We call the night watchman: tonight it is even darker
–Unknown radio operator, East Berlin, August 17, 1956
In the midst of the Cold War, a man’s voice filtered through the radio in West Germany, on the medium-wave frequency 904 khz: “Here is the German Freedom Transmitter 904. We transmit for Italian, Spanish, Greek and Turkish workers of the Federal Republic, in their native languages.”
Earlier that day, the Federal Constitutional Court had banned the Communist Party of Germany, forcing East Germany to subtler means of propaganda. The German Freedom Transmitter 904 was born as a weapon of the Cold War. At night, amidst interference and signal drops, the operator´s voice could be picked up with some difficulty: the radio was hidden in “a cellar of a West German city” and “had to transmit under the most difficult conditions.”
A secret diaspora radio, with bad reception, an untrained operator and an apologetic, urgent tone, it was a mystery bordering on conspiracy. Its Western-hits-cum-propaganda programming was interrupted by buzzing sounds, perhaps “federal attempts at jamming the signal” of the only station free from governmental control in West Germany.
In September 1956, after a month of activity, the German Freedom Transmitter 904 moved to a new location, the first of three times it would do so in fifteen years of transmission. As posters begun appearing in West Germany warning of the “fake news” it spread, the obscure aura of the station had to be increasingly crafted by means of stylistic devices, such as coded messages intended for undercover Stasi members in the West: “Attention, Attention! We call the crocodile. Grinding teeth!”
In September 2018, 52 years after their abandonment, the Network Ensemble visited the original radio headquarters. Using the NEX, a machine able to capture airborne signals from the networks surrounding it and translate them into sonic signals, a sound stream was transmitted to London Design Festival to be further tweaked in front of an audience.