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During the pandemic, radio captures Berlin’s music spirit

In times when live gigs are scarce, the sound of Berlin is perhaps best captured by the city’s ambitious independent radio stations. Our music editor travels from Lichtenberg to Hasenheide to survey the scene.

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Cashmere Radio, one of Berlin’s key online radio stations, has been streaming from Lichtenberg since 2015. Photo: Supplied

“Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive,” sings Geddy Lee on the opening line of “The Spirit of Radio”. A first commercial breakthrough for would-be rock-and-roll hall-of-famers Rush, the song is a percussive powerhouse of prog-pop fusion and a mawkish lament for the fate of independent radio in the 1980s. A uniquely accessible medium, radio in its ubiquity can challenge tastes and make new ones. It should come as no surprise that independent and pirate radio has time and again provided the cradle from which underground music would bloom. So, when Berlin Community Radio shuttered with a shrug in early 2019 many were left wondering how a station with such a glittering cast of hosts and zealous following was unable to support itself. From politics to polka, BCR had it all. Yet, after six years, it was no closer to stability than when it started.

Independent radio is a labour of love. Without investment, a handful of DIY stations in Berlin are representing the scene with little more than pyrite ambition and unwavering dedication. Cashmere Radio, based in Lichtenberg, has been going since 2015 and has taken the mantle passed down by BCR. With a vast array of programming – the majority of shows are hosted by Berlin locals – it is one of the biggest supporters of independent and aspiring artists in the city as well as a haven for heads, hedonists, and everyone in between. Chief among what (on the surface at least) appears to be a thriving scene, Cashmere is probably as close as you will get to a reliable representation of the Berlin music scene in one spot.

New to the game, wildly popular Hör has shot up seemingly out of nowhere. Barely a year old, the station boasts over 100,000 subscribers on Youtube, its primary outlet, and stands out as one of the leading platforms for electronic music in a city that built its name on the genre. Techno is its bread and butter, but increasingly shows are opening up to broader musical dialogues. What is particularly impressive at Hör is the raft of elite DJs that have made their way to the boxy white tiled booth tucked away in an unassuming building on Hasenheide. Household names like Ellen Allien, Nick Höppner Courtesy, and more share a bill with showcases from big clubs such as Griessmuehle or :// about blank while somehow always making room for up-and-coming DJs and independent record labels. It is testament to the wicked simplicity of radio that all of this has been achieved in twelve months with little more than two speakers, some decks and a mixer. Without a brick and mortar business behind them – for example, what Sameheads is to Rixdorf Radio – Hör must rely on merchandise sales and the hope that they, like so many others, will be looked upon kindly by the Berlin senate grant committee.

Smaller than its peers at Hör and Cashmere, but no less ambitious, is CCTV. Housed within Mitte club Alte Münze, CCTV is firmly committed to providing a foot in the door for aspiring artists. Few of the selectors that pass through are known names, but it is precisely that commitment to the unheard that makes for such diverse programming. CCTV also hosts regular shows from groups such as the No Shade collective, that runs club nights and DJ training programs for female, non-binary and trans DJs. Visibility is key at CCTV – a dedication that extends to the walls of the compact biohazard-yellow booth.

Cashmere, Hör, and CCTV are just three stations among many, but popularity alone will not save a scene in peril. In times that threaten to snub out social experiences as we know them, it is worth remembering the value of independent radio. If we want to move forward, perhaps we would do better to remember the words of Mike Skinner in his oft-surprising prescience. “You’re listening to The Streets, lock-down your aerial!”