Working at Radio Berlin International 1988-90 with Steve Winkler. Episode 13

On Episode 13 of the Radio GDR Podcast, the world’s only English language podcast about East Germany, host Shane Whaley interviews Steve Winkler who worked at East Germany’s Radio Berlin International as a Line Producer/Studio Manager.

Steve Winkler talks to the East Germany Podcast
Steve Winkler tells us about his life working at East Germany’s Radio Berlin International
Radio Berlin International English Schedule.

Being an avid GDR stamp collector I wish I had listened to this Stamp Album program.

What was Radio Berlin International exactly?

Radio Berlin International (RBI) started in May 1959 to counter Deutsche Welle, the West German international broadcaster.

Much of its output was news reports and information about the GDR. It offered a state-sponsored view of life in East Germany. Radio Berlin International distributed large quantities of colorful and professionally produced publicity material about life in the GDR to its listeners.

Check out the links below where you can hear some RBI broadcasts including the final broadcast. Also, do listen to the BBC World Service documentary ‘Comrade Africa’ which tells the story of ‘how Communist East Germany tried to influence Africa via Radio during the Cold War.

Recording of RBI from 1981.

In an informal and wide-ranging discussion sitting at Steve Winkler’s kitchen table in East Berlin, they cover :

  • How Steve was initially rejected by radio station DT64 before he was hired at RBI.
  • Was he vetted for the role?
  • Whether he needed to be a SED party member to work at RBI.
  • What can he tell us about the other Western journalists who worked at Radio Berlin International?
  • Why Shane would like to interview former RBI hosts such as Robin Mitchell
  • Languages/countries covered by RBI.
  • What were some of Steve’s duties at Radio Berlin International?
  • Why so few people moved to Deutsche Welle after unification with Germany.
  • Whether he keeps in touch with former colleagues from RBI.
  • What Western music were they allowed to play and what kind of music was blacklisted.
  • Steve’s involvement in the Political Song Festival and how he got to know musicians such as Billy Bragg.
  • When did he visit the West for the first time
  • Why he did not support the SED regime.
  • How he wanted to see the GDR reformed and not unified with West Germany.
  • Whether he thinks the GDR could have been reformed by the ruling SED or was it too late for East Germans.

    And Much More!

More background on the demise of Radio Berlin International.

What follows is an extract of an article in Practical Wireless magazine published in 1990.

East Germany Podcast
East Germany Podcast

‘The main event on the international broadcasting scene during October was undoubtedly the changes to broadcasting in and from Germany following unification at midnight BST on October 2.

The final broadcast in English from Radio Berlin International went out at 2045GMT with Robin Mitchell, Head of RBIs English Service, presenting a closing monologue which seemed to grumble (legitimately,
perhaps) about the fact that rather than sharing the task of German international broadcasting, Deutsche Welle was simply absorbing its eastern counterpart.

The Director of RBI, Klaus Fischer, also presented his views on RBIs demise, saying that “in the past, it has not always been possible to respond…as openly and honestly as during the past few months”, referring presumably to the Communist propaganda which the station broadcast for the last forty years.

Radio Berlin International will be heard no more: on
October 3, RBI short wave frequencies carried a transmission from the church service at Marienkirche in Berlin commemorating the day of unity(broadcast simultaneously by domestic programmes and Deutsche Welle), followed by programmes from Deutsche Welle in

The medium wave transmitter on 1.359MHz used by Radio Berlin International for its European services now carries the programmes of Deutschlandfunk.

All the signals from transmitters in the former East German territory are a split second behind DW and DLF transmitters, indicating that they are fed not by landline, but by satellite.

Presumably, this is because telecommunications across the
now invisible inner -German frontier are still somewhat backward – even telephoning across the Berlin Wall proved highly problematic during the division of the country, and will doubtless take some time to catch up with the highly developed infrastructure of the West.’

Join our East Germany Facebook group to talk more about the GDR!
Join our East Germany Facebook group to talk more about the GDR!

Radio Berlin International Links and Resources Mentioned on Episode 13 of the Radio GDR podcast.

6 comments on “Working at Radio Berlin International 1988-90 with Steve Winkler. Episode 13

  1. Warum ist das hier alles auf Englisch? Englisch ist die Sprache des Feindes! 😁 Russisch, bitte! Die Aufnahme von RBI in Englisch für Europa und der Anstecker ist von mir. Ich habe in der DDR oft versucht meinen Heimatsender zu hören und auch Briefe geschrieben. Man war nicht so interessiert an Post aus dem eigenen Land. RBI ist eine schöne Erinnerung. 😍 Ja, Hindi war die 11. Sprache. Es gab auch zu bestimmten Zeiten Programme in Indonesisch, Griechisch, Tschechisch/Slowakisch und Polnisch. Unfortunately my English is very poor.

  2. Dewi Poole says:

    This brought many memories of listening to RBI in the 1960’s in particular and I also recorded its lasts broadcasts . In 1965 I was fortunate to win a competition on RBI which was a visit to the GDR : I stayed with several staff members and had a tour around the GDR with a member of RBI’s staff. A truly memorable experience !!
    I have many mementoes of RBI from that time



  4. Sue Briton-Jones says:

    What a fabulous interview. I love Radio GDR, I’m a GDR tragic. Thank you Shane Waley.

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