I spent a while this morning hunting for the full text of Brecht’s article about radio from 1932 – the one where he points out that’s there’s no technological reason why radio should be a mass medium rather than a peer-to-peer form of communication. While are most radios crippled so they can only receive and not also send? Not because of technological necessity, anyway. Brecht wrote:

[R]adio is one-sided when it should be two-. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out. 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. 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.

I’m a little disappointed, really, upon looking this up, that the original article isn’t longer than the measly two pages I found – why didn’t Brecht mention ham radio? Why couldn’t he have, oh, I don’t know, done some awesome brechtian theatrical intervention involving epic theatre and Verfremdungseffekt and peer-to-peer radio.

Imagine Lonelygirl15 with Verfremdungseffekt. What would Brecht, alive today, have done?

(Read below the fold if you want to follow my hunt in the library for the original source for Brecht’s essay. No more lonelygirl musings, unfortunately)

I found the text online pretty easily, with the title “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication”, but I wasn’t sure I had the full text. Finding the original – well, in translation to English as I don’t read German – was not so easy. Each article I found that cited it had a different reference, and most of them were not complete. Finally I found a reference to a similarly-titled article, “Radio as a Means of Communication: A Talk on the Function of Radio”, in the journal Screen 20 (3/4), pp 24-25, 1979. My library doesn’t have Screen that far back though, and it’s not available electronically, so I’ll have to wait to get a copy. Then, leafing through anthologies of Brecht’s writing I found it: “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication”, in Willett, John (ed.), Brecht on Theatre, New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. 51-53. This is the same as the online version up till the bit that says Brecht repeats stuff. It skips the three last paragraphs in that version, and instead includes the last two paragraphs in Walkerart’s version. And whereas the Walkerart version gives the original German source as [“Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat” in Bjitter des Hessischen Landestheaters Darmstadt, No. 16, July 1932] the book gives it as “Der Rundfunk als Kommunikationsapparat” in Bl‰tter des Hessischen Landestheaters, Darmstad, No. 16, July 1932. Which looks more correct.

Ah well. It’s that paragraph I cited above that’s most relevant to blogging and the internet, anyway, so no matter if I can’t find a strictly authoritative version.

3 thoughts on “brecht suggested radio should be peer-to-peer communication

  1. Christian Mogensen

    Two-way radio is better known as Ham Radio. Permission to transmit is licensed under international rules. Some of the basic networking protocols in use today have their origin in the Ham radio community. (The ALOHA radio protocol inspired Ethernet)

    The problem with allowing general public use of the airwaves has to do with limits: limited bandwidth, limited number of users per frequency without interference. Too many users talking at once will turn into mush – that’s why you need a lot of infrastructure to make it possible for thousands of people to use radios at once. You may know these modern 2-way radios as “mobile phones”.

  2. Jill

    Yes, I wondered why Brecht didn’t mention ham radio – I hadn’t really thought about the SCALE of it all, though. And I like the idea of thinking of mobile phones as today’s two-way radios!

  3. A Memorable Fancy » Radio

    […] Jill brings up Brecht‚Äôs idea that radio should be, as she says, peer-to-peer, rather than a mass medium, which brings up some reflections from me. […]

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