The monograph under review aims to be a comprehensive study of the medium of radio as a performative stage for debates and discussions surrounding the construction of adolescence and ‘youth’ as key markers of post-war societies in Germany and Britain. Christoph Hilgert sets out to embrace this topic on a multitude of analytical levels, ranging from a reconstruction of the role of the radio medium for post-war societies and the development of age-specific programming to the discourses of ‘youth’ evident in broadcasts and the involvement of the younger generation themselves in programmes which often treated youth as an object of comment and inquiry rather than as an active participant. The focus for comparison mainly rests on the north-western and south-western German radio broadcasters on the one hand, and on the other the diverse networks of the BBC, which had been adopted as a model for the reconstruction of radio broadcasting in West Germany after 1945. An extensive and solid introduction to method and historiography is followed by a systematic survey of the medium, its institutional and programming structures and the search for youth-specific formats in both countries. This takes up almost half of the book and presents the reader with a thorough analysis of the difficulties of producing radio programmes about, and for, the younger generation after 1945. Few models had survived the war, programming often missed its focus and formats remained experimental and unstable, while the pedagogic impetus tended to come into conflict with new youth cultures that developed out of transatlantic inspirations. Producers in both countries struggled to connect with an audience that appeared in flux and showed little interest in educated elites pontificating about morals and higher values (even when younger intellectuals such as Dahrendorf and Enzensberger made their voices heard), and the social stratification of post-war societies seems to have prevented a more comprehensive approach of the medium towards its younger audiences. This part of the study provides wide-ranging and detailed insights into the technical, institutional and political aspects of radio production for the younger generation, although the author does not really mobilise its potential for a study of the construction of ‘youth’ which is evident in many of the materials he is using. It would have been more fruitful to use the technical details and institutional restrictions as an indication of what ‘youth’ represented in the minds of those involved with governing and producing the medium—evidently a largely unknown quantity and continuously mysterious part of post-war societies that did not fit easily into the established practices of public broadcasting. The second half of the book is dedicated to the contents of radio broadcasts that related, either directly or indirectly, to the younger generation and its discursive representation by means of radio broadcasts. Hilgert presents a four-stage model for the development of such discourses: a first phase, during the immediate post-war years, which presented the children of the war as fundamentally threatened and endangered by the material and spiritual consequences of the conflict; a second period, between the late 1940s and mid-’50s, which saw ‘youth’ as a necessary resource for economic reconstruction and the fortification of post-war democracy in the West; the sudden ‘moral panic’ of the second half of the 1950s, which centred on the advent of rebellious lifestyles in the form of the ‘Teddy Boys’ and ‘Halbstarken’ which appeared to undermine all standards of middle-class respectability; and, finally, the early 1960s, when discourses of ‘youth’ tended to emphasise a more pragmatic and positive perspective on the younger generation, allowing for a more differentiated and less paranoid appreciation of ‘youth’ as a developmental phase in its own right. Almost invariably, these debates paid very little attention to issues of gender and politics, although such themes could appear in limited form and seemed to confirm the impression that post-war radio tried to transport and defend the integrity of inter-war social and political norms. None of these observations, however, are strictly speaking new. Hilgert’s study of post-war discourses of ‘youth’ reiterates and confirms the received wisdom of the field, and the conclusion does not expand the scope of his reflections or connect to the larger themes of post-war social and cultural history and how it may benefit from his results. Other limitations of the study, however, appear more fundamental: the author himself points towards significant difficulties with the availability of primary sources for a study of post-war broadcasting practice, particularly in the British case. Radio archives may have preserved institutional materials, strategic debates and occasionally scripts, but the actual ‘sound’ of the post-war years remains difficult to establish from written sources alone, since recordings almost never survived. The author does his best to establish the soundscape of youth programmes and can point to some irritations they caused among listeners, but especially the second half of the study leaves the reader wondering what added value a study of familiar post-war discourses of ‘youth’ has to offer, if the medium at its centre remains largely ‘unheard’. A second problem arises from the rather uneven construction of the comparison: Hilgert struggles to establish the British story as a viable comparative case for his thorough and detailed work with the German sources. Too often, the reader is confronted with chapters that analyse in detail the situation of the German stations NWDR (NDR/WDR), SDR and SWF, while little more than a paragraph is dedicated to the BBC. Significant differences between the two national perspectives remain vague and scarcely supported by evidence. And, finally, the periodisation produces an unfortunate detachment from some of the larger questions of post-war history that should have been addressed: the spectacular re-definition and politicisation of ‘youth’ towards the end of the 1960s presents an interesting (though well-known) contrast with Hilgert’s identification of a more objective (or ‘sachlich’) approach to youth-specific topics around 1963. Media criticism lay at the heart of the youth revolt of the late 1960s, and it is plausible that Hilgert’s findings represent one of the major motivations towards revolt among those who experienced their childhood and youth during the preceding decades. © Oxford University Press 2017. All rights reserved.
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 21, 2017
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