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


Changes are in the offing for the radio stations of the Lagardère group: a reorganisation has been announced that will reshape the ownership and governance of Europe 1, RFM and Virgin Radio

The French group Vivendi takes another step towards control of the Lagardère group. At the end of the takeover bid (which was reopened from 29 May to 7 June 2022), Vincent Bolloré’s group reached 57.35% of the capital. The decision of the Autorité de la Concurrence is now awaited, which will have to pronounce on the 47.33% of voting rights that Vivendi acquired with the takeover bid (it currently holds 22.45%). In the meantime, the group has announced its intention to restructure the ownership and governance of the radio pole, which includes the three national networks Europe 1, RFM and Virgin Radio. The operation will have to be financially neutral, and (as ‘Les Echos’ writes) the activities could be brought together in a limited partnership in which the limited partners would be companies of the Lagardère group and the general partner Arnaud Lagardère.

FRANCE: Lagardère towards the ”break-up”?

Lagardère towards the ''break-up''?
Libération has dedicated an investigation to the subject (the article is behind a paywall, the newspaper can be read online for a month for just 1 EUR).

The grip is tightening on the Lagardère Group, propped up months ago (read more about it here) by injections of liquidity by Vincent Bolloré (owner of Vivendi, a multimedia group created around Canal+) and Bernard Arnault (owner of LVMH, an international fashion group). Bolloré would have set his eyes on Europe 1, a generalist radio station very much listened to in France, and would like to absorb it and, in view of the next elections, align it with the positions of Marine Le Pen. Arnault, instead, first hour supporter of President Emmanuel Macron, would be interested in the Journal du dimanche and Paris Match. So in the looming tug-of-war, the money may not be enough to get the radio station into Vivendi’s orbit. An extensive summary can be read on the webmagazine Succede Oggi (in Italian, consultation is free). Prima Comunicazione, on the other hand, also talks about Bolloré’s interest in the French group M6, which the German group Bertelsmann is interested in selling.

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