Three editors with exceptional personalities built its success, but with the generation changeover, the decline began
The epic story of one of France’s most successful radio stations is reconstructed in the book ‘EUROPE 1. De la singularité au déclin (1955-2022)’, written by Denis Maréchal, French journalist and columnist. The broadcaster was founded in 1954 by Charles Michelson, a visionary entrepreneur who was already thinking about Europe and television. But he is an awkward character and the government bars his way, making Sylvain Floirat, owner of the Matra aeronautics group, take his place. Floirat is also a man of great qualities and makes the station grow further. Among his employees is Jean-Luc Lagardère, a young engineer who takes over in the mid-1970s, continuing to develop the winning format and consolidating the station’s success.
An innovative formula
Live programmes, an independent newsroom with great personalities, and political debates are Europe 1’s strengths. The music is no less: jazz, yé-yé culture and rock, pop music, and chanson à texte (so-called because the authors claim the literary quality of the texts). But in 1981 the competition from free radio began and since 2003 the second generation has been at the helm of the company. Arnaud Lagardère, however, made strategic mistakes that aggravated the crisis and prevented the station from being renewed. Meanwhile, digital erodes ratings. In 2020, the group was in crisis and the shareholders challenged Arnaud, who, in order to remain at the helm, ‘opened up’ to Vincent Bolloré’s corporate entry. He starts with 10% but within two years, the Vivendi group patron takes control of the Lagardère group, further downsizing Europe 1. We talked about it on Radio Reporter here, here, and here.
Nearly a century has passed since the beginning of radio broadcasting in Spain (the anniversary will be in 2024) and we are preparing to celebrate it. But who really deserves the podium?
There is a curious struggle for radio primacy that is recounted in the newspaper La Vanguardia by Jesus Fraiz Ordonez, author of “La Barcelona de antes,” a series that recovers the historical memory of the Catalan city. Talking about the first radio stations (in every country there is always someone who boasts of having broadcast first) he reconstructs what happened almost a hundred years ago. To go on the air first was Madrid’s Radio Ibérica. But perhaps its promoters did not read well the ordinance that required a prior visit by an official of the Directorate General of Communications to apply for an official license. It thus began illegally (a custom that has remained to this day: there are over a thousand unlicensed radio stations in the country), while in Radio Barcelona they followed the procedures and the radio received the coveted EAJ-1 license. The fascinating story of what happened can be read here. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Couleur 3 is the first European radio station to go on the air for half a day with programs created by artificial intelligence: lyrics, music, and speaker voices. Only the news remained handled by the traditional newsroom. Here’s how it went
The Swiss are not afraid of innovation. After all, it is through innovation that their watch industry has achieved world leadership. In radio, they are ahead of their time: in the early 2000s, RSI (Swiss Radio International) moved to the web by dismantling the powerful shortwave transmitter at Sottens (500 kW) in 2004. Twenty years later they are ready to switch off FM for DAB (from 2024), but unlike Norway, they have prepared the transition methodically: widespread coverage of the territory and information campaigns to buy digital receivers. And artificial intelligence sees them as pioneers once again: while in the States they are announcing software, Colour 3, the third public radio network in French-speaking Switzerland, has already gone on air on 27 April 2023 with programmes made by AI.
Thirteen hours of programming, three months of preparation
Although the experiment lasted half a day, it was meticulously prepared for months, experimenting with ten types of artificial intelligence and selecting five of them, including ChatGPT. The texts of the programmes were generated by algorithms, the music composed by AI, and the digital voices of five female and male animators of the station, cloned by Respeecher, a company specialising in film productions, were put on air. Only the information was handled in the traditional way, with articles written and read by live editors. Speakers, however, can rest assured, because artificial intelligence, as Antoine Multone, head of Colour 3, pointed out, is ‘cold’ and cannot replace the creativity, improvisation, and humour of a human.
Work less, work better
But the path is now marked out and the experiment is considered interesting by Pascal Crittin, director of RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse) because the energy that can be saved by entrusting the management of part of the programming to artificial intelligence can be concentrated on the originality of the content. Also, he adds that RTS and SSR (Société Suisse de radiodiffusion) want to use AI in an ethical manner, offering verified information and protecting the public from fake news. All of this is in the DNA of Couleur 3, which was one of the first Swiss radio stations to computerise its schedule, use samplers and, more recently, try out binaural sound, create social network videos and new musical currents before they spread. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
In order to intercept young people, who mainly inform themselves on online platforms, the German international broadcaster restructures and accelerates its digital transformation
Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcasterof international programmes, will close its German-language TV channel. Despite state funding amounting to 406.5 million euros, the broadcaster may have a deficit budget. Director Peter Limbourgrelies on digital transformation in order to intercept young and experienced target groups who inform themselves via online platforms. The German TV channel, whose audience has dropped to 250,000 viewers, and the German Twitter and Facebook accounts will be closed. The operation will result in the ‘socially responsible’ cutting of around one hundred jobs, mainly in the Berlin office. The broadcaster will continue broadcasting in 32 languages.
A conference in Rome analysed the radio system in Italy and some other European countries, as well as how radio is chasing the young audience, which is moving further away from listening
The conference ‘Universi sonori’ was held in Rome on 29 March 2022. ‘From radio to new spaces of production and listening’, it took stock of the radio ecosystem and future prospects. Promoted by Confindustria Radio Televisioni (an association comprising the major national radio and television operators), in collaboration with the Department of Communication and Social Research of the Sapienza University of Rome, it developed thematic panels, round tables, laboratory experiments, and talks with university radio stations. Experts, important players in the radio market, supply chain operators, and institutions, drew scenarios and showed how radio pursues the young audience (which is moving away the most) with thematic offers, talent and formats that represent them, presence on platforms and social networks, and events in the territory.
On Radio Reporter we will present some of the most significant interventions. The morning and afternoon session speeches can be reviewed at the respective links.
The allocation of licences is approaching and we asked an expert what will happen. Pending final guidelines, as of today, those who broadcast on FM can participate (as members of a consortium, otherwise they will compete for the remaining space). Those who only operate in the digital band, on the other hand, have two options: buy an FM frequency or buy half the band that will be allocated to a radio station that is entitled to it
The allocation of DAB frequencies in Italy is approaching and the scarcity of radio resources will not allow all consortia to obtain them. As a result, not all radio stations will be able to have a channel, particularly those that do not have FM frequencies. With Massimo Lualdi, who with Consultmedia has been assisting hundreds of publishers on regulatory issues for almost thirty years, we take stock of the situation regarding the prospects and steps to be taken by traditional publishers and those who have taken advantage of the current availability of channels to bring their web radio to DAB.
A premise: in Italy, the digital band has two limits: the unused channel 13 (reserved by the Ministry of Defence for the VHF links used by the Army) and the interference problems raised by neighbouring countries, which limit the number of channels that can be used, aggravated by the Ministry’s absence at the coordination tables over the last decade, which have left Italy with ‘the crumbs’.
What timeframe is envisaged for the contest and the subsequent allocation? It is difficult to answer since the final guidelines for participation in the calls for tenders have not yet been published by the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy. It was thought that they would be published by the end of February 2023, resulting in the publication of the calls for tenders in the current month of March and with the deadline for the submission of applications within the following 30 or 60 days (it is not even known how long this will be), but this has not happened. I assume it will be soon so we can estimate that by the beginning of the summer, the ministry will be able to start the screening and, barring any surprises, conclude the allocation by the end of the year.
For how many broadcasters will there be space on DAB? Since the draft guidelines indicated a maximum limit of 72 CUs (capacitive units: allows 12 channels with a bitrate of 96 kbps on a multiplex) for each broadcaster, but (rightly, to avoid DTT errors) not a minimum, it is difficult to answer. Theoretically, 36 CU (equal to 48 kbps per channel) is considered a suitable value to carry the existing analogue to digital. But since not all broadcasters will give up the maximum due, the picture is still undefined.
Will those operating on FM have priority in the allocation or only a higher score? They will have it to the extent that only analogue licensees can participate in a consortium as partners. But if they have not done so before the tenders, they will have the same chance as independent, i.e. digitally native, providers.
Will a radio born on DAB still be able to broadcast? What steps will it have to take to avoid having to switch off and protect the investments made so far? A few digital natives acquired analogue dealer status (by taking over the concession and FM plant in the region of interest). A few others have secured a 50% share of the 72 CUs due to an analogue dealer (allowing them to cut costs pro rata in the consortium). For the others, it will depend on the remaining spaces. As Consultmedia, we are convinced that the market will stabilise in the use of 36 CUs, which, if handled well from the point of view of the audio chain (source files, high-quality sound processing and Fraunhofer codecs), guarantee more than decent sound quality. With this in mind, all current independent providers in the experimental muxes should be able to survive.
Buy a concession and an FM channel? Some have already done so: will this new interest in FM drive up prices? (Which, as you write in the Newslinet magazine, have plummeted by 90% in recent years)? Absolutely not. This is a transitory phenomenon related only to participation in tenders. In fact, we will see a new collapse immediately afterwards. I’ll say more: it is very likely that incentives will be provided at the ministerial level (at the instigation of Agcom, which has already expressed its opinion on the point) for the voluntary decommissioning of installations in exchange for a guarantee that analogue status will be preserved in digital form (hence the possibility of competing for contributions and other support measures, and of course of participating in consortia as members).
Despite being one of the founding members of the British streaming platform, the British public broadcaster has removed its radio channelsfrom RadioPlayer since January 2023. Listeners now only have to use ‘BBC Sounds‘, which is available as an app and can be accessed on the web in a special area of the British broadcaster’s official website. Retaining control of content with a proprietary app is a trend that is spreading especially among large broadcasters. In the UK, it was already put into practice by Global (owner of seven stations including Radio Capital, Heart Radio, Classic FM, and LBC), which created its own ‘Global Player‘ in 2017, while Bauer Media Group (owner of 150 radio brands in nine countries) has never directed listeners to the UK streaming platform.
The company is doing just fine! (but has few radio stations)
The founder and CEO of RadioPlayer downplays. On the contrary, he raises the bar: Michael Hillsays that the company is booming (the nineteenth foreign office was opened in March, with the launch of the app in Luxembourg). The platform, which claims to contain the best of radio, hosts the most important networks and commercial radio stations. These, however, are only a fraction of the stations that exist in each country. Two examples: in Luxembourg, you can listen to only ten, half of which belong to the RTL Group. In Italy, there are over 1100 active radio stations, but with RadioPlayer, you can listen to 125 of them, which is just a bit more than 10% of the mentioned number. This also includes 107 radio stations that only broadcast on DAB.
Among the many infrastructures damaged by the conflict in Ukraine, there is also the link network that enabled the connection between the regional TV offices and the central newsroom in Kyiv. The main antenna was on the capital’s broadcasting tower, which was damaged in March 2022. Since then, mobile crews who rely on the cellular network to send video footage have been handicapped due to the use of portable equipment which only allows for low-resolution transmission. To solve the problem, Japan thus donated a number of portable mini-repeaters to the public broadcasting company Nacional’na Suspil’na Teleradiokompanija Ukraïny.
Minsk launches a clone of the British aggregator. In defiance of copyright
As of February 2023, Belarusian citizens also have an app for listening to radio stations on the web, mobile devices, and smart TVs, Radio Player‘s website explains. Promoted by the Belarusian Broadcasting Industry Association, however, the app is a copy of one launched in 2010 in the United Kingdom and which has since spread to 13 other countries, not only in Europe. It allows listeners to listen only to radio stations based in the country, a feature designed by the British to protect copyright, but which in an authoritarian regime also allows citizens’ freedom of choice to be restricted. It is unclear whether it allows content to be sent to car infotainment systems-the Belarusian version’s website makes no mention of it. But how is it possible to violate copyright? Thanks to an “ad hoc” law that allows Western content to be used without the rights holder’s consent and without paying royalties. Approved on December 21, 2022, by the Belarusian parliament and signed by President Aleksander Lukashenko.
(From a post by Michel Fremy on Linkedin, edited by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Radio is also a passion, for those who make it and listen to it. Among those who ‘turn the knobs’, Dario Monferini has left an indelible mark: in almost fifty years he has listened to and visited thousands of radio stations
His unmistakable look sticks in the memory of thousands of radio operators who welcome him into the studios. He is well-informed about all radio stations, not just the ones he listens to. He visits as many as possible to get to know them better, to ask for information and, above all, for gadgets. He dreams of a museum that tells the history of stations all over the world. To do so, he collects everything that bears witness to the radio epic: newspaper cuttings, specialised magazines, books, stamps, coins and phone cards with station logos, programme schedules, and photographs. In the pre-internet era, he created a network of hundreds of correspondents scattered all over the world, who, like him, hunt for material and exchange it. Swirling.
The picture above shows him on an overseas trip. It’s the nineties: Dario poses in front of the trademark and slogan of a Venezuelan Circuito Nacional Belfort, closed in 2009 when President Ugo Chávez withdrew the concession from radio stations opposing his regime. The shot is by Marzio Vizzoni, a passionate photographer who follows him on the South American stage. Almost everyone welcomes this curious Italian who knows frequencies and radio names inside out, even though he lives on the other side of the ocean: in the analogue era, he has the memory of a computer. In his hand he holds PlayDx, a fanzine edited every Sunday morning with a typewriter. Uninterruptedly until 2012, when the tapes become unavailable. He published more than 1500 issues before migrating to digital, helped by friends.
Fifty years of travel
In almost fifty years, Monferini travelled the length and breadth of Europe and the American continent. He visits thousands of stations. Some interview him live, and air the recording of the programme he received in Italy. Friendly, he dispenses vitriolic jokes in various languages. He learns them as an autodidact, to decipher the details of programmes that often arrive with a signal at the limit of comprehensibility. He listens to everything, on short, medium and long waves. He approached radio listening at the end of the 1960s: passion, intelligence and willpower immediately made him excel. He became an institution and actively participated in international conventions of enthusiasts’ clubs, representing Italian radio listening.
The trophy room
He becomes a leader. For him, listening is also redemption. Polio has left heavy marks: he wears orthopaedic shoes and has to get help from friends to open drinks cans. But his will makes up for the gaps and drives him to wear out the soles of his shoes by travelling the world far and wide. He throws himself into his hobby and renounces starting a family. He marries radio. In just a few years, he has hit the ground running and is a cut above other enthusiasts: he writes to every radio station he can tune into. In the first four years, he gets 1,200 replies. A record. He listens to practically everything that reaches Italian latitudes (disadvantaged by propagation, which gives northern Europeans exceptional openings, thanks to the earth’s magnetism and the many hours of darkness). He compensates for the lack of propagation with commitment.
From North American medium wave stations to FM
He runs on the bands every night until the wee hours to receive South American stations. And when the cone has no more secrets, he switches to North American medium-wave stations. He wakes up between four and six o’clock to take advantage of the cone of shadow that precedes the rising of the sun and that favours reception. He identifies favourable days by phoning the observatory in Boulder, Colorado, every day, which broadcasts a recorded message with the solar activity values. These were the roaring years of radio on short and medium waves. And, when the liberalisation of the Italian airwaves began in 1975 and frequency modulation became populated with broadcasters, he also devoted himself to FM. The wave of freedom spreads over the band and crosses Europe. It sweeps away the dreariness of state radios and brings a generation of youngsters onto the airwaves, some of whom are still in the saddle today, almost fifty years later, but just as passionate as they were then. Thousands of broadcasters were born: an opportunity not to be missed to gather material to document them.
An immense collection… dispersed
To collect a memento on each radio he makes whirlwind exchanges with enthusiasts all over the world. In fifty years he created an immense collection and filled a flat with stacks of boxes reaching up to the ceiling. Unfortunately, the unforgivable decision of the tutelary judge (two years after a heart attack in 2021 and the first stroke) and the insensitivity of the support administrator sent everything to the scrap heap in order to sell the flat and pay for the retirement home. A pity. But if the collectors at the time and the radio editors, all now in their old age, join forces, they can realise that dream they perhaps shared in their hearts. Something that tells their story. It would be an opportunity to reconstruct their memory since the publicity materials collected by enthusiasts are often the only evidence of many of the more than 12,000 Italian radio stations that have been in existence since 1975. To organise the materials, valorise them and organise travelling exhibitions instead of letting them get mouldy in some cellar. Or have them end up in a landfill. Dario left us on 17 October 2022 before dawn, in the health facility where he had been hospitalised for months in Milan.