Community radio – fulfilling a request from 1932

I ran into an interesting piece written by Bertolt Brecht in 1932, entitled “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication“. The piece critiques the innovation of radio and its limitations but also offers constructive suggestions for improvement.

…there was a moment when technology was advanced enough to produce the radio and society was not yet advanced enough to accept it. As for the radio’s object, I don’t think it can consist simply in prettifying public life. Nor is radio in my view an adequate means of bringing back cosiness to the home and making family life bearable again. But quite apart from the dubiousness of its functions, radio is one-sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. 

So right! Brecht calls radio for what it is. Or was. But still often remains. But how does he think it could be improved?

So here is a positive suggestion: change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him. 

Yes! Brecht is on to something here. This is starting to sound more and more like community radio to me.

On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers. Any attempt by the radio to give a truly public character to public occasions is a step in the right direction.

But hey – this is what community radio does! Engaging communities to become the suppliers of content, masters of their radio waves.

The slightest advance in this direction is bound to succeed far more spectacularly than any performance of a culinary kind. As for the technique that needs to be developed for all such operations, it must follow the prime objective of turning the audience not only into pupils but into teachers. It is the radio’s formal task to give these educational operations an interesting turn, i.e. to ensure that these interests interest people.

Once again, very much the core of community radio. Participation, ownership, empowerment of the listeners. As for the technique Brecht, we have mobile phones and social media.

This is an innovation, a suggestion that seems utopian and that I myself admit to be utopian.

No Brecht, you are not utopian. Your are just born a few decades early.



  1. Thanks Elias. I thought it was an interesting format to have this primary source about the potential of radio. Your short comments after Brecht’s longer passages allow the reader to partake in a sort of conversation between people in different times.
    I wonder if he foresaw any potential weaknesses or struggles for the future of radio in his “utopian” vision? Regarding point of view, finance, etc.

  2. Elias, this is a very interesting and creative post. It made me think about the digital divide we are facing now, once it was a radio divide 🙂