Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics
The Berlin Olympics, August 14, 1936. German rowers, dominant at the Games, line up against America’s top eight-oared crew. Hundreds of millions of listeners worldwide wait by their radios. Leni Riefenstahl prepares her cameramen. Grantland Rice looks past the 75,000 spectators crowding the riverbank. Above it all, the Nazi leadership, flush with the propaganda triumph the Olympics have given their New Germany, await a crowning victory they can broadcast to the world.
The Berlin Games matched cutting-edge communication technology with compelling sports narrative to draw the blueprint for all future sports broadcasting. A global audience–the largest cohort of humanity ever assembled–enjoyed the spectacle via radio. This still-novel medium offered a “liveness,” a thrilling immediacy no other technology had ever matched. Michael J. Socolow’s account moves from the era’s technological innovations to the human drama of how the race changed the lives of nine young men. As he shows, the origins of global sports broadcasting can be found in this single, forgotten contest. In those origins we see the ways the presentation, consumption, and uses of sport changed forever.
“This is one of the greatest sports stories ever told: How a group of young oarsmen from the Pacific Northwest who could barely afford train fare to Chicago, much less Berlin, won gold medals in the famous Hitler Olympics of 1936. There are two gripping tales here, and Michael Socolow tells them both well. First, there is the David v. Goliath saga of the University of Washington crew team upsetting every Ivy League crew in America to travel to Berlin, where the Huskies prevailed over the greatest crews the world had ever seen. The second story is the birth of modern broadcast sports journalism. What would later become the “wide world of sports” was born in Berlin, where American radio networks implemented new technologies on an almost daily basis to bring their listeners sporting events in “real time”–an amazing accomplishment that we now take for granted. Socolow successfully weaves these two fascinating tales into one enthralling book. Bravo!”–Alex Beam, Boston Globe columnist
“Michael Socolow’s Six Minutes in Berlin is an astute scholarly work and an enthralling piece of nonfiction, a book that reveals the human drama of the 1936 Olympics and illuminates the technology that brought it to the world.”–Josh Levin, executive editor, Slate
“Sports, Nazism, and the glory days of radio come together seamlessly in Michael Socolow’s gripping account of the hottest ticket at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Olympic Regatta. Offering expert play-by-play and vivid color commentary, Socolow provides a fascinating look at an epochal moment in sports and media history. Six Minutes in Berlin is a crystal-clear window into the birth of global journalism and trans-national fandom, shadowed throughout by the specter of a more ominous competition on the horizon.”–Thomas Doherty, Brandeis University
Michael J. Socolow is an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate.com, and the Chicago Tribune.