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)
To cope with a possible energy crisis, Compromís, a political party in the Valencia region, has asked the government to consider among emergency measures whether to change the broadcasting technology for radio stations. Switching to DAB, as Norway did in 2017 and Switzerland plannes to do at the end of 2024, could reduce electricity consumption by up to 90 %, according to Carles Mulet, the party’s spokesman in the Senate. But first Mulet proposes rationalizing the medium waves by employing the savings in the implementation of a DAB network and finally turning off FM. He then cites the costs declared by Radio Nacional de España after the parliamentary question submitted by the party in March 2022: between maintenance and expenses at transmitters in 2021 the medium waves absorbed 6,823,026 euros, and 6,287,503 euros were spent for the FM network.
BETWEEN SAYING AND DOING
Shutting down a band takes years of planning (while the energy crisis could occur in a few months, with the arrival of winter) and if the transition is not well managed it can cause ratings to plummet. As was the case in Norway, where it was public radio that decided to switch to DAB (also not to renew an outdated and expensive ground network: commercial and community broadcasters are still active) and the loss of audience five years later has still not been fully recovered. Switzerland, on the other hand, is a small country that between public and private radio does not reach 200 stations but has been preparing for the switch-off for years, with advertising campaigns in favour of digital radio so much so that now only 14 out of 100 people listen only to FM. In Spain, on the other hand, there are 163 medium wave transmitters (of which 103 are public and 60 commercial) and approx. 2,500 radio stations with over 6,000 transmitters on FM, of which it is estimated that at least a thousand are unlicensed, and only a few experimental DAB radio stations in Barcelona, Madrid and in a few cities (as well as a few unlicensed private muxes).
Many Spanish municipalities make their voice heard on the airwaves: they operate the ‘Emisora Municipal‘ (although not all of them have the word municipal radio in their names), a station that usually has its studios in the municipal building and broadcasts at low power (from 50 to a few hundred watts, just enough to cover the city) between 106 and 108 MHz. Madrid also has one. Or rather, there was: it was closed down three years ago (2019) by the new mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida (Partido Popular, allied with Ciudadanos and Vox to govern the city), who, in order to denigrate the work of the old administration (Manuela Carmena, PSOE socialist), had described the station as a six-million-euro beach bar for 400 people. But three years on, it seems that the capital’s first citizen has had second thoughts (he’s been in government since 2019) and wants to “make radio” as he puts it (El Confidencial has tried to investigate, but the administration has not leaked plans to use it so it’s still not clear what editorial project they’re working on). The mayor had not calculated that leaving the old frequency free would be a big mistake: there are dozens of pirate radio stations in the capital. It would have been enough to leave a low-power, modulated signal on to prevent occupation.
Millions in the wind (the value of a valuable canal in a capital city)
Madrid’s 88.6 is a valuable frequency, located at the lower end of the FM band, where the most important radio stations are and where most listeners cross. When manually tuned receivers were used, the channels at the beginning of the band were the most sought-after. El Confidencial examines the case in detail, talking about the labyrinth in which the administration has got itself into in order to identify which of the many territorial and state administrations is competent to intervene and resolve the problem. So a pirate radio station occupied the frequency and the administration filed a complaint against unknown persons. Waiting for something to move in the organizational machine of the State or of whoever should control the airwaves. Difficult, given that in the country there are not only pirate radio stations but thousands of unauthorised broadcasters who are also national networks. The final hoax: the Madrid City Council is continuing to pay the State the annual fee for the use of the frequency. This and more in the article, in which you can also find information on the old municipal radio station: M21 (the radio station is nicknamed Radio Carmena, after the mayor who started the station: Manuela Carmena, judge emeritus of the Supreme Court of Spain).
The Superior Court of Justice of Madrid (Tribunal Superior de Justicia – TSJ) annulled the dismissal of a sound technician of Cope (Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas, owned by the Spanish Episcopal Conference), and ordered the company to reinstate him and pay his back wages. The employee had written a comment on Twitter about a Spanish satirical film where Jesus is portrayed as a homosexual. The court upheld the appeal because an employee is not obliged to share a company’s ideology or decalogue of good practices and cannot be expelled for this reason. Moreover, he was not a journalist, broadcasting news or opinions, but a sound recording assistant; his Twitter profile was personal and did not indicate that he was an employee of the Catholic radio station. Therefore, the followers of the post could not have damaged the company’s image, as they were unaware of who he worked for.