Introduction of “Guest Worker Programs” on German Radio

1961 — 1964


Identity & Belonging Media & Culture

In the mid-1960s, migrant workers living in West Germany are for the first time able to buy newspapers from their home countries at train station newsstands. The first multilingual radio programming for migrants is already available in 1961.

In October 1961, the Southern German Broadcasting Corporation (SDR) transmitted the first program for Italian migrant laborers in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Saarland (SR), Bavarian (BR), and West German (WDR) broadcasting corporations followed suit with their own so-called “guest worker programs”, until this programming was bundled by the ARD national broadcasting service in 1964. The purpose of such programming, according to the ARD, was to assist migrants in orienting themselves in the FRG and in preserving their respective national identities.

Not only Italian, but also Greek, Spanish, and Turkish programs were being broadcast by 1964. The first Turkish radio program was produced by the WDR and aired for the first time under the name Köln Radyosu on May 21, 1964. At the beginning of the 1970s, the existing programming was expanded to include an offering in Serbo-Croatian. The programs would air evenings in sequence and would provide their listeners with information, news and music from their countries of origin, as well as from the FRG and the rest of the world.

One of the main reasons for the production of “guest worker programs” was the large number of migrant workers living in the FRG in the 1960s and early 1970s. Another key motive, however, was the pressure being exerted on public broadcasters by West German industry. They wanted to see “Eastern bloc” radio programming (e.g. Radio Budapest, Radio Prague, or East German public broadcasters), which was also being broadcast in the languages of migrants living in the FRG, countered by Western German offerings.

The radio broadcasts were followed in the 1970s by television shows, purchased from the home countries of the four largest migrant groups and broadcast weekly with titles such as Cordialmente dall‘Italia, AquiEspna , Jugoslawijo, dobardan, and Türkiyemektubu. With the introduction of VHS in the early 1980s, a growing market for films from the home countries was established. As cable television was introduced in 1984, with the Turkish broadcaster TRT-INT included in the program, and as it became possible to receive further Turkish programming via satellite, the once limited range of media available to migrants in West Germany was broadened.