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Culture

Berlin to Lose Pioneering Multicultural Radio Station

The decision to shut Berlin's pioneering multicultural radio station Radio Multikulti by the end of the year has sparked a flurry of protests and petitions. Station owners cite a budget shortfall for the closure.

The logo of radio station, Radio Multikulti

The axing of Radio Multikulti has sparked protests in many quarters in Berlin

It was Europe's first multicultural radio station and was given a flamboyant launch in 1994, with more than 2,000 guests swaying to African and Balkan music at its inaugural bash in Berlin's Congress Hall.

Transmitting in 21 languages, Radio Multikulti was aimed primarily at the capital's 430,000-strong foreign community. Its program planners hoped it would help bring about better integration of foreigners in the city and create more respect for immigrant cultures.

"We want to find an audience which is curious, eager to lean towards something else, and learn something in the process," the station's music director Johannes Theurer said when it was launched.

Station never took off

"Music from many countries will play an important role. There might be West African followed by Russian, Brazilian and Australian numbers, so in one hour we will be moving right around the world," he said.

The idea sounded fine. But over the years, Radio Multikulti never achieved the big audience it dreamed of. Less than 30,000 people tune in to its programs on a daily basis.

Still, it was a stunning blow this summer when Radio Multikulti's parent broadcaster, Radio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), abruptly announced it was axing the station at the end of this year.

The headquarters of the RBB broadcaster in Berlin

RBB, Radio Multikulti's parent broadcaster say it doesn't have the funds to keep the station afloat

The problem is money. With an annual budget of more than 300 million euros ($403 million), RBB produces seven radio channels and one TV channel.

A deficit of 54 million euros is forecast over the next four years. Closing Radio Multikulti will save an estimated 12-15 million, say RBB executives.

Listeners petition against closure

Some 20,000 people have signed a protest petition handed to Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit. Politicians of all parties are among those who have criticized the closure.

But Ralph Kotsch, the broadcaster's press spokesman, insists the RBB is not about to reverse its decision.

Maria Boehmer, government commissioner for migration, refugees and integration said shutting down the station meant the public broadcaster could no longer justify its claim of reflecting integration and cultural diversity.

Turkish and Jewish community leaders also slammed the decision, as did trade unionists, the president of the city's Academy of Arts and a host of other organizations.

The news of the station's "unplugging" caused a commotion among loyal listeners. A "Friends of Radio Multikulti" organization was set up campaigning for the station to be kept on air.

In the summer weeks you could even buy "Radio Multikulti-Must-Stay" ice-cream at eight different stalls in the city.

Building bridges

Co-founder Florian Schubert says he's been listening to the station since it was inaugurated. "Radio Multikulti is the only one that caters to the 25 percent of Berliners of immigrant extraction," he argues.

Schubert claimed that by transmitting in different languages, the station was helping to build vital bridges between German culture and the minority immigrant cultures in Berlin.

Initially Radio Multikulti was centred in the Congress Hall in Berlin-Tiergarten, now called the House of World Cultures, but later it transferred its operations to the Haus des Rundfunks or House of Radio in the city's Charlottenburg district.

In the months following its launch, it served 18 minorities in Berlin in their mother tongues while broadcasting in German.

In a curious twist, Funkhaus Europa, a Cologne-based world music radio station created in 1998 on the model of Radio Multikulti, is to be transmitted in Berlin from January 1 next year on the frequency currently used by the station that inspired it.

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