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Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 22:45:43 -0700 (PDT)
Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2000 18:52:14 -0600
From: Bruce Sterling
Dead medium: The Nazi Volksempfanger Radio
Source(s): INDUSTRIAL DESIGN, REFLECTIONS OF A CENTURY, edited by Jocelyn de Noblet, Director, Centre de Recherche sur la Culture Technique Flammarion/APCI, 1993 ISBN 2-08013-539-2 page 168, written by Eric Mezel

"The industrial rationalization that took place under the Third Reich embraced everyday objects, as well as architecture, art and armaments.

"The National Socialist regime used form in a very precise way and applied its aesthetic ideas to all areas of production, using them as instruments of political and cultural propaganda. The radio receiver, like other products, was closely studied to see how it could best fulfil its role at the heart of totalitarian government: namely to infiltrate every house in the Reich.

"Walter Maria Kersting was one of the pioneers of German industrial design. In *The Living Form,* published in 1932, he described how the task of the designer was to create 'simple and cheap objects, which must not appear to be more than they are... and which can be bought anywhere.' Their mechanisms must be obvious so that they can be understood by people 'who do not have a technical mind,' and should be designed such that they are 'foolproof in the event of mistreatment.'

"Kersting didn't realize how pertinent his comments were: in 1928 he designed a radio receiver several hundred thousand of which had been manufactured within five years. His original design only underwent one modification before mass production started: the addition of the swastika on the front.

"The radio was designed according to Kersting's functionalist principles, which led to what was at the time an innovatory fusing of concept, form and materials. An ancestor of today's 'black box' hi-fi designs, its cubic cabinet, moulded from plastic, incorporated the radio's components. The buttons had been so well thought out in the initial design that the same configuration was adapted for the manufactured version. The set was 'foolproof' to use and Hitler was careful to ensure that its range was limited to Nazi frequencies, fearing that English, French, and Bolshevik transmissions would be picked up and interfere with his political broadcasts."

(((bruces remarks: This is the Volksempfanger's "dead media" aspect: the Volksempfanger was a medium specifically designed to be "all-Nazi, all the time.")))

"What was, during 15 years of Nazi rule, a formidable Nazi propaganda device, was transformed, at the end of the war, into a terrible trap for the Germans, who were unaware of the advance of allied troops through their already devastated territory.

"After the Second World War, Walter Maria Kersing denied that he had designed his radio receiver for political ends, despite the fact that this standard and very cheap product (it was subsidized by the government) had been of enormous service to the Nazi regime for propaganda purposes.

"The idea of mass producing radio receivers in which all foreign transmissions were censored was subsequently taken up by East European countries. For 25 years in Czechoslovakia the Telsa company manufactured radios whose only frequency spread communist propaganda and whose form was reminiscent of the Volsempfanger."