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Culture

Beat-Club: when TV and music revolutionized German youth

September marks 49 years since the TV pop show Beat-Club was first aired across West Germany. It became an institution that was said to help instil the revolutionary mindset in the student movement of the 1960s.

Germany, September 1965. Ludwig Erhard was chancellor of West Germany, the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt had come to an end and Germany's youth was looking for answers. In the beginnings of what would later become known as the student movement, a world-wide uprising of anti-authoritarianism, Germany's youth began their wave of changes through fashion, film, and music. This September marks the 49th anniversary of the first broadcast of a German music institution: Beat Club.

Every generation has a genre of music to define it: the 1920s swing scene, the punks of the 70s, the New Romantics pushing gender boundaries in the 1980s. Beat-Club premiered for the first time in September 1965, broadcast from studios in Bremen to living rooms across West Germany on a Sunday afternoon - a time normally suited to Germany's sedate coffee and cake ritual. It ended up launching music into the mainstream that would inspire a generation into calling for revolution.

"[Music] was an active field of engagement in which young West Germans connected themselves to a world outside West Germany," wrote Timothy Bown in "West Germany in the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978." "[It] became a site for key imperatives at the heart of the anti-authoritarian revolt."

'By young people, for young people'

"Good afternoon, dear Beat-friends!" announcer Wilhelm Wiegen told viewers. "The time has finally come. In just a few seconds, the first German television show made just for you will begin. For those of you, ladies and gentlemen, who aren't so fond of beat music, we ask for your understanding - this is a live show made by young people, for young people. Let's go!"

Uschi Nerke

Uschi Nerke presented Beat-Club from 1965-1972 - and still does on the radio

In a period of endless circuits of sentimental German heartlands - "Heimatfilme" - and quiz shows (a genre that remains close to the hearts of German TV viewers today), club DJ Gerhard Augustin and Radio Bremen editor Mike Leckebusch revolutionized German television with the first ever live music show. Presented by young architecture student Uschi Nerke, Beat-Club was Germany's answer to Britain's "Top of the Pops" - folk music was out. This was rock 'n' roll.

Music legends

During its seven-year run of 83 episodes, Beat-Club played host to some of the biggest legends of 60s music. The Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, and the Doors, as well as the Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin were just some of the names to invade German television sets.

Not to everyone's taste, Beat-Club received its fair share of complaint letters, predominantly from older viewers, ridiculing the shows credibility. "Beat-Club has managed to get singing apes on the goggle box," one complainant wrote. "How much was the fee? Were they paid in bananas or peanuts?"

But Beat-Club kept the youth on its side, pulling in 70 million viewers from approximately 30 countries - from Hungary and Finland to as far as Thailand and Tanzania. At its peak, 63 percent of Germany's under-30s were regularly tuning in to the music show.

These were the beginnings of the youth that would become the Studentenbewegung ("student movement"), also known as the 68ers. With hits such as The Who's "My Generation" and the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," Beat-Club gave its "Beat-friends" the motivation to stand up and fight back against an out-dated generation. It was a soundtrack for a new life.

The institution lives on

The Who

British band The Who performed on Beat-Club in 1968

In 1969, shortly after making the change to color television - perfect for psychedelic effects - Beat-Club began to leave behind its pop and beat-music roots in favor of progressive music and jazz-rock bands such as Santana and Deep Purple. The move left behind Beat-Club's loyal mainstream audience, which brought the show to an end in 1972, leaving the door open for bigger international concepts such as MTV, which arrived on the scene less than a decade later in 1981.

In today's somewhat dismal era of what might be considered disposable music, it remains to be seen whether the current stars will stand the test of time the same way as the old Beat-Club guests. With new music immediately available, faster than ever before, and 24-hour music channels, there's little room for shows such as Beat-Club and Top of the Pops. Many, however, consider it a shame to have lost the excitement surrounding the first-time airing of a new song on popular TV shows, that everyone watched at the same time.

For loyal fans and new listeners of the pop scene, however, the beat goes on. Some 49 years after Beat-Club first aired, the live music show continues to run as a radio program on Radio Bremen 1. Broadcast on Sunday afternoons between 1 and 3 pm, the radio show is, rather nostalgically, still hosted by Uschi Nerke.