Migrant Knowledge

For Their Ears Only: Migrant Knowledge in the Greek Radio Programs for Gastarbeiter in West Germany

Whipping the air with the antenna, I'm waiting to hear the jingle … This silence that lasts a bit more than a leap of the heartbeat in an instant is capable of causing me to panic in the thought that my show has been drowned in a storm of the airwaves.1

This Hitchcock-like atmosphere is the setting of the short story, “The Worker and the Show 20.20′” by the Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos (b. 1934). The short story refers to the 45-minute radio program in Greek that the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio), a station based in Munich, broadcast between 1964 and 2002.

For the protagonist of the story, a Greek Gastarbeiter (guest worker) in West Germany, the radio show transcended its mere mission as a source of information; it became the center of his existence:

Book cover of Vassilis Vassilikos's 1974 paperback edition of "20.20'" and "Fifty-fifty" photographed by the author.

This radio station, or better, its program, entered my life and stamped it …. The program and I, we are in an unbreakable – I would say, demonic – relation: it exists for me, as I also exist for it. If I don't listen to it, it will not only stop existing just for me but for the others as well.2

This migrant’s intense and almost existential attachment to the radio program aligns perfectly with scholars’ observations that members of ethnic minorities equate media targeted at them with collective self-representation as the voice of their community.3 As Nikolaos Papadogiannis proposes, the community of Greek migrants in West Germany in the 1960s can be conceptualized as an “emotional community.”4

In this contribution, I use migrant knowledge as a lens to reflect on the role the radio programs targeted at Greek Gastarbeiter in the 1960s played. Not only did these programs form, inform, and reform the migrants’ ideas about both their host country and their homeland, but they also contributed to the process of affective community-building. By examining the stakeholders involved, we can learn a lot about the desires, anxieties, and expectations of both the authorities and the workers themselves.

The Cold War and Radio Programs for Gastarbeiter

Migrants express their long-term attachment to their country of origin through various activities, including participating in discussions of homeland politics or consuming cultural products like music.5 The sending country’s politicians, for their part, seek to encourage long-distance nationalism through language, religion, and culture.6 Thus, radio programs constitute one way the sending country can support this nationalism, just as they also comprise one cultural product the migrants can consume.

As Hilgert et al. argue, West German broadcasters felt that the programming for Gastarbeiter was “a way of citizenship education as well as cultural enhancement for both newcomers and natives.”7 This dual function was achieved by combining a West German broadcaster, in our case the Bayerischer Rundfunk, with Greek journalists to produce a radio show in the migrants’ native language.

Description of the new Gastarbeiter radio shows introduced in November 1964 from the Winter 1964/65 Bavarian Radio booklet, p. 26

During the Cold War, control of mass media was especially crucial to governments. As the historian Roberto Sala suggests, the West German broadcaster introduced Gastarbeiter broadcasts to protect the Gastarbeiter community from communist infiltration. As such, they were a shield in the “ether war” between East and West.8 In the section that follows, we will follow how the West German broadcasters collaborated with the sending countries to radio shows in order to curtail migrants’ consumption of communist broadcasts.

Introducing the Gastarbeiter Radio Programs

In February 1962, the Süddeutscher Rundfunk (Southern German Radio) began broadcasting a radio program for Greek Gastarbeiter every Tuesday. It contained news from Greece, short messages from around the world, Greek folk music, and commentary on the particular problems that workers faced.9 Radio Essen (based in Frankfurt) transmitted the show “Rendez-vous in Deutschland” every Sunday, a music program with announcements and news in four foreign languages (i.e., Italian, Greek, Spanish, and Turkish) as well as German. The program ended every evening with the show “Musik ist international.”

The year 1964 marked a milestone for Gastarbeiter: not only did the Portuguese migrant Armando Rodrigues de Sá became the one-millionth Gastarbeiter in September, but also, in November 1964, the West German radio stations introduced daily radio programs in the migrants’ native languages.

The Greek radio program broadcast by the Bayerischer Rundfunk lasted 45 minutes, from 20:15 to 21:00 West German time. Its purpose was informative and educational, but it also offered leisure opportunities. Every fifteen days, it featured a live chat with the Greek ambassador in Bonn. Moreover, the titles of the segments “Get to Know Germany” and “Get to Know Greece” demonstrate that both integration and transnationalism were the catchwords of the day.

Soon, the Greek radio show of the Bayerischer Rundfunk became the main source of migrant knowledge. In the next parts, we follow how the radio show became receptive to the migrants’ concerns and how it gradually tuned to the tumultuous spirit of the times.

Schedule of the Greek radio show on the Bavarian Radio for the summer 1966 season from the Summer 1966 Bavarian Radio booklet, p. 60

Addressing the Listeners’ Needs

In September 1965, the Greek Ministry of Labor published a report penned by Socrates Kladas. As far as radio was concerned, Kladas lamented that the political news on offer was “not of interest to the Greek worker,” who, he felt, was “thirsty” for news from the homeland.10

In its January 1965 issue, the newspaper of the trade union IG Metall – available in Greek as in the rest of the languages of the Gastarbeiter – urged the listeners to participate in the development of the radio shows: “…the workers also bear responsibility for the design of these broadcasts. If you have to make suggestions or critique, if you have something to share from your work and life, you can address your letters to the radio headquarters.”11

Many listeners took up this call and sent letters to the Greek radio program.12 Every day almost two hundred letters found their way to the directors: the Greek journalist Pavlos Bakojannis, the director of the editing the Gastarbeiter segments, Brigitte Seufert, and their assistant Eva Mayer.13

In the booklets published by the Bayerischer Runkfunk, we observe that in just one year, from summer 1966 to summer 1967, the radio show became more reality oriented. Apart from music and sports, there was a special show for children, “Good Evening, Little Children,” while the week wrapped up with a commentary on a “Topic of the Week.” A new show called “Griechenspiegel” (Greek Mirror) concerning the workers’ life and work in West Germany alongside a German-language course added hands-on orientation to the migrants.

Getting Political

The Greek radio program in the Bayerischer Runkfunk also provided the Greek state with a platform for channeling its care, concern, and advice to its nationals abroad. For instance, the Greek general consul in Bonn, Alexis Kyrou, addressed this audience his inaugural message on April 11, 1965. It was full of paternalistic overtones, but also constituted an invitation to dialogue. He exhorted the Greek migrants to write to him regarding their concerns: “you are not university professors, so you could write your thoughts simply as you write to your parents back home. Besides, what else should the Greek consul be rather than your father in this foreign country, whom you can address for advice and protection?”14

On the last day of 1966, during his New Year’s Eve radio message, Kyrou dispelled the looming fears of a recession and advised the Greek workers to avoid panic.15 On the 15th of January 1967, the trade unionist Heinz Richter responded by complaining that “the Greek government seems to intimidate the Gastarbeiter and wants to separate them from their German friends." Kyrou replied via the microphone of the Greek radio program. "I am certain," Kyrou concluded, "that you, my dear compatriots, will all show reason and will reject with contempt his lies and slander that only sow weeds and discord between us in these difficult times." The ambassador's message outraged many listeners, and the Greek participants in a seminar of the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB, German Trade Union Confederation) in Berlin called for the broadcast to be suspended.16 In her analysis of migrant media, Kira Kosnick summed up the precarious situation as follows:

(W)hile “orientation-help” provided the main motive, the programs served another officially acknowledged function. Building a “bridge to home” (Brücke zur Heimat), mainly by informing listeners about events taking place in the countries of origin, but also through music, readings, etc. … public-service broadcasting had inevitably entered a dangerous political terrain. 17

Greeks learned about their homeland’s coup d’etat of April 21, 1967, when “a voice on the radio announced that the army had taken over power to save the Greek nation from demagogues and subversives.”18 In the seven years that followed (1967–1974), although the Greek dictators imposed strict censorship on the media, the Greek radio program in West Germany became one of the loudest voices of resistance. A Greek battle about freedom of expression, thus, took place under the auspices of the West German radio broadcasters.19


To sum up, already in the first years of the Gastarbeiter presence in West Germany, radio became an integral part of migrants’ daily routine and an exercise in democracy. The radio programs, apart from reinforcing the imagined national community, strengthened the actual ties of the migrant community through the migrants’ experience of collective listening. By contextualizing their listening, we are able to discern that the radio programs for migrants reflected the ambiguity of the guest-worker system. Thus, the radio’s mission was to promote two kinds of migrant knowledge.

On the one hand, it provided them with knowledge about the host country through shows orienting them to their surrounding realities at the workplace or through German language lessons. On the other hand, radio transmitted knowledge of and (re-)connection with the homeland through news and communication with the authorities who represented their country in West Germany. More than that, the migrants themselves, through their letters and their engaged listening, set the tune. Made for their ears only, these broadcasts empowered them to articulate what kind of migrant knowledge they possessed, as well as what they needed.

Maria Adamopoulou

Maria Adamopoulou is a Research Fellow at the CEU Democracy Institute in Hungary. In 2022, she completed her PhD dissertation on Greek Gastarbeiter’s migration to the Federal Republic of Germany and their return to the homeland (1960-1989).

  1. Vassilis Vassilikos, 20.20′ και Φίφτυ Φίφτυ (20.20′ and Fifty-fifty) (Athens: Πλειάς, 1974), 36–37. All translations from Greek to English are my own. ↩︎
  2. Ibid. ↩︎
  3. Kira Kosnick, “Ethnic Media, Transnational Politics: Turkish Migrant Media in Germany,” in Transnational Lives and the Media: Re-Imagining Diasporas, ed. Myria Georgiou, Olga Guedes Bailey, and Ramaswami Harindranath (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 149–72, 152. ↩︎
  4. Nikolaos Papadogiannis, “A (Trans)National Emotional Community? Greek Political Songs and the Politicisation of Greek Migrants in West Germany in the 1960s and Early 1970s,” Contemporary European History 23, no. 4 (2014): 589–614, 593. ↩︎
  5. Christopher Molnar, “On the Move and Putting Down Roots: Transnationalism and Integration among Yugoslav Gastarbeiter in West Germany,” in Migrations in the German Lands, 1500–2000, ed. Jason Philip Coy, Jared Poley, and Alexander Schunka, 191–208 (New York: Berghahn, 2016), 192–93. ↩︎
  6. Rainer Bauböck and Thomas Faist, eds., Diaspora and Transnationalism: Concepts, Theories and Methods (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010), 43–44. ↩︎
  7. Christoph Hilgert, Alina L. Just, and Gloria Khamkar, “Airtime for Newcomers: Radio for Migrants in the United Kingdom and West Germany, 1960s–1980s,” Media History 26, no. 1 (January 2, 2020): 62–74. ↩︎
  8. Roberto Sala, “‘Gastarbeiterendungen’ und ‘Gastarbeiterzeitschriften’ in der Bundesrepublik (1960–1975) – ein Spiegel internationaler Spannungen,” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 2, no. 3 (2005): 366–87, 369. ↩︎
  9. SPD-Pressedienst P/Xvii/222, Bonn, November 2, 1962, Archive of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. ↩︎
  10. Socrates Kladas, Τα θέματα των εν Δυτική Γερμανία Ελλήνων Εργατών (The issues of the Greek workers in West Germany) (Athens: Ministry of Labor, 1965). ↩︎
  11. Zeitung der IG Metall für die Griechischen Arbeitnehmer, January 1965. ↩︎
  12. Elliniki, February 1, 1965, 2. ↩︎
  13. Ibid. ↩︎
  14. Document βδγ42–241, internal in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Second Political Directorate to the Directorate of Greeks Abroad, Athens, 12.4.1965 folder 1964_4/4. ↩︎
  15. Document Α022-41, Greek embassy in Bonn to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bonn, Jan. 2, 1967, folder 1967_42/6. ↩︎
  16. Der Spiegel, 16/1967. ↩︎
  17. Kira Kosnick, Migrant Media: Turkish Broadcasting and Multicultural Politics in Berlin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 3–33. ↩︎
  18. Polymeris Voglis, “‘The Junta Came to Power by the Force of Arms, and Will Only Go by Force of Arms’: Political Violence and the Voice of the Opposition to the Military Dictatorship in Greece, 1967–74,” Cultural and Social History 8, no. 4 (January 2011): 551–68, 549. ↩︎
  19. For more information about the Greek radio show of the Bayerischer Rundfunk during the years of the junta in Greece, see Marina Hassiotis, “Eine Brücke in die Heimat – Die griechische Sendung des Bayerischen Rundfunks,” diss., LMU Munich, 2022; and Νικος Παπαναστασιου (Nikos Papanastasiou), Αντισταση Απο Μικροφωνου: Ο Παυλος Μπακογιαννης Απεναντι Στη Δικτατορια Των Συνταγματαρχων ((Resistance through the microphone: Pavlos Bakojannis against the colonels’ dictatorship) (Athens: Εκδοσεις Παπαδοπουλος, 2020). ↩︎

Suggested citation: Maria Adamopoulou, "For Their Ears Only: Migrant Knowledge in the Greek Radio Programs for Gastarbeiter in West Germany," Migrant Knowledge, March 20, 2023, https://migrantknowledge.org/2023/03/20/greek-radio-programs-for-gastarbeiter-in-west-germany/.