- German: "Arbeitsgemeinschaft – der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten – der Bundesrepublik Deutschland"
- 'Consortium' ("Working group") – of the public-law broadcasting institutions‡ – of the Federal Republic of Germany'
‡public-law broadcasting institutions means broadcasters which are not privately owned (German: Privatradio and Privatfernsehen) and are not governmental radio or TV. ARD is not 'owned by' anybody, particularly not by "Germany" (meaning its government/federal state). ARD-members like BR (Bayerischer Rundfunk) are not owned by their Land (state and its government, here Bavaria), either. With the Rundfunkfreiheit (freedom of broadcasting), they have an independent position (within a legal framework).
1940s and 1950s
The winning Allies of World War II determined that German radio after World War II would not broadcast the same propaganda as the pre-war Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft ("Reich Broadcasting Company"). A federal structure, the renunciation of state influence and the avoidance of economic dependence were to be the key of the radio and TV institutions under public law (öffentlich-rechtliche Rundfunk- und Fernsehanstalten, public radio and television organisations). The legal form of the new entity was Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts ("Institution under Public Law"), a nongovernment and nonprofit organisation with its own administration under the control of two commissions, the Rundfunkrat (Broadcasting Council, responsible for the programmed content) and the Verwaltungsrat (Administration Council, responsible for management and infrastructure), in which different stakeholders from German public life were represented.
ARD's founding members were Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR), the station for the former British zone, Südwestfunk (SWF), the station in the French zone, and four stations located in the former American sector--Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Süddeutscher Rundfunk (SDR), Hessischer Rundfunk (HR) and Radio Bremen (RB). The new entity was financed by an obligatory fee which every German household with at least one radio receiver paid. Each station received the money collected in its state. Larger ARD members subsidised smaller ones up to a certain extent.
In 1947, American military governor Lucius D. Clay declared diversity of public opinion as the main aim of post-war media policy. Individuals aligned with the post-war Allied forces in their respective sectors of Germany had a local influence on local regional broadcasters. NDR cites the influence of Hugh Greene on the early years of their organisation.
Reception area of the West German TV channel Deutsches Fernsehen
(nowadays Das Erste) (grey) within East Germany before reunification. Main transmitters appear in red. Areas with no reception (black) were jokingly referred to as "Valley of the Clueless" (Tal der Ahnungslosen
After the creation of individual broadcasting agencies for most German federal states these principles were further consolidated by Länder broadcasting laws, decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) and state treaties between the Länder. ARD members are thus (at least nominally) free of government influence and rely for only a small part of their income on advertising (1995: ten percent). They are financed mainly from licence fees from radio and TV owners, which are set through a complex political process. The mandated aim of the ARD corporations is not only to inform and to entertain, but also to encourage the integration of various parts of society and allow minorities a say in programming.
In the 1950s the ARD radio services became the major factor of the mass media system in West Germany. As early as 1952 the ARD radio stations had ten million listeners. However, the radio stations operated on a regional level, and it was only the development of a television umbrella that helped the ARD to establish itself nationwide. The broadcasting of a countrywide TV broadcast service was the goal of the ARD from the outset and the go-ahead for this was given at the end of 1952. The same year ARD was admitted as a full active member of the European Broadcasting Union and the "German sound archive", now German Broadcasting Archive (DRA, Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv), was established as a joint facility of the ARD.
In 1955 the founding member NWDR ("Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk", English: "North-West German Broadcasting") split into today's NDR and WDR. The year before (1954) the smaller SFB was split off. The first daily news feature, the Tagesschau, went on the air from Hamburg in 1952. The famous 8:00 pm chime and announcement "Hier ist das Erste Deutsche Fernsehen mit der Tagesschau" ("This is the first German television channel with the Tagesschau") remains an ARD hallmark today. The broadcast attracts an average of 8 million viewers.
After starting with a schedule of a mere two hours per-night, television became more widespread in Germany in the 1960s. Color broadcasts were introduced in 1967. Without competition from private broadcasters (other than the francophone Europe 1 and the multilingual RTL (Radio-Television Luxembourg) radio programs), the ARD stations made considerable progress in becoming modern and respected broadcasters. ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Second German Television), a second public television broadcaster with centralized national organization structure, began its programming in 1963, but ARD would encounter no private competition in Germany until 1984. The ARD stations have also been a significant force in German politics; such investigative news magazines as Monitor and Panorama still reach millions of viewers every week. The environmental movement increased in popularity during the 1980s largely as a result of the disclosures made by ARD.
When private/commercial German-language broadcasters were admitted in Germany by federal law in the mid-1980s, ARD television made subtle changes, adapting somewhat by producing programs oriented to a larger audience for their national networks and shifting many cultural and news programs to the regional networks and to newly created niche channels.
Informational television programs and the orientation of "Deutschlandfunk" (Germany's national public radio station, associated with, but not a member of the ARD) programs towards the GDR were of importance to the eventual collapse of the GDR. Established in 1974, the ARD bureau in East Berlin made ARD television the most important source of information for GDR citizens, eighty percent of whom could watch what they referred to as "Westfernsehen". Notwithstanding obstruction on the part of GDR authorities and the repeated expulsion of their correspondents, the ARD-Tagesschau and Deutschlandfunk transmitted reports about the Leipzig Monday Demonstrations (which started on 4 September 1989) as early as September 1989.
After unification and the closure of the GDR television service, two new regional broadcasters were established in the East, becoming ARD members in 1992. These were originally the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR, English: "Central German Broadcasting"), and Ostdeutscher Rundfunk Brandenburg (ORB, English: "East German Broadcasting Brandenburg"). The existing NDR service expanded into the north-east, where it also covers Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The ORB service has since merged with the former Sender Freies Berlin (SFB, English "Radio Free Berlin") to become Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB, English: "Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting").
Another merger took place between two member organisations of the ARD in 1998. The former Süddeutscher Rundfunk (SDR, English: "Southern German Broadcasting") and Südwestfunk (SWF, English: "Southwestcast") became Südwestrundfunk (SWR, English: "Southwest Broadcasting") on 1 October 1998.