Anna Jehle: Welle der Konsumgesellschaft [The wave of the consumer society]

reviewed by Konrad Dussel

When covering the history of broadcasting, most writers limit themselves to cultivating a niche that understandably attracts little attention outside its narrow boundaries. But with her prize-winning dissertation under the supervision of Frank Bösch, Anna Jehle has now written a book that deserves broader appeal. Her history of CLR/CLT –Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Radiodiffusion/Télédiffusion – and its French-language radio programming after the Second World War is not only an academic study of her chosen private broadcaster and the service it offers, but an attempt to locate a very specific media service in the context of its most important direct competitors and to analyze the interdependency between general economic, cultural, and media development – and it is done in a clearly structured, carefully developed, and fluently written way.

One of the many strengths of Jehle’s book is its refusal to limit itself to the history of the ultimately French-dominated company and its radio programming, which was then primarily broadcast on long wave. Instead, the book repeatedly casts a glance at the key competitors: broadcasts by the French state and other broadcasters outside the country, with the Saarland-based private channel »Europe No. 1« the most significant after 1958. As Jehle not only translates all the French quotes, but also explicitly comments on the subtleties of the language in many cases, even those with little or no knowledge will get a lot out of this book.

In the past, there has been passionate debate about how to add the history of programming to the history of broadcasting – which up to then had been dominated by institutional history – without theorists contributing practical examples. Anna Jehle leaves out the theory and delivers a concrete paper that stretches across two chapters, around a third of her text. One chapter focuses on the programming and the way it is structured in general; the other on the news in particular. This is because, as she mentions in the chapter heading, she sees this as the »decisive factor in programming competition.« In both chapters, she ably links a look at the specific competition situations with one at creative individuals, specific programming offered, and the technical innovations that are also driving developments.

As well as presenting the institution and programming, the author does not forget the audience. The data and sources here are not sufficient to allow a comprehensive analysis like that in the other two fields, but Anna Jehle offers an interesting substitute. In one chapter, she investigates the way the Luxembourgish broadcaster addresses target groups, accentuating both the role of women and, in changing times, the role of the new target group »young people.« In a second chapter, she provides a detailed examination of the various marketing campaigns the broadcaster has used, i.e. what it offers outside its purely broadcasting function.

Anna Jehle creates a dramatic finale for her book by waiting until the end to tackle the »crucial point of private commercial broadcasting,« the »business with advertising.« In the sixth and final chapter of the same name, she takes a long run-up, first looking at the contemporary market and listener research as an accompanying moment of price calculation for the various means of advertising. Only then does she turn her attention to the most important types of advertising and advertising customers. It is no surprise that this presents the biggest obstacles to research. Although she is permitted to report in some detail that L’Oréal was one of the most important users of advertising time in Luxembourg, no meaningful figures are available on how much money was involved and how the company’s balance sheet looked in detail.

This overview in itself is enough to demonstrate the points of reference Jehle’s book provides for so many different fields of interest. Were any more motivation to read it required, however, it is worth mentioning the central thread that runs through the book. The limited time frame of her investigation is not least due to the enclosed period of the »trente glorieuses,« or »Glorious Thirty,« – a period of rapid change that fundamentally transformed France both socially and economically. The new phenomenon of mass consumerism was one of its central features, demanding not only material changes, but a change in consciousness for broad sections of society. It is here that Anna Jehle pinpoints the subject of her investigation: »Under these conditions, ›Radio Luxembourg‹ was able to act as a component, as a catalyst and as an agent of mass consumerism« (20). The book repeatedly returns in detail to what this meant in practice.

Anna Jehle has undoubtedly written a piece of Western European broadcasting history that sets new standards. It only remains to be hoped that the obvious extension work will be tackled. Radio Luxemburg was not only hugely significant due to its French programming directed at France between 1945 and 1975 – its English programming was presenting a considerable challenge to the BBC long before that. In the 1960s, the same went for its new German-language programming and the neighboring German public broadcasters, who had become rather self-contained. This background also puts the novelty value of the 1980s German dual broadcasting system into perspective. The conflict between private commercial and public or state broadcasting organizations goes back much further in Europe, too – and Luxembourg has been home to one of the most important players on one side since 1933.

Translation: Sophie Costella

This review first appeared in rezensionen:kommunikation:medien (r:k:m).

About the reviewer

Dr. Konrad Dussel is apl. Professor for Modern History at the University of Mannheim. His research focuses on media history and the local and regional history of south-western Germany.

The book

Anna Jehle: Welle der Konsumgesellschaft. Radio Luxemburg in Frankreich 1945-1975 [The wave of the consumer society]. Series: Medien und Gesellschaftswandel im 20. Jahrhundert, Vol. 9. Göttingen [Wallstein] 2018, EUR 44,90