Monday, April 29, 2024

Rosamund Johnston's "Red Tape"

Rosamund Johnston is a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET) at the University of Vienna.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Red Tape: Radio and Politics in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1969, and reported the following:
Readers who open at page 99 of this book will be met with two young journalists, Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund, who became radio celebrities in postwar Czechoslovakia. This page explores the reasons for their fame, suggesting that it hinged upon their youth, desirability, and ultimately their appeal to socialist politicians and listeners both.

I am delighted that these two are foregrounded by the Page 99 Test: they were in fact the first journalists I wrote about for this book and, as such, set the framework for the rest of Red Tape. They helped me answer the question I posed throughout which was: why might people genuinely like and look forward to censored and propaganda-tinged socialist radio? And they form part of the answer, which I found to be on account of the relationships that listeners fostered with reporters such as Hanzelka and Zikmund through the medium of radio (hearing their voices at a regular time several times a week, writing to them with feedback about their work, and then finding their letters in some ways incorporated into the fabric of the pair’s reports). Hanzelka and Zikmund were broadcasting during Stalinism, and their example shows the responsiveness of radio to listeners’ concerns at that time. They also show that there was more to Stalinist radio than the murderous show-trials (which I write about in other chapters, but which I am delighted are not front and center here).

I was not always able to take a biographical approach to the history of radio in socialist Czechoslovakia—sometimes it made more sense to think about technologies (such as the tape in the title, for example) and how these served to reconfigure listeners’ expectations of the medium. But I always felt the most at home being led through the period by reporters such as Hanzelka and Zikmund and the fan-mail that was addressed to them. In this sense, this page represents some of my favorite lines of inquiry and sources used in this book. Here, I am specifically writing about the generation to which Hanzelka and Zikmund belonged, which, I argue throughout, shaped postwar radio and the rhetorical environment of socialism’s first two decades in Czechoslovakia. When they and their peers (all by now middle-aged) were pushed out of Czechoslovak Radio in the wake of the Soviet-led invasion in 1968—events captured in the final chapter of this book—then, I argue, radio finally ceded its “dominance” to television.
Visit Rosamund Johnston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue