The Highscore TV show story

by Zeldin/ Cascade


If I ever made a scene contribution that might be worth to mention, it was maybe this one: Giving the initial idea, so that a TV show - that probably would've turned out boring - became some kind of scene happening (and even cult in some people's opinion), at least for a short period between 1988-1990. Sounds like boasting, eh? Read on... it's probably interesting for everyone who attended or saw the show.


1. What was Highscore?

For those unaware, a short description: Highscore was a (computer) TV show aired by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), a regional broadcaster and part of the big German public service broadcaster called ARD. It was aired only on the WDR channel and therefore regionally limited, because you could only watch it via cable in most regions back then, so it might not have reached all people in Germany. The show was running between 1988-1990 (or 1991, dunno anymore) and became quickly very popular, especially in the German (C64) scene, because lots of reports, live discussions and show guests covered topics or were attached to the scene. Widely known (at least because there are videos on YouTube) was the discussion (it was rather a tribunal :-)) between MWS/ Radwar and Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth, a notorious lawyer and software agent. Furthermore a report is worth to mention that showed members of the German group TWG, who were filmed while cracking a game. This unusual coverage made the show outstanding - even more because German TV shows on public broadcasters are generally known for being more than... ahem, conventional. I am not sure, if there was ever a TV show again, that pointed its attention so much on such an uncommercial subculture scene like ours. As you will see, this came rather by accident :-).


2. This is how Highscore became what it later was

The show was planned somewhen in spring or summer 1988. At that time, besides being highschool student, I was also working freelance for a company called Videocomp, which was mostly famous for its Amiga genlock interface back then. It was this device (plus reputation as distributor and consultant for several other broadcasters), why the company was contacted by the WDR in order to give technical assistance for the show. It was intended to present a game competition during the show, involving three connected Amigas giving three players the chance to play against each other at the same time. The competition was supposed to be filmed by a moving camera, so the production needed a genlock for syncing the monitor signals of the Amigas. That's how the company I was working for came into the game - including me to assist further arrangements.

I remember my first visit at WDR in Cologne over the weekend, together with two other technicians from Videocomp (this was also already in spring or summer 1988 afair). There we met parts of the production team and talked about initial schemes. Together with the producer, the writer and the director we had a loose round table conference in the famous WDR Kantine (a staff restaurant). There they told us, what was planned for the show. Besides the game competition, they also wanted to show little filmed reports around computer topics like: Computers in school, computers in museums, computers for making modern art, educational software and all this similar crap, that sounded in my ears - a 15 year old geek that I was - soooo f*king boring. And everything only about Amiga computers (a computer, which I thought was boring, too, though I had one myself at home since 1987)... All what I heard annoyed me so much, that I gained enough courage to open my mouth, interrupting the ongoing discussion by saying something like: "You want to make a show about computers - about things that targets young computer freaks. People like me. I can tell you: What you intend for the show is plain boring." You could imagine the following moments, when a bunch of serious, grown ups - eyes wide open - slowly turned their heads and looked at me, like I started undressing myself in public. For some short seconds I thought: Now they gonna kick your butt, loudmouth. But believe it or not, Christian Maiwurm, initiator and head of the whole show, asked me: "Okay. Then tell me, what would young computer freaks like you prefer to see?" I answered with a question: "Do you know what the scene is?" Then, for I guess one hour, I told them everything what my little lamer brain knew about the (C64) scene: Crackers, intros, demos, scene meetings, busted sceners, Venlo and so on. All persons who listened to my lecture during that afternoon - in this little cafeteria down the innards of the WDR studios, four or five levels below the street - were simply stunned, much to my surprise, and they said: "This sounds interesting! Maybe we should really cover this sometime in the show." They promised to immediately stick their noses into this new topic, in order to get informations and contacts for making reports about the scene. This was such a cool and proud moment for me, as you can guess. On a later meeting I also handed them out a little handwritten script covering the C64 cracker scene. Informations which I already had sampled, because I was busy writing an essay for a school homework about this topic (I also presented this later in front of the school class, boring the hell out of my class mates :-)) . Already back then, I suggested to send someone to Venlo or to any other scene party for making contact to persons from the cracker scene or even for making filmed reports. The latter really happened (though much later), when Ute Welty (show presenter and host of Highscore) attended the Radwar Party 4 together with a camera team. When the show finally started and these guys really started to cover topics about the cracker scene, the TV show soon became successful and known in the scene. I don't know how they made contact to scene people, but - as I heard from MWS, I guess - somehow and somewhen, some of the editor staff finally stumbled upon members of Radwar. Shortly after, the famous live discussion took place - and the rest is history. All this would probably not have happened, if I wasn't pushing the involved persons in that specific direction in summer 1988.

Sometime at the end of 1989, Videocomp canceled the contract for any further assistance, because the whole activities turned out to be not worthwhile enough for the company. It required the payment for two or three persons on a whole Saturday. Additionally, we did a lot more than just technical assistance for Amigas and genlock interfaces, which you can read later. The sad thing was: I was also out of this show, which was so interesting to work for - a possibility for me to meet lots of interesting people from media, TV and even show biz. And of course, meeting lots of sceners and exchanging disks in a TV studio was also cool. My intention that the show should present scene stuff worked so well, that I was proud and felt Highscore being somehow "my" show. Yeah, I know: How pretentious :-). Still, the whole show became indeed some kind of a meeting point for a lot of the German sceners - also thanks to MWS/ Radwar. But after we (our company) were out, something strange (coincidentally?) happened with it in 1990. Suddenly they started to show reports about: Computers in school, computers in museums, computers for making art, educational software and all this boring crap. The last show, which I have seen, was about some history students, copying cave-painting with an Amiga and Deluxe Paint....brrr... after that I didn't even watch the show any further and it was canceled, afaik in the same year. Why they killed the show, (also) by falling back to usual (boring) business and topics was unintelligible for me back then. But in the years to come, when I had more experiences on how decision makers in those broadcasters make their politics, it's not so surprising anymore. Having worked for/ with SWR, NDR, ZDF and so on (regarding the ZDF... did you know that the pencil test for the "Mainzelmännchen" cartoon was done - at least for quite a while - by using Amigas :-) ?). Whoever dealt with (German) public service broadcasters once, might not be surprise either. Today I am pretty sure, that the deep ties, that were built to the cracker scene (like for example with Radwar), ultimately documented by filming guys while cracking games, which is and was an illegal act, gained attention to people, who normally wouldn't have bothered about a conventional computer show. The whole thing probably came too close to an illegal subculture scene, losing distance and being judged as "too hot" for some of the white haired seat farters at the top of the (WDR) building. I can't remember, if there were ever discussions among the Highscore staff about the direction of the show or people feeling uneasy with the "cracker scene topic". But thinking about it today - though I wouldn't swear it - at least Peter (the director) once mentioned something in front of me (under four eyes in his office). Something about pressure being built or anything like this... Well, it's all very long time ago and I was quite young and not overlooking everything that was going on in "the grown ups" world, so to say. Anyway, the show vanished like most of my memories about it. But until we (Videocomp) dropped out, we had a very interesting and funny time, so let me bother you with some of the trivia, that I still remember.


3. When the show was finally going to be aired

As part of the technical assistance I was visiting WDR quite often after that first - for me memorable - meeting in summer 1988, until the first show finally got aired (must have been in September or October 1988). In all that time, and also while the show was running, there was lots of different work for us (Videocomp employees) to do. Work we really never thought we had to do, when the whole thing was in its planning state. One example: We were helping with the filmed game reviews, which were presented during the show. It was done in co-production with Carsten Borgmeier (Run Magazin). He was sending a bunch of very new/ early Amiga games to Videocomp in Frankfurt and I had to play all these games, while my colleagues were recording the session on betacam tape. I was "forced" - under loud cheering and hooray of my colleagues - to get as far in the game as I could in one take, so that enough material was present for the game review. After the recording was complete, we sent the tape back to WDR, where someone (maybe Carsten himself, can't remember) was using our filmed material for making/ finishing the game review report. It was a cool job for me, mainly because I got all the new Amiga games for free. When Carsten got to know that I was also part (or at least near) the scene, he was instantly taking me by phone, nervously asking not to give out the games to any cracker group. As said, most of the stuff was very new, partly not even released. I promised not to give anything out and I never broke my word (see, how lame I was ;-)) . Anyway, our game filming sessions someday were over, so I think Carsten didn't trust me (or they simply stopped the game reviews at all in the show, dunno anymore).

These game reviews were only one part of the work we were doing for the show. Another was visiting - once per month - Cologne, unholy early Saturday morning, in order to build up the whole Amiga/ genlock equipment. Often we ended up helping to raise the whole studio set, together with the WDR technicians, playing the supe for the illuminator and camera teams, fetching cables and carry them from one side of the building, delivering them in the other end (and believe me, the whole building complex of WDR is huge like hell). Additionally we were taming the Amigas and their gurus, calming down hyper nervous director Peter and eating all the "Quarktaschen" available at the WDR Kantine. Getting the whole show up and running on Saturday evening/ afternoon was quite often more than chaotic, especially when at the same day other big shows where filmed in the studio next door to ours (Rudi Carell Show pops my mind and a show with Jürgen von der Lippe, with whom I once collided somewhere near the Kantine, when we were all running around in plain hectic :-).

There is one important fact you should know about the Highscore show: Unlike many other shows, this one was live... yes it's true, you read right. Even back then I thought: This is insane. I still think it was. You can imagine, how much can go wrong in a live show, especially when (first generation) Amigas and their unreliable disk drives are involved. Anyway, despite all the chaos and stress (and of course also therefore), lots of funny moments took place...


4. Highscore = Chaos

One occasion is still very present in my head: Whenever the MAZ (tape recordings) were running (presenting reports, like the famous TWG crack for example) during the live show, we - the technical assistance - had approximately three or four minutes (as long as the report was running), to solve any appearing problems, e.g. with the Amigas. One day it happened, that we had to quickly run onto the studio stage, as soon as a tape recording was started, in order to boot all three Amigas to start the Highscore game. But things didn't go well, due to awkward Amigas, and we slowly ran out of time! "Three minutes left." shouted the voice from someone in the recording studio (must have been the producer, Markus was his name afair). I was looking at my colleague and asked him: "Is your Amiga booting?" He was shaking his head. I pressed the reset button on mine several times, but no success. "Two minutes left." Finally the first Amiga was up and running and I started the Highscore game. Two more to go. Reset. Again. Then the second Amiga booted. "One minute left!" I remember seeing Peter, our director, in that moment. On show Saturdays, at least until the show was over, he was always quite a nervous guy. But this evening, he was even short before fainting. "30 seconds!" I turned my head from his pale face and asked my colleague: "What are we going to do, if the last Amiga won't start?" He was shrugging his shoulder and said: "Do you know a good joke? We can present it as soon as we are live on air. Or we can sing something :-)." In this moment the last Amiga booted. All three Highscore games were started and we made it behind the blue curtain to the right of the audience seats (under big laughter of the whole audience) in the very last second. When the show was over, I remember host Ute (Welty) came to us, asking: "Do you have seen Peter? I can't find him anywhere." My colleague answered: "Peter hung himself in the toilet during the show." Ute made big eyes: "Really? Oh my god!" The fact that she believed it in the first second should illustrate in what condition our director normally was. Besides that, Peter was a very cool and nice person!

Little side note: The lead camera for the Highscore show was operated by Günter Müller, who was quite famous back then, being the side kick in the widely known TV show called So Isses hosted by Jürgen von der Lippe. The way Müller and von der Lippe were ragging at each other during the show was so hilarious, that it became a well known an beloved part of it. Müller, whom I knew from TV screen (and therefore encountered the first time with big eyes), was really as funny and cool as he appeared in So isses. Nevertheless he was fullfilling his camera work so superior that everyone involved in the Highscore show treated him with deep respect. He came to my mind, because he was called "Günni" by everyone and it was this nickname under which he was known to a wide German TV audience. Of course, he shouldn't be mixed up with a certain someone bearing the same nickname. Someone who was also kind of famous - but mainly in the German cracker scene. Why I am telling you all this? Well, it's a nice transition to the next little chapter...


5. Günni, the headhunter

Already one of the first shows that we assisted, offered a big surprise for me. While we were driving to Cologne early in the morning, my colleague was telling me, that a software lawyer called "von Gravenreuth" would attend the show. "So, be careful what you say", said my colleague with a smile on his face, not realizing that I was really shocked. I am going to face the famous (or should I say infamous) self-proclaimed agent/ inspector Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth, who was already known for (supposedly?) busting several sceners? "Uhhh shit", was my first reaction. I had never seen von Gravenreuth before, so I was unaware and slightly curious of how "the monster" would look like. This show was afair not the one, that you can watch on YouTube. Günni, as he was called in the scene, was guest at WDR several times and the famous discussion with MWS was presumably in a later show, but my mind can also play tricks on me and it was this famous third show (read below)... it's all so long time ago... anyway... we arrived at WDR, we did our job and duty, and at some occasion we ended up (like so often) in WDR Kantine for coffee and food. We sat at a table with several persons of the Highscore crew and had a little chat. While we were talking about this and that, I stated: "I heard, that this strange software agent will attend the show today." Following these words was this typical suspicious, awkward silence for some seconds. Then a staid guy, who was sitting directly besides me - an "old" man in the early fourties, wearing a noble cut beard - simply said: "Yes, that is me." I nearly fell off the chair. I really thought about simply running away :-). He nodded and said: "Don't be afraid, no names that I hear in this show will be recorded." All this was before the "Tanja Nolte incident", otherwise I wouldn't have trusted him :-). After the show the Highscore crew was off for some beers (Kölsch) and food somewhere in Cologne. Conquering a bar with the whole crew was something, we did quite often, which was cool for a young lad like me, boozing with the grown ups. On this evening, Günni was joining us. He was sitting at my table, telling me all his "heroic" stories: How he busted Snoopy (GCS), how he busted Section 8, how he was hunting Headbanger, who invested all the money he earned from selling disks for buying a BMW... and so on... till today I don't know how much of all this was true or plain legend and moreover I can't remember everything we talked about in this bar, though it went on till late night. One thing I remember, though: My ambivalent thoughts about Günni. He tried to be very friendly and sympathetic and he argued politely with well speech. Still I couldn't chum up with him. Neither that evening nor on later occasions, when I met him again at the show, or at Radwar Party. Worthless to say that all things he did later approved my underlying distrust.


6. All go to Venlo, except me

The third show of 1988, aired on the 17th of December, is also something I remember. I still have the printed time schedule of this show somewhere. These schedules were always handed out on Saturday morning to the whole crew... anyway. It was not only the show, were the famous live discussion between MWS and Günter Freiherr von Gravenreuth took place (the YouTube video is still around) - there was also David Braben in the studio for an interview. And hell, was I nervous meeting him - Mister Elite! On the same day when the show took place, there was a scene meeting in Venlo and I planned to go there - at all costs. Being so close to this famous party place was a real opportunity for someone who had no driving license back then. While the show was ongoing, I also realized the first time, that many sceners were present among the audience. It was the beginning of a happening. In the shows to come, more and more sceners were visiting the WDR, lurking around in the studio. Much to my joy. On that day I also met MWS for the first time. Nice fella btw. MWS was, from that day on, attending Highscore quite regularly together with other members of Radwar (like AVH and Mario van Zeist) and of course often accompanied by Dieter Mückter (Digital Marketing). We always had a nice chat when we met. I wonder, if they still remember me :-). As already stated, quite a lot of scene people have been at Cologne on this afternoon, and most of them went to Venlo afterwards. Like I planned to do. But after the show, I still had lots of work: Building down all the equipment, aftershow meeting with the crew... and I am pretty sure I also wiped the floor of the studio - what I did quite often (grrrr). In the end it was already very late and my older colleague, who was also the driver, insisted on returning home to Frankfurt, instead of going to what he would call a "Nerd party somewhere in Holland". Man, I was sore the whole ride back during that night - and the days to come :-).


7. How I was called "master coder" by Mario van Zeist

Meeting Mario at the Highscore show was also a nice occasion for me. Having a chat - little lamer, that I was - with the cool coder of Hawkeye and member of the famous Boys without Brains turned out to be really interesting and it later lead to a funny incident at Radwar Party. But I better start at the beginning:

It was another Saturday at WDR in Cologne. I had a little talk with Carsten Borgmeier in the noon. He told me what was intended for the show in the evening: The camera should move around a computer monitor while a prayer was recited, which was called: "Computer Unser" ("Our Computer", a ridiculous raped version of the Lord's prayer, might still have that somewhere). Can you imagine that? The whole studio in scattered light, a 1084 monitor in presentation and a dark off-camera voice, speaking a text beyond belief, by all means. I remember I laughed my ass off when I heard that, until Carsten mentioned, that this should not be all, that was planned for this heretic scene. Someone in a monk suite should kneel in front of the monitor, while the camera moves slowly around him - and guess what: They wanted me to do it! I instantly denied with all seriousness. The discussion went on for a while and in the end, it was Carsten himself, who ended up in the monk suite. I beg that someone has this scene on an old VHS, so it will appear on YouTube some day :-). Anyway... after I escaped my role as hilarious side kick, I felt like making myself useful (if not to make it less hard for Carsten :-)) . I said: "Why not showing something on the monitor screen during the prayer scene?" Carsten (and the producer) agreed. They liked the idea. The problem was: The only "free" computer available was a SX64 - no software, no cartridge, not even disks were around - and the blue start screen was suggested to be too shiny for the camera. "No problem.", I stated. "I will quickly put some basic crap together." So I started "coding". Like for so many people before, who programmed some lines at Hertie or Kaufhof (connoisseurs will know what I mean), there was no possibility to save the program later. So I prayed my own "Computer Unser" while I was doing it, hoping that the computer won't stall/ crash. I had to use Basic, as no monitor/ assembler was available, and I think I made a black screen, some sort of logo with multicolor ASCII chars, letting it shake with poke 53270 plus some flashing letters. As far as I can remember, nothing of it could be seen later during the show (maybe the computer was switched off by someone, or the lame screen I made turned out to be too dark... I really forgot). While I was stuffing the basic lines together, someone behind me stated: "You are a true master coder". I turned around and saw a smiling guy, who introduced himself as Mario van Zeist... wow! I remember him being a very nice chap and we were talking about this and that the whole rest of the afternoon. Some months later, I visited the Radwar Party 4 (January 1990). While I was watching the party place, looking for people I knew, suddenly someone slapped my back, shouting: "Master coder! Cool that you are here." It was Mario. A whole bunch of sceners were standing in quiet admiration and proper distance to him, watching this incident. As soon as he was gone again, they came to me, deeply irritated and wondering: Who could this unknown guy be? Being called "master coder" by a programmer god like Mario van Zeist :-).

Little side note: After my experiences with that basic coding on SX64, I was starting to take disks and my Final Cartridge 3 with me, whenever we visited Highscore. Soon I used the SX64, which was always around on a roll car at the set, as copy station, whenever someone brought his disks with him, which happened more and more often. This was a nice way for me to get new stuff. Well, at least until someone from the Highscore staff told me, not to do so... see, this TV guys learned slowly, but they learned - also about the dynamics in the scene, when it comes to copying/ spreading stuff ;-).

Quelle: CSDb - Commodore 64 Scene Database