The Central German Broadcasting Corporation (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, or MDR) was born of the German reunification. After reunification it came back to life where the former Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk AG (Central German Broadcasting Ltd, or “Mirag”), started operations in Leipzig back in 1924. However, as a “tri-state” broadcasting station, the new MDR was regionally based right form the start, with state broadcasting studios in each state capital in its broadcasting areas: Dresden, Magdeburg and Erfurt. On 27 April 1992, a few weeks after MDR had begun transmission, the broadcasting council also decided that radio, along with its main programmes, should move from Leipzig to Halle.
Even at that time Halle had a broadcasting tradition of its own. In the 1920s the Mirag had its own “Besprechungsstelle”, as the studios without their own broadcasting facilities were called. This “Besprechungsstelle” was located in the sales rooms of the piano factory C. Rich. Ritter in the old town hall building in the market square right in the centre of the city.
After the end of World War II, Halle became the headquarters of the state broadcasting station for Saxony-Anhalt at the orders of the Soviet military administration. The former villa of the Gimritz estate on the Peißnitz river served as the state’s first broadcasting studio and trial broadcasts were started there in December 1946. In 1964 radio broadcasting services were downgraded to a district broadcasting studio in Halle in the Waisenhausring Street, where the Halle studios of the former East German television were based until the reunification and where the young peoples’ radio station MDR Sputnik took up occupancy in 1993.
The foundation stone of the new MDR broadcasting headquarters was laid at the so-called “Spitze” in 1996 and the building was inaugurated on 25 September 1999. In its anniversary year, 2009, MDR radio services has been in Halle for exactly ten years.
While Leipzig became MDR’s television city, Halle is its radio city to day.
Radio’s move was one of the conditions laid down by the Saxony-Anhalt state government for developing Halle into a media location.
Today the city has a clear profile. Halle is the city of sound and radio, where some of the highest-quality post-production work for Hollywood is carried out.
Expectations of MDR and the incentive effect of the radio studios, in which the main MDR radio programmes are produced, are correspondingly high. For example, Saxony-Anhalt’s 2006 cultural report repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the station’s location for the entire media sector, but at the same time bemoans the “lack of synergies with other sections of Halle’s media sector”.
This is hardly surprising, since the importance of the location of the old analogue VHF radio should not be overestimated. In contrast to television, which is much influenced by external productions, radio programmes continue to be produced mainly in-house by their own editorial teams, sound and broadcasting engineers and studio technology. Only some of the transmission technology has been outsourced or is provided by external firms.
Cooperative agreements with other sectors of the media industry do not, therefore, determine radio’s routine operations.
This may change in future, however. Even today, MDR radio services cooperate in digital developments with partners in Halle. The communications platforms of Sputnik and Jump, which were developed through close cooperation with computer scientists at the University of Halle, are state-of-the-art in the ARD, Germany’s primary public television station.
But the actual significance of the MDR for Saxony-Anhalt lies in the fact that Magdeburg and Halle have become locations of a major national media outlet and thereby part of a major European broadcasting alliance.
MDR produces five main full programmes in Halle today, serving such groups as young people, news/current affairs and culture. The young peoples’ culturally oriented radio station Sputnik and the pop-wave Jump form the station’s bridge to younger target groups.
MDR Info means regional and national news competence and its own sovereignty in reporting interpretation. The cultural radio station, MDR Figaro, regards itself as a medium for central Germany’s cultural facilities and as an advocate of an unusually rich cultural heritage. Its aim is to lend central Germany’s cultural landscape a national face and voice that corresponds to its genuine public task. The DAB (digital audio broadcast) pilot programme MDR Klassik is devoted not least to the unique musical tradition of Central Germany.
All central radio stations have a federal programming mandate. MDR1-Radio Sachsen-Anhalt, in particular, fulfils its role as a state radio broadcasting corporation by producing programmes in the state broadcasting studios in Magdeburg but also in a regional studio in Halle.
The location’s obligation to public broadcasting becomes particularly apparent in the area of culture. MDR is not only a “broker of culture”, but organizes cultural programmes as well. Today it must also be able to perform this role in the digital world of the internet.
Besides public broadcasting, Halle is also the headquarters of four commercial radio stations such as 89.0 RTL, Radio Brocken, the regional studio of Radio SAW and the local station Radio Corax. With a total of ten radio stations, Halle is the undisputed radio location in Central Germany.
The state government has not only located Saxony-Anhalt’s state media centre in Halle but also the Multi-Media Centre (MMZ) – another unique funded project for young start-up companies in the media and creative industries.
The public subsidizing of clusters in the creative industry, all grouped in Halle, the presence of special institutions such as the MMZ, the Halle Academy or the Burg Giebichenstein College of Design, high-impact events such as the Händel Festivals and the new film music festival, or the relocation of software and web-design firms, all create potential and an environment which can proudly take its place with the best in the world.
This variety of services also conceals a disadvantage when compared to other media locations linked with a single theme, such as Erfurt with its childrens’ channel. Halle’s variety may not always have been good for its image in the past, but in an age of digitization and media convergence, it can indeed become a location advantage. The “radio city” of Halle might become a media location with a lead in its development of several years over other locations to the same extent to which borders in the media world become blurrier and typical radio has to compete with the internet.
Halle has also already succeeded in exchanging its decade-old reputation as a chemical workers’ city for a new image as a city of culture, putting Halle on a similar level as cities such as Weimar, Dresden or Dessau, and making it increasingly attractive for creative elites and representatives of media occupations. Its future as a media location will depend to a crucial extent on whether Halle can bind these creative elites to it over the long term and offer them an adequate working and living environment.
The author, who was born in 1955, has been radio director of MDR since 2006. After completing a degree in German, history and ethnology, he worked inter alia as head of the television department at the MDR studios in Thuringia. After having worked in Germany’s television station ZDF, he was appointed head of domestic politics at DIE WELT newspaper, where he later worked as deputy chief editor from 2000.