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Podcast offers Germans in Tampa a slice of home

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay area is expected to grow as a tourist destination for Germans with new five-day-a-week nonstop flights between Frankfurt and Tampa International Airports beginning Sept. 25.

Thanks to the podcast radio show “Deutsche Funksendung,” these travelers can arrive experts on where to find a slice of German life should they grow homesick with all the sun and surf here.

Produced only in the German language, “Deutsche Funksendung” promotes and reviews all things German in the Tampa area. Each Sunday afternoon, a one-hour episode is uploaded.

“We broadcast in German, our guests speak German and we talk about German things in Tampa,” said host and producer Susanne Nielsen, 57, a native of Germany. “We bring the German culture to our listeners.”

That has been the goal of “Deutsche Funksendung” — “German Radio Show” — since it was founded in Detroit in 1965 as an AM radio show. The production moved to the Tampa market three years later and went online in 2010.

At half a century old, “Deutsche Funksendung” is the oldest German-speaking radio show in the state and one of the oldest in the country, Nielsen said.

“When we hit 40 years it was exciting. Now that we are at 50 it feels amazing.”

Each show includes a rundown of upcoming events, mostly held by the 30-plus German American clubs throughout Florida.

This time of year is especially busy for Nielsen with Oktoberfest celebrations coming soon.

Nielsen also does reviews of German businesses including restaurants, hairdressers and attorneys, and interviews with people from Germany or of German heritage.

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Guests are as diverse as a famed opera star performing here, an iconic fashion designer on vacation, and a local artist.

Years ago, she interviewed Gail Halvorsen, a retired command pilot in the U.S. Air Force known as the original “Candy Bomber” for delivering sweets to kids in Germany as part of supply drops over Berlin by American and British aircraft during the Soviet blockade in 1948 and 1949.

Nielsen later interviewed a local woman who grew up in Berlin and had fond childhood memories of how the candy helped her through difficult times.

At least twice a year, Nielsen travels to Germany to visit family for a few weeks, taking her recording devices with her so she can conduct interviews there for the show.

According to recent census records, German-Americans are the largest ethnic group in the U.S., with close to 50 million people claiming ancestry.

Among them, an estimated 1.9 million live in Florida and 262,000 in the Tampa area.

According to tourism promoters Visit Tampa Bay, more than 60 German companies have local offices.

Where German is spoken locally is not documented but Nielsen said she knows plenty of people who speak German and English regularly, including some who own property along the beaches of Florida’s west coast and snowbirds from the north who come to Florida during the winters.

It is for them that she switched the radio show to a podcast — so Germans around the world could listen before traveling here.

According to Visit Tampa Bay, Germany is No. 3 on the list of nations sending tourists to the Tampa area, behind only Canada and England.

The number of German vacationers is expected to grow when the new flights begin.

Early estimates are 60,000 passengers per year.

“The Internet has the ability to connect the world and bring us together,” Nielsen said. “That has always been the focus of this show in particular.”

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“Deutsche Funksendung” was founded by German immigrant and radio engineer Kurt Max Ortman, now 81 and living in Bradenton.

More people in Detroit claim German ancestry, then and now, than any other, and many first- and second-generation immigrants there depended on news in their first language.

Besides local Detroit news, “Deutsche Funksendung” featured current events in Germany and music from the western European nation.

“Prior to the explosion of cable television and the Internet, radio was important,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History Center. “It was a great way to get information across to broad audiences. So it was common for radio shows to cater to different immigrant groups. Newspapers did the same.”

For some, Kite-Powell added, their only connection to their new city and native country were these news outlets.

Tampa, for instance, with its large Cuban and Spanish immigrant population, once had a number of Spanish-language newspapers, most prominently La Gaceta, still publishing after nine decades.

Tampa had radio shows, too, such as Ruben Fabelo’s “Fiesta en Tampa” program in the 1950s.

More recently, in 2004, the newspaper “Khaas Baat” began publishing in Tampa to serve a growing Indian-American population.

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Germans were part of the first wave of immigrants who founded Tampa, Kite-Powell said, including the Maas family, whose name still adorns the downtown building that housed their department store.

Other successful Germans worked as managers and bookkeepers in Tampa’s cigar factories and one family owned the largest cedar cigar box operation in the city.

The old German American Club on Nebraska Avenue matched in size and grandeur the other historic social clubs of the day, such as the Cuban Club, Italian Club and the Spanish Centro Asturiano. The club is used today as offices by the city of Tampa.

When Ortmann moved to Tampa, census records showed that only an estimated 35,000 of Florida’s 6.7 million residents were of German descent.

“I think he chose Florida for weather,” Nielsen said.

“Deutsche Funksendung” was initially broadcast daily in Tampa for two hours on weekdays and three hours on weekends.

It called numerous AM stations home over the years, including WLVU 1470 AM, where it was when Nielsen joined as a volunteer host in 1993. She had moved to Tampa the year before after her husband, Glenn Nielsen, retired from the military.

An award-winning sculptor and painter, Nielsen hosted a weekly segment dedicated to German artists.

When Ortmann retired in the 1998, he named Nielsen his successor.

Her first job was to find a new station after a format change at WLVU. She moved it to the Christian station WTIS AM 1110 and cut down to a twice-a-week hourly show for cost reasons.

With international news and music easily accessible through the Internet and cable television, she replaced these with more local content.

Then in 2010, Nielsen decided to take the show to a once-a-week online. The listening audience now spans the globe.

“This is just a passion of mine to share my German heritage. The show has been around for 50 and I’d like it to last beyond my time for another 50.”

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