A Tribute to the Founder of the Germania Broadcast (1952)

By Egmont Sonderling
General Manager, Radio Station WOPA

William L. Klein (1927)We are celebrating our 25th Anniversary, and I am certain many listeners would like to know who was the founder of the Germania Broadcast and who has been capable of keeping a radio program on the air for 25 consecutive years, a record unequaled by any other Chicago radio program.

I am probably the best qualified to give the answer to this question, because I have worked with William L. Klein these 25 years, and I know better than anyone else what he has done for the Germania Broadcast.

William L. Klein and the Germania Broadcast are synonymous.  A third generation American, he was taken to Berlin as a child, where his father supervised a liberal education and taught him to appreciate the German language and to love and understand music and the arts.  After this education was completed, William L. Klein returned to Chicago and nothing was more natural than to turn to the new entertainment medium, the 'Radio'.

At first, the Germania Broadcast was William L. Klein's hobby ... he had to carry the expenses himself because there was no advertising at that time.  And as the years rolled by, William L. Klein took the regular Germania Broadcast first to WIBO, then in 1933 to WIND, and in 1941 to WGES.  During the period before the War, the Germania Broadcast became a by-word in hundreds of thousands of homes and was considered one of the outstanding locally-produced radio programs rating large audiences.

William L. Klein developed the Sunday German program to such a high artistic level that it became one of Chicago's most popular local radio programs.  He brought the greatest German names to the microphone, people like Alexander Moissi, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Erna Sack, Johann Strauss III, Marek Windheim, and many others.  High spots of these live Sunday radio features were the so-called "Musical Trips" produced by William L. Klein for many years; musical trips that took the listeners to Vienna and Budapest, to Berlin and Dresden, to the Rhine and the Danube, to the Black Forest and the mountains of Bavaria.  Then there was the presentation of complete operas and operettas and so many other special features, which for lack of space, cannot be mentioned here.

William L. Klein developed a new technique to perfection.  He wanted the German radio program to be alive and active;  he felt that all the voices on the air should become something real to the vast audience, so he originated and transferred the broadcasting studio to the stage, the ballroom, the concert hall and the picnic grove.  Operetta performances in the Opera House attracted audiences from far and wide and artists were engaged from New York, Hollywood, and even brought from Europe.  The Germania Broadcast Annual Radio Concert at the erstwhile Steuben Club, and the Sylvester Balls, were famous and immensely popular.  Upon his suggestion, the annual Folk Festivals at Riverview Park, under my direction, attracted up to 25,000 visiters, which William L. Klein at the same time conducted tours through the German lands.

These activities resulted in tying listeners closely to the program and also helped to raise the funds necessary to finance the expensive Sunday German program.

Due to long hours, tireless work and study, William L. Klein became an expert in his chosen field, and even was consulted in [1940] by the State Department.  In the meantime, War had broken out in Europe and threatened to engulf America.  In 1941, William L. Klein resigned as director of the Germania Broadcast, primarily due to the political complications, but before doing so, he promised his faithful audience that the Germania Broadcast would be kept on the air, come what may, and his promise was kept.  In 1943, William L. Klein volunteered his services to his country, went overseas, and advanced to the rank of Major.

The War and the switch from Radio Station WIND to WGES certainly played havoc with the Germania Broadcast, and it required substantial financial subsidies to comply with William L. Klein's pledge, but in one way or another, we managed to continue the program.  At that time, we engaged Franz Gerstenberg to take over the heavy responsibilities of conducting and directing the Germania Broadcast, and he undoubtedly has also won the love and affection of the German-speaking residents in the Chicago Metropolitain area.

After returning from his War duties, William L. Klein first realized one of his life's ambitions and organized a new radio station which is now known at WOPA, Oak Park.  William L. Klein's main activities are centered around the United Broadcasting Company, of which he is president.  Although not the active director of the Germania Broadcast since the War, William L. Klein has always kept an eye on this pet activity of his, even at considerable sacrifice.  As head of two important organizations, his schedule is indeed a busy one.

The United Broadcasting Company is one of the finest Recording and Television-Film Studios in the Middle West.  Many well-known radio and TV programs have come out of the Studios of the United Broadcasting Company, among them the famous "Old American Barn Dance", being shown in most TV cities; a program conceived and produced by William L. Klein.

Being in love with his profession, William L. Klein studied every phase of it ... writing, producing, acting, directing, even the technical phases, spending nights and weekends for years and years.  This knowledge and experience, incidentally, found international recognition, when he was presented with an honorary membership on the "Society of Viennese Popular Art", was awarded a degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from the famous Boguslawski Musical College, and honorary citizenships in several European cities.  William L. Klein was also appointed to the Advisory Board of the Lutheran Hour, the largest Church-Radio Program in the world, which is broadcast over 1000 radio stations every week in more than 50 countries.

But in spite of his responsibilities, the Germania Broadcast is still William L. Klein's first love, and nothing pleases him more than to find something new and interesting, and in the search for a substitution of the old-time Sunday Artists program, he created the "Overseas Program", a regular feature for over two years, which has met with universal acclaim.

It has become obvious to the readers of this little review, that William L. Klein and the Germania Broadcast are synonymous, and I believe that the congratulations on this 25th Anniversary Celebration, after all, are due to its founder and former director ... congratulations for a job well done, and an expression of the hope that the Germania Broadcast and William L. Klein will remain as one for years to come.

-- Egmont Sonderling (1952)