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.
On 23 January 2023, DAB broadcasting began on Martinique, an island of the Lesser Antilles, one of the French overseas departments. The multiplex, operating on channel 5B, is managed by I-Médias Group, a company that owns several stations in the Antilles and Guyana. For the time being, the bouquet, which will operate on an experimental basis for nine months, comprises five stations: Fusion DAB+, Fusion Gold, Fusion Salsa, Fusion Compas, and Fusion 100% News, all thematic channels of Radio Fusion, of the I-Medias Group. But four more will be added: Radio Evangile Martinique, Radio Identité, Mixx FM, and Maknet Jazz. The intention of I-Médias is to arrive, when fully operational, at 12 channels (French legislation provides for a maximum of 13 per multiplex). In the region, four multiplexes are planned, with a total of 50 stations. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
From January 2023, Europe 2 will return on Virgin Radio‘s 243frequencies: this is one of the changes envisaged by the reorganisation of the Lagardère Group (of which the Europe 1 and RFM radio networks are also part) announced in June 2022 when Vivendi took control. Europe 2 is a historic brand, which had given way to Virgin Radio in January 2008, after 20 years in business. The agreement with Virgin, which covered frequencies in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Andorra and Monaco, had been signed in December 2007 by Sir Richard Branson, who had appeared on the Champs-Elysées dressed as Father Christmas for the occasion. Originally Europe 2 was a programme distributed to broadcasters. It became a network but left room for local programmes. Now, for Arnaud Lagardère, President and CEO of the group, and Constance Benqué, who heads the news hub, Europe 2 will return to its original mission: to connect audiences and artists. (Written byFabrizio Carnevalini)
The conquest of the French media group by the Breton financier Vincent Bolloré is approaching its final stages. The Opa (the takeover bid aimed at shareholders to invite them to sell their shares to the company that would like to take control), initially scheduled for December 15, 2022, has been brought forward to February 2022.Vivendi will take control of Radio Europe 1, the RMF and Virgin Radio networks and the publishing houses Hachette and Editis. The Antitrust Authority and the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) have yet to pronounce on the acquisition. They could impose the sale of certain assets in the book sector, particularly in France, because with the acquisition of the two big names in publishing and book distribution in France, Vivendi would have a dominant position. This and other aspects are discussed in the Italian monthly Prima Comunicazione, specialized in the world of publishing.
The Lagardère group has unveiled a plan to redeploy 30 journalists and 4 presenters involved in closing 26 Virgin Radio and four RFM locations. Ownership attributes the need for the cuts to the music broadcasters’ declining audience due to competition from streaming platforms. But the CFDT union disputes this, attributing the crisis to the group’s management problems, as the other major generalist radio stations have not lost listeners. On the contrary, the stations that will be closed have sent €3.6 million in dividends to the Lagardère group in 2020.
In the communiqué issued by the union, the workers are acknowledged for their dedication to working as presenters in the morning, especially in “isolated editorial offices“, with net salaries of less than 1,900 euros per month. And fearing the danger of information desertification in certain areas, particularly rural ones, the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) is asked to monitor the merger in progress within the group and compliance with agreements. Indeed, operators are obliged to open local offices in order to broadcast local advertising. ”Certainly, shareholders dream of radio stations without journalists or presenters, but the media will die that way.”
To celebrate the centenary of the first radio broadcast and the 40th anniversary of the liberalisation of the airwaves, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) has organised a festival to be held between 31 May and 6 June, 2021. Launched by the authority that regulates the French media system, the initiative will involve public and private broadcasters. 2021 marks the centenary of the first broadcast from the Tour Eiffel (24 December 1921) and 40 years since the liberalisation of the FM band (9 November 1981). But innovation will also be celebrated, as the first national multiplex in the digital band (DAB+) will be launched this year. History and archives, special programmes, media education seminars, lectures, open studios: many events will be organised during the week. Information is available here.
The decision by the German group Bertelsmann to sell two leading broadcasters in terms of ratings (TV M6and radio RTL are both in second place) has opened up competition between major French patrons. Four bids have already been submitted and the competition is expected to be fierce. There are also political interests: in 2022 there will be presidential elections, and the transfer of the two stations could reshape the media landscape. Especially if Vincent Bolloré, who has changed the political line of CNews (all news network) and shifted it to extreme right-wing positions, wins the elections. Details on the protagonists and the political balances at stake in the article of the Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della sera’.
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 theFrench group M6, which the German group Bertelsmann is interested in selling.
At 5pm on 5th of January 1971, FIP started to broadcast in Paris on mediumwave 585 kHz as “France Inter Paris”. This was the beginning of an incomparable radio station, which has still no limits in musical variety. You can hear classical music followed by rock music and afterwards some French chanson – but it is never incoherent or without a transition between the songs. It is a surprising and refreshing station that has survived several belt-tightening moves from Radio France.
And there were quite some changes and cuttings in the past 50 years: a lot of local stations of FIP closed in 2000 and the remaining local outlets had to close at the end of 2020. Several outstanding shows were cancelled (like “Dites 33”, where all songs were played from vinyl), the news flash and the traffic information were removed in the last years. Fortunately, they never removed the good music choice and the female announcers, called “Fipettes”, with their famous voices.
But there are some positive developments since FIP started to broadcast on DAB from Lille, Lyon and Paris. With only ten FM frequencies in bigger cities like Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille, FIP is the smallest FM network of Radio France. In the regions where FIP can be received, they have a big audience – hopefully growing with the upcoming nationwide transmission on DAB.
The 50th anniversary will be celebrated by FIP in its programme with a lot of shows and historical music. Today, between 5 pm and 7 pm, the history of FIP will be narrated with music and anecdotes. Starting on the 9th of January at 8 pm, 50 years of music in 50 hours will be presented each Saturday for 50 weeks at this time.
In order to compensate for lower advertising revenues caused by the pandemic, the large networks are making savings like this: Altice has closed down the TV channel RMC Sport and laid off a third of its personnel, RTL has dismissed well known radio hosts and television presenters and NRJ has sold a stake to increase liquidity
In June 2020 the French subsidiary of the Altice group (a multinational with headquarters in Holland), presented a plan to the unions ‘in order to save the media group’. This involved all the divisions in the NextRadioTV group, including channels BFM TV and RMC. The goal is to streamline both organisation and programming by axing between 330 and 380 full-time staffers in addition to 200 freelancers. According to the union representing the employees at Altice CGT (Confederation generale du travail) ‘This drastic cut in personnel is incomprehensible for a profitable group in constant growth, which had a turnover of € 120 million in 2019, a 300% increase in 5 years’.
Unions jump into action
Following a number of strikes and union action, the company softened its stance on June 29th, 2020. It undertook to ‘offer voluntary redundancies to a maximum of 330 staffers and not proceed with layoffs until November 31st, 2021’. It will also try ‘to find alternative employment for staffers who cannot be placed in other positions inside the organisation and find a solution for freelancers’.
Capital gain of € 300 million in 2018
Up to a short time ago the group was flourishing to the point that the owner, Patrick Drahi, and Alan Weill, the Chief Executive Officer of NextRadioTV, made €300 million gross from the capital gain on the sale of some buildings. These four towers, located in the 15th arrondissement in Paris, are the headquarters of SFR (Societe francaise du radiotelephone, the second largest mobile communications company), BFM TV and the daily newspaper Liberation. The 85,800 square metres of floorspace accommodates 7,000 employees. Apparently in 2018 Drahi and Weill bought the buildings in their own names to then resell them to the group at a higher price.
RTL dismiss well known radio hosts and television presenters
The RTL group’s accounts for the first quarter this year closed with a fall of 3.14%. Two months later, the French headquarters announced the dismissals of a number of well known television presenters and radio hosts, the departure of the head of the political service and a cut in the budget of the correspondent in the United States. Details can be found on Jean Marc Morandini’s website
NRJ sells a stake to increase liquidity
Despite its leading position in the French market, NRJ is also feeling the pinch. On June 24th, 2020, NRJ sold a 5% stake in Euro-Information Telecom for €50 million. The company stated that the sale proceeds ‘will be used for the needs of the group’s business‘. See details here