In socialist Eastern Europe, radio simultaneously produced state power and created the conditions for it to be challenged. As the dominant form of media in Czechoslovakia from 1945 until 1969, radio constituted a site of negotiation between Communist officials, broadcast journalists, and audiences. Listeners' feedback, captured in thousands of pieces of fan mail, shows how a non-democratic society established, stabilized, and reproduced itself. In Red Tape, historian Rosamund Johnston explores the dynamic between radio reporters and the listeners who liked and trusted them while recognizing that they produced both propaganda and entertainment.
Red Tape rethinks Stalinism in Czechoslovakia—one of the states in which it was at its staunchest for longest—by showing how, even then, meaningful, multi-directional communication occurred between audiences and state-controlled media. It finds de-Stalinization's first traces not in secret speeches never intended for the ears of "ordinary" listeners, but instead in earlier, changing forms of radio address. And it traces the origins of the Prague Spring's discursive climate to the censored and monitored environment of the newsroom, long before the seismic year of 1968. Bringing together European history, media studies, cultural history, and sound studies, Red Tape shows how Czechs and Slovaks used radio technologies and institutions to negotiate questions of citizenship and rights.
About the author
Rosamund Johnston is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vienna
"Red Tape is a brilliant analysis of the creation and dissemination of media under state socialism. While radio was a powerful vehicle for propaganda, it was simultaneously a contested space, shaped by journalists, officials, and listeners—much like the socialist state itself. Rosamund Johnston's book sheds light not only on the history of radio in socialist Czechoslovakia, but also on the fraught relationship between media and politics in our own time. Then as now, listeners trusted or distrusted radio based on their imagined relationships to journalists—demonstrating, as Johnston argues, that 'all media is social media.'"
—Tara Zahra, author of Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics between the World Wars
"Sensitively telling stories from both ends of the receiver, this brilliant, absorbing book is not only a panoramic history of postwar Czechoslovakia and its place in the world, but also an extraordinary study of what history, in all its complexity, sounds like. Red Tape is essential reading in radio history, sound studies, and Cold War studies alike."
—Alice Lovejoy, author of Army Film and the Avant Garde: Cinema and Experiment in the Czechoslovak Military