BOOKS: Rise and fall of Europe 1, from innovation to paralysis

Three editors with exceptional personalities built its success, but with the generation changeover, the decline began

Published by Le Bord de l’Eau, the book (in French) has a cover price of 22 euros and is available on the publisher’s website or on Amazon

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

The OBS website, published by Nouvel Observateur du Monde (a group to which Le Monde and The Huffington Post, among others, belong) hosts an extensive review of the book

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.

Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini


The 30x30 cm book cover is a tribute to the vinyl record covers that marked the era of free radio
The 30×30 cm book cover is a tribute to the vinyl record covers that marked the era of free radio
Source: photo courtesy of the author, Yvon Lechevestrier

Forty years ago, the French state broke the monopoly in the FM band, authorising the emergence of private associative broadcasters. At that time, the FM band was populated by a few channels: the public ones of Radio France and a few private ones, such as Europe 1 and RTL. From 9 November 1981, the phenomenon exploded, immediately making radio a popular medium: within a year, there were two thousand free radio stations. The next step came in 1984 when advertising was authorised, and radio stations could choose between two organisational formulas: remaining an associative broadcaster, relying on state subsidies, or standing on their own two feet, becoming a commercial station living off the revenue from commercials.

The epic told in a book

Summer 1981: at the Hédé festival Pierre Giboire, founder of Fréquence Ille, interviews Edmond Hervé, mayor of Rennes
Summer 1981: at the Hédé festival Pierre Giboire, founder of Fréquence Ille, interviews Edmond Hervé, mayor of Rennes. The microphone and vintage cassette recorder can be seen in the foreground
Source: photo courtesy of the author, Yvon Lechevestrier

In Rennes, there were two pioneers: Gaby Aubert, a butcher’s boy turned bistro owner, who launched Radio Rennes, which is still in operation today, and Pierre Giboire, a 23-year-old student who created Fréquence Ille on 14 July 1981: it was an immediate success, quickly becoming one of the radio stations that symbolised the liberalisation of the airwaves. Not much time passed and in the Breton capital, other stations followed the path opened by the pioneers: Rennes FM, Radio Congas, and Radio Vilaine. They are mainly music stations, each distinguished by its own style. It is of this creative period that ‘Il est libre Max‘ (in homage to the name of the first song broadcast by Fréquence Ille), a book written by Yvon Lechevestrier, a former journalist for the French daily Ouest-France, is about. With testimonies and period illustrations, it brings the fabulous 1980s back to life.

Standardisation arrives in the 1990s

The book’s layout is elegant: on each double page the space on the left is reserved for photos from different periods of time
Source: photo courtesy of the author, Yvon Lechevestrier

The golden age of local radio continued until the end of the decade, interspersed with episodes from the city’s history. But after the initial enthusiasm, business began to take hold: the most important commercial radio stations, such as NRJ, grew and became national networks. In the 1990s, with the first economic difficulties, most of the pioneers threw in the towel and many stations were absorbed by the networks. The FM band is still very musical, but also, often, very commercial.

Forty years later, the radio scene is still vibrant: at the end of 2020, according to the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), there were 1,021 private operators and more than 6,000 frequencies. The book, published by AR Editions Collection, costs EUR 29 and can be ordered from or directly from the author at

BOOKS: Women in radio

The volume is expected to arrive in the bookshop before Christmas. The cover price is 10 euros
The volume is expected to arrive in the bookshop before Christmas. The cover price is € 10,-

In the history of radio there have been important female figures, even if the story almost always recalls the male protagonists. Umberto Alunni, a former manager of the banking sector (he has been director of important credit institutions, but has always cultivated the passion of a collector of antique radios and a divulger) has reconstructed in the book “Le donne della radio” the biographies of ten characters. From Annie Jameson, Marconi’s mother, to the anonymous steno-typist of the steamship Lusitania, to Lisa Glauber, the only living protagonist, daughter of the owner of the Unda Radio factory. Alunni thus gives back to the female gender the role of protagonist that it deserves.

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