Beat Club, the 1960s TV Show That Brought Rock Music to 70 Million Kids in Germany, Hungary, Thailand, Tanzania & Beyond

It took a bit longer for the youth rock rev­o­lu­tion to hit Ger­man tele­vi­sions com­pared to the Unit­ed States–where Amer­i­can Band­stand was already in exis­tence pre-Elvis–and the Unit­ed King­dom, where Oh Boy debuted in 1958 as that coun­try’s first pop show. But when Ger­man tele­vi­sion pre­miered Beat Club in Sep­tem­ber 1965, it would pro­found­ly change the cul­ture.

The show took its visu­al cues from both the UK–with its Lon­don Under­ground-aping logo–and the US, with its go-go dancers. It even bor­rowed some of its hosts from across the Chan­nel, like Dave Lee Travis, who was work­ing at pirate sta­tion Radio Car­o­line at the time.

The show’s pro­duc­er Michael Lecke­busch was a more tra­di­tion­al man who pre­ferred musi­cals to rock, but he knew his mar­ket, and he knew how to check the pulse of the scene, by attend­ing The Star Club in Hamburg–one of the venues where the Bea­t­les paid their dues.

Over its sev­en years of shows, which went into col­or broad­cast right when psy­che­delia was tak­ing off, Beat Club intro­duced Ger­man teenagers to the likes of The Kinks, King Crim­son, The Grate­ful Dead, Cap­tain Beef­heart, Cream, Frank Zap­pa, The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, Step­pen­wolf, Led Zep­pelin, Jimi Hen­drix, The Who, and David Bowie, among many oth­ers.

In fact, Ger­man acts did not appear on the show until 1971. But by that time Beat Club had also strayed from rock and was explor­ing jazz-rock, fusion, and oth­er non-pop for­mats.

The impact on a coun­try that was used to quiz shows and cof­fee and cake on a Sun­day after­noon can’t be over­stat­ed. It was, as the announc­er Wil­helm Wiegen told the view­ers, a show “by young peo­ple, for young peo­ple.” That sounds like basic mar­ket­ing now, but at the time it was a life­line to an entire gen­er­a­tion.

And soon the effect was felt beyond Ger­many, accord­ing to Ger­man site Deutsche Welle.

But Beat-Club kept the youth on its side, pulling in 70 mil­lion view­ers from approx­i­mate­ly 30 coun­tries — from Hun­gary and Fin­land to as far as Thai­land and Tan­za­nia. At its peak, 63 per­cent of Ger­many’s under-30s were reg­u­lar­ly tun­ing in to the music show.
These were the begin­nings of the youth that would become the Stu­den­ten­be­we­gung (“stu­dent move­ment”), also known as the 68ers. With hits such as The Who’s “My Gen­er­a­tion” and the Rolling Stones’ “Sat­is­fac­tion,” Beat-Club gave its “Beat-friends” the moti­va­tion to stand up and fight back against an out-dat­ed gen­er­a­tion. It was a sound­track for a new life.

There is plen­ty of footage of the show knock­ing around YouTube, includ­ing this chan­nel devot­ed to full episodes, and numer­ous oth­er clips. And though the show stopped in 1972, a nos­tal­gic radio ver­sion con­tin­ues to broad­cast with its orig­i­nal female host Uschi Nerke.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Rolling Stones Intro­duce Blues­man Howl­in’ Wolf on US TV, One of the “Great­est Cul­tur­al Moments of the 20th Cen­tu­ry” (1965)

Radio Car­o­line, the Pirate Radio Ship That Rocked the British Music World (1965)

Watch the Pro­to-Punk Band The Monks Sow Chaos on Ger­man TV, 1966: A Great Con­cert Moment on YouTube

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

The Crazy, Icon­ic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Vel­vet Under­ground Vocal­ist, Enig­ma in Amber

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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