Meet Heinrich, the World's First Disc Jockey

The world's first DJ, Heinrich, recalls how he made music history by accident.

ByABC News
October 20, 2009, 8:13 AM

Oct. 20, 2009 — -- The quiet western city of Aachen, which last made news when Charlemagne lived there 1,200 years ago, has a credible claim to being the birthplace of the discotheque -- meaning that the world's first disc jockey was called Heinrich.

Up until the late 1950s, dancing establishments around the world would rely exclusively on live bands. Records were shunned because they were regarded as "dead music."

Then, in October 1959, Austrian businessman Franzkarl Schwendinger broke new ground. He opened an exclusive restaurant, the Scotch Club, in Aachen, and hired someone to play a series of records for entertainment. He got the idea from listening to Radio Luxembourg, a radio station that was rapidly reaching cult status by playing pop music, something unheard of in the conservative world of German broadcasting at the time.

Stay Up to Date on the Latest Travel Trends from ABC News on Twitter

Heinrich, whose real name is Klaus Quirini, was a 19-year-old cub reporter for the local newspaper and had been sent to write a story about the strange new phenomenon of public record-playing. The man on stage, an opera singer from Cologne, would change records without saying anything, and the audience wasn't impressed.

"The place was full but the entertainment wasn't going down very well, so we started complaining," Quirini told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I was drinking whisky for the first time in my life and I may have been a little loud so the manager came over and said why don't you give it a try."

Fuelled by liquid courage, he jumped on stage. "I said: Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to roll up our trouser legs and flood this place because A Ship Will Come with Lale Andersen!"

'A Ship Will Come' by the German singer Lale Andersen was a hit at the time and the audience was stunned at the witty introduction to the song, says Quirini. "People started applauding, they thought a miracle had happened."

A new trend was born that night in Aachen. Some might argue that the Scotch Club with its sentimental German ballads and strict dress code -- jackets and ties for the men and definitely no trousers for women -- paved the way for the discos of the 1970s and the modern techno nightclubs with laser shows and dancers gyrating from suspended cages.