Towards a social history of Greek broadcasting …brought to you by Radio Karayannis

The first comprehensive History of Greek Broadcasting was written by Giorgos Hatzidakis and appeared as late as 2015. Yet a very early account had been given in 1952, when the electronics store Radio Karayannis published a 500-page book in celebration of its twentieth year in business: Greek broadcasting (Hellēnikē radiofonia).

 

Exterior of the Radio Karayannis store on Klafthmonos Square, Athens, established in 1956. Courtesy of History of San Jose, Perham Collection of Early Electronics.

Founded in 1932 by Kostas Karayannis and Kostas Michailidis, who was to become a well-known stage director, the store was located at the centre of the Athens Commercial Triangle, at Karytsi Square, a vibrant cultural hub at the time. It was housed at the premises of the Scientists’ Association, across the street from Parnassos Literary Society, where, in 1928, the first lecture on wireless communication was given and, in 1933, F. T. Marinetti introduced Futurism to Greek audiences. Radio Karayannis pioneered in importing radio sets at a time when Greece lacked a national broadcasting network: Radio Athens was established only in 1938.

I was curious to get my hands on Radio Karayannis’s 1952 publication ever since I came across a picture of its cover in Hatzidakis’ History. Finally, a few months ago, I got the chance to buy it. At first, I was disappointed. Aside from the enfolded maps, graphs, cartoons and extensive illustrations, which surely made it a collector’s item, the book was apparently of little interest for the cultural historian.

 

 

Looking more like a manual or a product catalogue, Greek broadcasting unfolded in 24 sections (labelled A-Z), preceded by 9 sections (numbered 1-9), all of which were haphazardly devoted to various radio-related topics, often of technological interest: ‘A’ stood for heating elements (antistaseis in Greek), ‘B’ for books (biblia), ‘C’ for gramophones (grammofōna), ‘D’ for switches (diakoptes), and so on.

Undoubtedly, the two most engaging sections were those headed ‘Greece’ (Hellada) and ‘World’ (Kosmos), which outlined the development of broadcasting on a national and international level, respectively. In the ‘Greece’ section, for instance, a graph illustrated how radio listenership in Greece boomed in 1951 (p. E-143).

 

 

It was also in 1951 that a new 50-kW mediumwave transmitter was shipped to Greece, to expand the broadcast coverage of the National Radio Foundation (EIR). This allowed for the long-awaited establishment of EIR’s ‘Second Programme’. The new transmitter, as we read in Greek broadcasting, was a loan from the United States Information Service – after all, these were also the years of the implementation of the Marshall Plan in Greece (1948-1952).

Sections ‘Greece’ and ‘World’ together make up 172 pages, that is, roughly one-third of the book. Another one-third resembles an illustrated catalogue of electronic equipment and all sorts of radio parts available at the Radio Karayannis store. Besides, the authors admit that, in order to make up for the publication costs of Greek broadcasting, ‘we count on the commercial gain that will come from a rise in sales’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This leaves us with the remaining one-third of the book, which is filled with names of professionals involved in the radio business, addresses of radio-electronics stores, organizations and institutions, telephone numbers, and, of course, detailed tables of the wavelengths and frequencies of Greek and international stations.

It is through these long and dreary lists, however, that the vibrant mid-twentieth-century radio communities come to life: radio enthusiasts whom the book instructs on how to become amateur operators and learn the Morse code; entrepreneurs and commercial representatives with whom Radio Karayannis shares the secrets of running sales and advertising campaigns; workers in the radio industry; students attending evening schools to become radio specialists.

The book calls attention to the need to educate a new generation of technicians and does not fail to mention that 25 Technical Professional Schools have already received aid as part of the Marshall Plan. Among the public and private schools listed in Greek broadcasting, we find Radio Karayannis’s own Centre for Electronic Studies.

 

 

‘Watch afar!’, reads an ad featuring in the book, for broadcasting guarantees ‘a profession of the future / We [at Radio Karayannis] are entitled to certify this since, in the past 20 years, we essentially helped thousands of young Greeks to secure a comfortable life thanks to this profession’.

 

‘When we study the new mass media of the early twentieth century, we often neglect looking at the social structures (both formal and informal) that grew up around them’, Bruce Campbell notes in The Radio Hobby, Private Associations and the Challenge of Modernity in Germany (2019). Greek broadcasting, despite its chaotic structure and quasi-scholarly mode of writing, exposes these understudied social structures which grew up around the state-owned National Radio Foundation in the 1950s. It certainly prompts us to explore these intertwined networks within the larger context of the post-war reconstruction and the Cultural Cold War.

1 thought on “Towards a social history of Greek broadcasting …brought to you by Radio Karayannis

  1. Pingback: Wireless imagination in interwar Greece: Manolis Alexiou’s ‘Ultrashort waves (49.83M)’ – Euroradio

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