, with no fewer than three tram routes almost passing the door offered ideal access for artists.
And so five offices were initially rented on the first floor of the villa built in 1869 by Count Beust with a first refusal option if the property were sold.

In May 1926 the MIRAG management came to an arrangement with the owner so that Eugen Horath could live in the ground-floor rooms and in December 1927 the MIRAG supervisory board gave its consent for the purchase of the property.

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Artists’ recreation room in the Dresden MIRAG building from a supplement in the Dresdner Anzeiger newspaper of July 28, 1929
© Photo from TRIANGEL 9/1998 – Schütze Archives, Dresden

The move initially meant a decentralization of radio operations: the administration and transmission management were located in Beuststrasse and the studios and control rooms in the postal authority building near Postplatz, while the aerial system was spanned from the Kreuzkirche across to the tower of the new New Rathaus (town hall).

In 1927 discussions took place about how to extend the two-storey building in Beuststrasse into a transmitting station. However, the conversion plans had to be shelved for a time due to a dispute with the neighbours and the municipal authorities.

It seems that ultimately Horath did reluctantly accede to the requirements of the building inspectorate and adapt the exterior of the building to the Renaissance style of the neighbourhood by applying bossage and pilaster strips to the plaster rendering.

The focus of the alterations was the former annexe: offices were established on the ground floor, together with a lounge for the orchestra and a rehearsal room, plus a garage and technical plant rooms. On the upper floor where the the workshops had been located, the large transmission room was installed, together with the small speaker’s transmission room, a control room and an artists’ lounge and the amplification room.

The showpiece of the station was the main studio. With an overall floor area of nearly 130 sq. m. the 6-metre-high room gave an optimum length-to-breadth ratio of 16:8 metres. Eight high windows provided ample daylight, even into the evening. After several experiments, it was decided that the best possible acoustics could be achieved by laying bouclé carpet on both the floor and the far wall in front of the recording space, while one of the longer walls was covered in renewable, sound-deadening fabric, all brought to perfection by Horath’s inclusion of a tent-like structure (known as a “Schäffer’sche Zelt”) to absorb reverberations.

Next to the main studio there was an artists’ lounge, while the adjoining speaker’s transmission room was a mere 10 sq.m. The Leipzig station’s entire programme could be transmitted from all of the studios, including the large rehearsal room that was sometimes used as transmission room II. A total of twelve microphones was available, eight of them in the main studio.

 

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The main studio of the Dresden broadcasting house
© Photo: from TRIANGEL 9/1998 – DRA

 

The end of the Dresden ancillary station

MIRAG-Dresden_Sprecher_und_Regieplatz-for-webDownsizing of the Dresden station’s programme output began in 1929 when the contract with the Agunte big band was terminated. Some months before, on September 17, 1928, Dr. Erwin Jaeger announced at a meeting of the Cultural Committee that the orchestra was to be disbanded in the winter months. At the same time, Jaeger assured the committee that this did not mean the loss of such music from the Dresden station, just that there would be less of it, but that listeners would enjoy better quality music. At the same meeting the chairman of the Arbeiter-Radio-Bundes Dresden (a socialist club of radio enthusiasts), Alfred Althus, warned against disbanding the ensemble, but was told by the commercial manager of MIRAG, Fritz Kohl, that the sort of music the Dresden station had been broadcasting was no more than “coffee house music”.

In the following year the headcount at the Dresden station was cut for economic reasons and the remaining staff were given other responsibilities. The Literary Director Kurt Arnold Findeisen, for example, was given the task of supervising educational broadcasts. In effect, that meant the closure of the Literary department. The writing was on the wall for the ancillary station in Dresden when the Musical Director Alfred Szendreis was dismissed on politically motivated grounds in 1933. His successor Theodor Blumer was promoted to the post of Musical Director at MIRAG in Leipzig. → MORE

Tobias Knauf
Beitrag für TRIANGEL 9/1998

Weiterführende Themen

Music transmissions by the ancillary station in Dresden · 1924 bis 1933
Recherchen des MDR-Chefproduzenten Steffen Lieberwirth

Originaldokumente und weitere zeitgenössische Fotografien zum MIRAG-Nebensender 1924/25


Die Sendergeschichte nach 1945

Der Landessender Dresden wird wiederbegründet · 1945
Erinnerungen des damaligen MDR-Kulturchefs Ulli Böhme
und des MDR-Toningenieurs Gerhard Steinke

Das neue Funkhaus im Hygienemuseum · 1946
Erinnerungen des damaligen MDR-Reporters Johannes Lieberwirth
und des damaligen MDR-Toningenieurs Gerhard Steinke