Looking Back at 2023, Looking Forward to 2024
2023 was a one-of-a-kind year for Czech Radio. We celebrated 100 years of our existence and broadcasting, which means 100 years of bringing high-quality public radio to the Czech Republic and beyond.
In the world of radio, the work is just as important one day as it is the next. Today, just like yesterday and just like tomorrow, the broadcast must start not just on time, but exactly on time. The audio and transmission technology must be functional around the clock. There are no timeouts or pauses for updates, fixes and improvised solutions – these have to happen on the go. Every day, all day, is on air.
For a public service radio, the task is especially important. It must deliver to its audience day in and day out. But milestones do come. Momentous moments happen. And every now and then, the radio work is even more essential, even more valued. Such was the case of May 18th, 1923, when Czech Radio aired its very first broadcast. And such was the case a century later, on May 18th, 2023 when Czech Radio celebrated 100 years of its existence.
As the oldest continental European broadcaster, Czech Radio went big with its celebrations, dedicating events all throughout the year of 2023 to its centennial. From concerts to conferences, the year was jam-packed with inspiring ways to commemorate everything Czech Radio has accomplished since its humble beginnings in a tent outside of Prague. Yet the celebrations were not just about looking back. In fact, the slogan of the centenary says it all: 100 years is just the beginning.
As Czech Radio’s Director General René Zavoral said early this year: “This extraordinary anniversary is also an opportunity for us to show that 100 years of radio broadcasting is only the beginning. We are ready to launch the next century of our existence with new programming projects and technological innovations. The entire project of our anniversary celebrations aims to support the position of Czech Radio on the media market and also to show that it is an important partner for other institutions. I believe that with an imaginative programme we will not only delight current listeners, but also attract new ones.”
While celebrations officially commenced on 10 March with a formal ball at the Municipal House in Prague – featuring performances by both the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, dating back to 1926, and the Gustav Brom Radio Big Band – the true climax of the celebrations came on Czech Radio’s 100-year birthday: 18 May. On this occasion, Czech Radio held a special ceremony for employees, during which Director General René Zavoral cut the giant birthday cake for all to share. This was followed by a grand concert in the Riegrovy Sady park for the general public. The concert included performances by some of the most popular and renowned Czech musicians.
May also saw the opening of the Czech Radio 1923-2023 exhibition at the National Technical Museum. The unique exhibition presents not only the rich history of radio broadcasting and the development of radio technology, but also important historical moments when Czechoslovak Radio, later Czech Radio, stood alongside its public against adversity and informed, educated and entertained listeners. Running until 31 December with the possibility of an extension, the exhibition is open to all visitors of the museum.
Even before official celebrations kicked off, one of the biggest radio events of the year took place in Prague this year, thus making its debut in Central and Eastern Europe. The Radiodays Europe 2023 conference was cohosted by Czech Radio in the Prague Congress Center from 26-28 March. Several speakers from Czech Radio spoke at the conference on topics ranging from AI in audio to war journalism in the 21st century. Czech Radio also organized and hosted the accompanying Monday Radio Night event to much success. Young up-and-coming Czech musicians performed, including Aiko, who won the Czech Radio Wave music competition Czeching, was thus selected to represent the Czech Republic at the 2023 Eurosonic festival and will take on an even bigger stage at the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest.
While Czech Radio celebrated 100 years, its spoken word station Czech Radio Plus celebrated 10 years of broadcasting. To commemorate its first decade, Plus hosted an unique international conference “Media & Ukraine” on the role of media in the war in Ukraine. Held on 22 June in Prague, the conference featured an impressive line-up of speakers, including Czech President Petr Pavel. The programme also featured international experts Peter Pomerantsev and Marci Shore, world renowned journalists Myroslava Gongadze and Zhanna Nemtsova, as well as Major of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko and Czech Radio’s permanent foreign correspondent in Ukraine, Martin Dorazín.
Throughout the entire centennial year, Czech Radio heavily drew on one of its greatest resources: the Czech Radio Archive. Early in the year, the Archive published a one-of-kind bilingual book of archival photographs titled Rozhlasto. The publication traces the past century of Czech Radio, from its very first broadcast to its current complex structure of 25 stations, several digital platforms and its status as the most valued media source in the country. While Czech Radio’s production has always made good use of its rich archival audio material, the book offers space for the lesser known visual material in the broadcaster’s nationally accredited archive. The book was accompanied by a special eponymous podcast co-created by the Archive and the Czech Radio Plus station, which told the story of Czech Radio using selected photographs as motifs representing each historic chapter.
Several other projects commemorating the 100 year anniversary relied on the wealth of the Czech Radio Archive. The conference “100 years of radio, 100 years of sound” showcased presentations on the history of radio broadcasting, both in terms of form and content. Numerous programs worked with archival sounds to delve deeper into the history of the nationally significant institution, including the three-part radio play Caught in the Ether about the founders of Czech Radio (then Radiojournal), broadcast of Czech Radio Dvojka. The play by playwright and director Petr Vodička tells the story of the thorny road to the first broadcast on 18 May 2023 and the events that followed. Another anniversary project, 100 Voices of Radio, offers a documentary compilation by Bronislava Janečková, featuring the voices of great Czech Radio reporters from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Let’s not forget that music is also a huge part of Czech Radio – in fact, the very first broadcast on that fateful day in 1923 was primarily music. The 100-year celebrations commemorated this legacy with several stellar concerts throughout the year. Czech Radio’s own Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra performed on the day of the anniversary, 18 May, at the Prague Spring Festival and, together with the leading German conductor Cornelius Meister and one of the best Czech violinists Jan Mráček, presented music by two Czech greats – Dvořák and Martinů. On 18 and 20 June, the Orchestra performed Arnold Schönberg's magnificent cantata “Songs of Gurre” at concerts in Litomyšl and Prague. The final concert of this year's Dvořák Prague Festival was also dedicated to Czech Radio’s anniversary and to all its past and present symphony players. Both the “Songs of Gurre” and the final Dvořák Prague Festival concert were performed under the baton of Petr Popelka, chief conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Czech Radio also celebrated its centennial with a unique collection on the Google Arts & Culture platform. Visitors to the new Czech Radio profile can now view and listen to an arrayed digital collection of photographs, historical recordings and trivia from the radio archive. The purpose of the project is to preserve the cultural heritage of Czech Radio in digital form and at the same time to present it to a wide audience at home and abroad, in Czech and English. For the first time, Czech Radio is presented on Google Arts & Culture through five stories, which contain more than one hundred and thirty artefacts and twenty historical recordings. Czech Radio plans to continue to expand its collection, thus offering even more to its public.
After all, public service is the core of Czech Radio. Its listeners, old and new, are its raison d'être. Celebrating 100 years of Czech Radio is also about celebrating its past, present and future listenership. In the words of Director General René Zavoral: “For a hundred years, radio has educated, informed, entertained and broadened horizons. Over the course of its existence, it has found an important place in the lives of several generations of listeners, many of whom it has accompanied since early childhood. Czechoslovak Radio, now Czech Radio, has had a long and varied journey, during which it has played an important role in the history of our country. I am delighted that, at 100 years old, it is the most trusted medium in the eyes of the public in the Czech Republic.”
Czech Radio wishes you a wonferdul holiday season and all the best in 2024!