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“Sounds like…”: Sounds from the Past and Historical Communications Processes

“Sounds like…”: Sounds from the Past and Historical Communications Processes

This project involves sound history and particularly radio production, radio programmes and the way they used to be received in the past. Our focus is on “sounds from the past” as a part of historical communications processes, as these have been increasingly attracting attention among researchers towards contemporary history under the heading “hearing the past” (Thomas Lindenberger). They work with an archaeological model for investigating sound, which understands sound constructions, as produced and broadcast by radio, as a technological mass medium based on apparatus, as well as sounds perceived and adopted by a contemporary audience. Here, we are particularly investigating how media fosters the formation of communities, or in other words, the processes for forming identity.
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Project Description

The “Research Centre Media History” is active in the field of Sound History – the role of sounds in historical communications processes.  It has thereby developed an archaeological model for investigating sound, which understands sounds constructions, as produced and broadcasted by radio as a technological mass medium based on apparatus, as well as sounds perceived and adopted by a contemporary audience. The Research Centre focuses on mediated processes of identity and community building (also see “Collective Identities: Discourses in Hamburg and Leipzig 1919-1975 on Identity as Related to Localities”).
Sound of the Century
The Research Centre Media History was part of the large-scale multimedia project, “Der Sound des Jahrhunderts. Geräusche, Töne, Stimmen. 1889 bis heute” [The Sound of the Century: Noise, Sounds and Voices. 1989 to Today], conducted by Gerhard Paul and Ralph Schock. Die Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [The Federal Agency for Civic Education] has published a book of over 600 pages along with a DVD. For the purposes of this publication, Hans-Ulrich Wagner provided articles on the history of the “microphone professions”, of radio signals and radio messages, as well as of the sound of radio plays. Two of these articles –  “Radiomeldungen. Von Seewetterberichten, Suchmeldungen und Verkehrsnachrichten” [Radio Reports: About Sea Weather Forecasts, Missing Persons Announcements and Traffic News], as well as “Geschichte der Radiosignale” [History of Radio Signals] – have been aired as essays on the radio in the series “90 Jahre Rundfunk in Deutschland” [90 years of Broadcasting in Germany].

The Research Network: Radio Aesthetics – Radio Identities
The Research Centre Media History was co-founder of the research network “Radio Aesthetics – Radio Identities”. Between 2010 and 2015, the interdisciplinary and international research network focused on the manifestations of radio aesthetics, with their communicative roles, as well as the processes by which the acoustic medium is taken up currently, historically and through multicultural comparisons. In this context, Hans-Ulrich Wagner worked on the topic, “Sounds like the Sixties…”.
Sounds like the Sixties
Radio stations have a “sound”; they act with a certain aesthetic appearance that, on the other hand, is perceived by the audience. Even early on, programme makers were already working hard to reach their audiences – not only through their content, but also through the way their sound performed. “Analyzing Radio Sound? Sure! But how?” asked Carin Åberg in her work “The Sounds of Radio: On Radio as an Auditive Means of Communication” in 1999. We took up the questions based on the debate on methodology influenced by her. Using the 1960s as the period for investigation is especially interesting because this decade is defined in many respects as a period of change; and because radio, as a medium based on programmes, underwent a fundamental change during this time and lost its position as a leading medium. The leading questions were: what sound aesthetics were created in order to make it more appealing to listeners? What norms of linguistic and vocal expressions formed the basis for the production and use of entertainment and cultural programmes, of news and youth programmes?  In short, how did the mediatised voices of the producers of radio in the Federal Republic of Germany change with regard to their contact with listeners?

Project Information


Duration: 2011-2015

Research programme:
RP3 - Knowledge for the Media Society

Involved persons

Dr. Hans-Ulrich Wagner

Third party

Cooperation Partner

Prof. Dr. Ines Bose und Jun.-Prof. Dr. Golo Föllmer, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle a.d.S.

Contact person

Dr. Hans-Ulrich Wagner
Senior Researcher Media History

Dr. Hans-Ulrich Wagner

Forschungsstelle Mediengeschichte
Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

Tel. +49 (0)40 45 02 17-0

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