When I give talks about failure and success of Kunstkopf stereo one frequently asked question is how many Kunstkopf recordings have been made during the 1970s or since the introduction of commercial Kunstkopf microphones in 1973?

The find an answer to these questions is not easy because no detailed and reliable list of all recordings exists.

A good overview is given by the website Jokan: Radio – Hörspiel – Info. However this web page hasn’t been updated since 2010(?). Jokan provides a list with binaural radio plays and documentaries that have been broadcasted between 1973 and 2010. The list with 189 entries is limited to German language productions from West- and East-Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The oldest listed production is “Demolition” from 1973 the “youngest” is the short version of “Die Akademie” from 2003 (originally produced in 1979). Unfortunately, I don’t know which sources were used to compile this list.

During my archival research, I came across several lists with Kunstkopf recordings that were compiled by Ulrich Gerhardt, director of the first binaural radio play “Demolition”. In the winter 1973/74, Gerhardt, then working at RIAS, started to collect information about Kunstkopf productions from all public service broadcasters in West-Germany (later also from Austria and Switzerland). He then compiled overviews called “Kunstkopf-Pool” to facilitate the circulation of recordings between different radio stations.

In the beginning, Gerhardt compiled a new list about every six months, later once a year (until 19809, and since 1981 irregularly. A first list (state January 1974) named 5 recordings (2 radio plays, 1 music recording (of a live concert), 2 discussions); the last one I could find lists all productions from 1984 to 1990. The last two lists are already first hints that the popularity of Kunstkopf stereo came to an end around the year 1980. Furthermore, it is interesting that during the 1980s West-German Broadcasting Cologne (WDR), that had more or less refused to work with Kunstkopf stereo in the 1970s, was very active in producing binaural radio plays. They used a new Kunstkopf system developed at the RWTH Aachen University. I will probably talk more about this in another post. Back to the Kunstkopf-Pool lists: they were also available for all EBU members (since 1975), and in 1980, when Gerhardt moved from RIAS to Radio Free Berlin (SFB) the Kunstkopf-Pool moved with him.

I don’t know how many lists were produced as I have only found bits and pieces in different archives. I have now gathered all available information in the table below. Altogether, I found 139 entries for binaural radio plays and documentaries and 37 binaural music recordings.

In addition, SFB, leading in binaural music recordings, compiled their own lists with another 98 binaural music recordings, and Swiss (DRS) and Austrian (ORF) radio stations reported another 24 and 7 binaural radio plays and documentaries. Furthermore, the East German public service broadcasters started with Kunstkopf stereo in 1976 and a list from 1990 contains 38 binaural radio plays and documentaries.

That is, overall, we have 208 binaural radio plays and documentaries and 135 binaural music recordings (from 3 to 149 minutes long).

Finally, I got another list from the microphone company Neumann. Therein, all known music recordings with the KU 81 i are listed (state January 1996): another 60.

That are about 403 binaural recordings between 1973 and 1996, and, of course, my overview is far from being exhaustive. Still, the numbers show that Kunstkopf stereo has always been a niche technology that gained some popularity in the 1970s but never really left the field of public service broadcasting. Stay tuned…

Binaural Recordings of Public Service Broadcasters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, 1973-1990

Year Music Drama Documentary Total
1973 1 2 2 5
1974 9 18 3 30
1975 5 10 5 20
1976 8 7 5 20
1977 8 6 6 20
1978 6 8 3 17
1979 15 1 16
1980 10 10
1981-1983 16 16
1984-1990 21 1 22
37 113 26 176
SFB 98
ORF 7
DRS 24
DDR 38
135 208 (incl. the 26 documentaries) 343

SFB = Radio Free Berlin, ORF = Austrian public service broadcasters, DRS = Swiss public service broadcasters, DDR = East German public service broadcasters

Sources

  • Historical Archive of West German Broadcasting Cologne (WDR)
  • Historical Archive of Bavarian Broadcasting Munich (BR)
  • German Broadcasting Archive, Babelsberg
  • Archive of the Deutsches Museum, Munich
  • Company Archive Neumann, Berlin

 

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