Post-war American radio station in Berlin lives on in trans-Atlantic exchange program

Updated: Sep. 29, 2017 at 10:55 AM CDT
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BERLIN, GERMANY (KLTV) - Even though history has outlived the iconic German radio station RIAS, its legacy lives on in the form of a trans-Atlantic exchange program for journalists in the United States and Germany.

The program is named for the radio station RIAS, or Radio In the American Sector, which was founded by the U.S. in 1946. After World War II, Berlin was divided into four sections, each controlled by a world superpower.

RIAS was known for its live reporting on key moments of the East-West conflict. Beginning with the Soviet Union's Berlin blockade in 1948-1949, to the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1958 ultimatum calling for the withdrawal of Western forces from Berlin, to President John F. Kennedy's visit in 1963, the radio station distinguished itself with its credible, responsible reporting.

"RIAS remained committed to the tradition of rational, critical American journalism," the commission's website stated.

For nearly a half-century the American-funded radio station provided independent information, culture, and entertainment programming to German citizens.

RIAS' coverage continued to expand as the Cold War reached its height in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan’s iconic ‘Tear down this wall!’ speech at the Brandenburg Gate was carried on the radio station.

In 1988, RIAS TV signed on the air, just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall that November.

With the country's reunification in 1990, it became necessary to incorporate the radio station and give it a new legal and financial basis, according to the commission's website.

After the country's reunification, RIAS was transformed into public radio station Deutschlandradio in 1994, having fulfilled its purpose.

As part of the Radio Transformation Treaty between the U.S. and Germany, broadcasters ARD and ZDF would be responsible for creating two nationwide radio programs. The broadcasts would be commercial-free and place an emphasis on information culture.

"RIAS was not only loved by Berliners in the former western part of the city, it was also a voice people in the eastern part of our city and our country liked to listen to and could understand," Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen said in a news release. "The 47 years of the 'voice of the free world' are unique and directly linked to the post-war history."

According to RIAS, U.S. Ambassador Robert M. Kimmitt and German Minister of the Interior Rudolf Seiters signed an agreement in 1992 to establish an exchange program for broadcast professionals.

The first exchange was held in October 1993 and more than 1,500 German and American journalists have participated in the years since.

Lane Luckie, a news anchor and reporter for KLTV in Tyler, Texas, is traveling in Germany and Belgium as part of a fellowship with the RIAS Berlin Commission. The bi-national journalist exchange, a partnership with the Radio Television Digital News Foundation, was established in 1992 to promote understanding between the United States and Germany in the field of broadcasting. Click here to learn more.

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