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Confessions of a Communist-era DJ

Published on November 15th, 2012 in Interviews

  • Vladimír Zahradníček

  • Vladimír Zahradníček

  • Czech Tunes

Vladimír Zahradníček, the father of a friend, has had a long and varied career that has included stints as a pop keyboardist, a composer for Black Light theater productions, and dramaturge for Czech Television. But one of his most interesting gigs was as a DJ for Stanice Hvězda (“Star Station”), Czechoslovakia’s singular radio station, from 1977 to 1990. Now retired, he was nice enough to answer some questions about his old job—and share with us his ultimate communist-era playlist.


KF: If I tuned into Star Station on any given day in, say, 1980, what would I hear?

VZ: It’s more like what wouldn’t you hear! We played Slovak folk music, Czech covers of Dusty Springfield, German pop, Russian propaganda songs, Bob Dylan...


KF: Wait a minute, Bob Dylan? You’d think protest songs would be frowned upon.

VZ: No way—Dylan was cool, the party considered his songs anti-imperialist.


KF: How did you know what you could and could not play?

VZ: Songs from Eastern-bloc countries got the most air time, but by the 80s certain inoffensive performers from the West were approved—Falco, Cliff Richard, Jackson 5...


KF: Which Western acts didn’t get air-time?

VZ: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were too shaggy. Elvis was too American.


KF: Wasn’t it nearly impossible to remember what to play and what not to play?

VZ: All the records were labelled ano (“yes”) or ne (“no”), but as with everything in those days nothing was clear. “Yes” didn’t always mean “yes” and “no” didn’t necessarily mean a group was forbidden. You could easily screw up and not know it.


KF: And did you?

VZ: I once thought I had when I got a call at home from the secretary of a prominent party member, asking me to come back to the station. I feared I was headed to jail. When I got there she asked me for the title of a song I’d played earlier—her boss was at the pub and had bet a vodka shot on it.


KF: How did things change for radio after the Iron Curtain fell?

VZ: That’s easy, the DJs could talk! Before you just played the records and kept your mouth shut.


KF: Give us a sample playlist from your DJing days.

VZ: A typical 80s rotation went something like this:



Karel Gott (the Czech Frank Sinatra)

Lady Karneval


Bob Dylan

I Want You


Helena Vondráčková (the Czech Cher)

A ty se ptáš co já, a cover of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All”


Boney M



Puhdys (East German pop band)

Lebenszeit, or “Lifetime”


Modern Talking (West German pop duo)

Cheri Cheri Lady


Elán (Slovak pop band)

Tanečnice z Lúčnice, or “Dancer from Lúčnice”


Alla Pugacheva (the Russian Whitney Houston)

Million Roses