German 'Rockpalast' celebrating 30th year

COLOGNE — Germany’s iconic music show “Rockpalast,” which has filmed close to 2,000 gigs played by bands ranging from Alexis Korner to ZZ Top, is celebrating 30 years in business.

Pubcaster WDR’s program was the first in Germany to go beyond the juke box nature of traditional pop shows, providing a platform for full-length, stadium concerts by up-and-coming acts and established bands. 

Founded by Peter Ruechel, then WDR’s producer for youth programs, an early version of the show kicked off with ELO in WDR’s Studio Hamburg on Oct. 4, 1974.

Confined to intimate weekly studio recordings of individual artists, the program became the full-blown “Rockpalast” with its first rock festival on July 23, 1977, featuring Rory Gallagher, Little Feat and Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd.

“That’s the date we consider our birthday, as it was an event that made WDR popular among young auds nationwide,” says current “Rockpalast” producer Peter Sommer. The gigs were picked up by pubcaster ARD’s network — and beyond. More than a dozen European countries linked up for the concerts that were broadcast bi-annually for 10 years from public venues including the 5,000-seat Loreley Amphitheater in the Rhine Valley.

However, the expense of such a venture was only possible before the advent of commercial broadcasters in Germany, when deep-pocketed pubcasters commanded all TV’s coin. WDR was forced to abandon its expensive prestige music project in 1986. But it revisited the format in 1994, albeit on a lower budget.

” ‘Rockpalast’s’ budget is considerably less than before, but the number of shows taped went up,” says Sommer who records 100 acts on average per year compared with 50 in the 1970s.

Instead of staging its own shows for live broadcast, “Rockpalast” links with commercial promoters and festivals, and secures a permanent feed of footage.

This airs mostly in latenight slots on partner channels in the ARD network. Lately, “Rockpalast” has tapped its archives for a series of DVDs, organized by Ruechel, who’s turning 70.

Sommer also has introduced documentaries. One of last year’s was a special on the early days of Krautrock, the local term for German rock, that unearthed 18 hours of rare material from Kraftwerk, Can and the Scorpions. And he is celebrating the “Rockpalast” anniversary by filming a docu about the show.

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