Bilingual broadcaster Wolfgang Kreuzer is the co-founder and a long-serving presenter of the German Language Program on Brisbane’s pioneering multilingual station, 4EB. Starting out at 4MBS, Wolfgang has been a cultural trailblazer in the community broadcasting sector for over 40 years. This is his story.
How did you start in community radio?
I always wanted to do radio, but when I came to Australia my English was okay, but with an accent. So when I approached the radio stations they turned me back: “Get rid of your accent first”. Besides studying theatre, I attended courses for radio at some stations in Brisbane and landed eventually a job as copywriter at one of them and appeared on commercials and in ABC radio plays.
So in 1977 when I heard of a multicultural radio station being formed, I did not hesitate to join and with another friend, Hans Streim, formed the German Language Group. It took two years to get members, to do test broadcasting and finally convince the political side and especially future listeners that it was a good idea.
There was a lot of planning involved, the financials and the equipment: microphones, turntables, music, desks and chairs etc. So many meetings to hold with only a few language groups first. You have to convey the idea of a multicultural radio station to many people first. And there was quite a lot of opposition (political) to that idea. So the launch in 1979 by Multicultural Minister Al Grassby was a very happy moment!
Forty years seems a long time, but you know the buzz is still there. It feels like yesterday.
What inspired you to become involved in the German program?
The inspiration came not in Australia, but from my youth in Germany, where I was listening late at night to Radio Luxembourg – a somewhat rogue radio station in the eyes of the radio establishment in Germany, because Luxembourg played, to our joy, mostly Rock ’n Roll and other contemporary music compared what Germany played then. When I was 16 I travelled to Luxembourg and met my hero Camillo Felgen who inspired me to be on radio one day.
It took a few more years to get the chance, as I decided to migrate to Australia in 1965. I got involved in amateur theatre and became one of the first announcers in 1978 at 4MBS (Classical & Jazz) in Brisbane. When the opportunity came to join Radio 4EB to build it up, I was an announcer speaking in English at 4MBS and at the same time working at 4EB doing test broadcasting.
Can you take us back to that very first moment on air, on December 1st, 1979?
As I mentioned before, the first moment on air was at 4MBS broadcasting in English and at Radio 4EB in German doing test broadcasting. I had also had experiences reading commercials reading and ABC plays.
But that did not take away from the very first moment, after two years struggle to open our multicultural radio station at Musgrave Park in Brisbane when we were finally broadcasting in our own languages to people in Brisbane and surrounding areas. We were then only on AM, but could be heard in many places – listeners rang us up to say that they could hear us. Everyone who had been involved in establishing the radio station was so happy. We had tents with food and articles from each country involved to mark the occasion with a festival feeling.
What did you hope the program might achieve for the local German community?
The local German community was very important in the establishment of the radio station and becoming members – that was our goal to get as many people interested in being part of it. And not just as a listener, but to participate in every way they could or be interested in some area. Not necessarily as announcers, but as volunteers in the office, or trying to get members.
Also, it was very important to remember there are other countries who speak German – so we got Austrians, Swiss and of course Australians who may have a German partner, learned German in school, or were just interested in studying the language and culture. It was hard to establish the number of German speaking persons in the greater Brisbane area and beyond, but according the then Hon. Consulate of Germany told us there was approximately 10,000 in Queensland. There were also the German clubs who we got involved in spreading the word, schools that teach German and many other organisations, including businesses who sold German goods or served food.
All in all, we wanted to share our music and culture with the rest of the Australian community and bring a bit of nostalgia for German speakers into their homes and lives.
How important has your partnership with German national broadcaster Deutsche Weller been to the success and sustainability of the German language program at 4EB?
Deutsche Welle became, and still is, a very important partner. As we struggled in the beginning to get music material, news and other stories to broadcast, Deutsche Welle agreed to send us cost-free tapes of all kinds of music and stories. In the following years we used their material regularly in five weekly programs. The partnership has stayed steady over the past 40+ years and we hope it goes a long time yet.
We got our music material from our own small collection, or from friends and family. In the early years we also got news from travel agencies through leftover German newspapers, which we gladly received.
How would you describe the contribution of your program and 4EB more broadly has made to greater understanding and tolerance in Australia?
Even after 40 years, we reinvent ourselves all the time, so we don’t get stagnant. We always make sure we keep the contribution fresh and exciting, knowing that the listener / member is more important than yourself: no listener – no you. Simple.
I firmly believe that the multicultural spirit of Radio 4EB is well established and has made greater understanding and tolerance in Australia especially when you look back to the beginning and what we have achieved now.
Radio 4EB, is for me, like the world should be. We all accept each other, no matter colour, race or religion. We always share our own experiences and just love to give our listeners that feeling too.
How has internet-streaming impacted on your program and your approach to the content you broadcast and publish?
The Internet is part of our program and it helps us to source more listeners worldwide. But we are also aware of the things we may say and do. Sometimes I personally think the Internet interferes too much in our world. Hopefully we don’t forget the listeners here in Australia are the paying customers for our programs – the world may be listening, but for gratis. So, we still should look after the locals and, in my mind, some presenters are more interested to have their photo on Facebook than being a broadcaster.
How did you maintained the German language program through the challenges of COVID and what did you learn from the experience?
Despite COVID-19, Radio 4EB was able to continue broadcasting our programs. We shut down the station for a couple of months, so just the office and technical staff were allowed to come into the station with strict health guidelines. Before that, there was enough time to either to pre-record some neutral programs for months ahead, or many started to build a home station and send in their programs to be slotted into the schedule. We also had the tech people giving courses before the shutdown on how to do programs at home and zoom courses which were streamed directly from Radio 4EB.
The German programs had no problems. I personally had many standby programs, having experienced past sickness, travel or other problems. I suggested that all our announcers to do the same. After we were allowed into the studio again, strict health regulations remained in place especially limiting the numbers of people in the small space and wiping all equipment after use, etc. All is well and hoping for a better 2021.
What have been your broadcasting highlights, both personally on-air and for the German language program more broadly?
There are many highlights, but they are still coming I hope, which is the exciting part of broadcasting.
In the earlier years of broadcasting, I was also involved with the Multicultural Program, where we broadcast in English. That gave me the opportunity to meet artists like Marcel Marceau, mime artist from France. We met at the airport and he was very interested in our radio – he talked more than he would on stage, very funny man! Then there was the King of Tonga. He did not fit in our studio (it was like a cupboard), so we interviewed him at the motel. He gave me heaps of time (he likes German people, his kids learned German songs). There were so many more: artists, politicians and even our own German listeners have incredible stories to tell.
The programs I produce range from older music to newest, and I also try to fit in the stories from Deutsche Welle. Of course, I am always on the lookout for some interviews to give the program a variety, tips for local events, where to go bushwalking or trips for visitors in Australia. Besides that, I still produce short radio plays with the help of my Deutsches Theatre Down Under ActArt production team which is now in its 34th year.
The catchphrase of the German program is “Hoer Zu Mach Mit” (Listen & Join In) – what is it about the program that you are most proud of?
The catchphrase Hoer Zu Mach Mit has been with us right from the beginning. It was suggested by one of our first announcers (Marianne Prell – now in her 39th year of broadcasting). This phrase must have appealed to many, as we had many past active members – some stopped for personal reasons, or passed away. We have two announcers who’ve been with us for 25 years and another for 39 years. The others at present range from four months to two years. Many start as students as a hobby, and many are more into radio as part of their life. That is the experience all over the radio station, with all the language groups. We always have good vibes with all the groups and people involved, be it the staff or the volunteers, members or announcers. So, our catchphrase can fit all the groups not just ours.
Join in the fun for another 40+ years? You bet 🙂
Know any community broadcasting trailblazers?
This story is part of a series of a in-depth interviews (scroll through our stories page to read others) with community broadcasting trailblazers and others who have made a lasting contribution to community media. If you’d like us to profile someone at your station, please get in touch.
Photos: (top) Wolfgang at 4EB, (middle) Wolfgang doing a test broadcast for 4EB in 1978.