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)
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.
The transition to digital requires investments that not all broadcasters can afford. Especially community radio stations, which have little advertising (or are self-financing) and therefore lack the necessary resources. This is a common situation in many countries, but in Belgium, the association of independent voices Radio Z has launched a petition to urge the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation to take action. The stations it represents are followed by hundreds of thousands of listeners in the region, employ more than a thousand volunteers who inform, entertain and promote the territory and the community; and above all train presenters, technicians and journalists. Unfortunately, these independent voices are financially exhausted and would need to double their revenues to survive. Despite warning signs, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is not taking action and the diversity of the radio landscape is in danger of being destroyed. By 2030, in fact, 50-60% of them could disappear, due to the lack of economic, technical and logistical aid and a penalising digital frequency allocation plan.
A four-point plan
The association calls for annual funding for independent radio stations, similar to that provided for the press and local television, which receive, respectively, 10.9 and 10.4 million EUR a year, not counting municipal, provincial, Brussels region and French Community Commission (Cocof) subsidies. More support and flexibility is also needed from the operators who will carry the DAB signal to avoid any stations being excluded. It is also necessary to immediately optimise the frequency plan, which today does not allow the proper broadcasting of independent radio stations. Finally, the procedure for allocating funding to guarantee the transition to digital broadcasting must be reviewed.
How are public broadcasting executives elected? A comparison of the procedures adopted by six European countries
In recent months, when the top management of Radiotelevisión Española (RTVE) was being renewed, a debate was opened in the country on the mechanisms that govern these choices. An article in the periodical Vozpópuli compared the Spanish situation with that of five other European countries: the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany. In Spain, the president of RTVE is chosen from a shortlist of ten candidates, six of whom are appointed by the Congress of Deputies and four by the Senate.
In Germany, the TV channel ZDF enjoys greater autonomy from political forces and the executive, in order to focus on the professionalism of the management.
Since 13 May 2021, with the live connection from the sanctuary of Fatima for the transmission of the Holy Rosary, Radio Maria’s broadcasts have begun in Portugal. An expression of the Portuguese association of the same name, the project to open the station began in 2018, when the president of the Spanish office José Manuel Quintanilla took up the invitation of Emanuele Ferrario, the historic president who passed away in 2020 and who “globalised” the station.
The frequencies are those of the former Radio Sim
The Portuguese station acquired the ownership of Rádio Simfrom Grupo Rádio Renascença (a Portuguese media hub that owns Rádio Renascença, RFM and Mega Hits) and switched on 102.2 MHz in Lisbon and 100.8 MHz in Porto, and opened its headquarters in Lisbon and studios in Fatima. The editorial director and head of programmes is Father Marco Luís, appointed on 6 November 2020 by José Ornelas Carvalho, Bishop of Setúbal and President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference.
With the Portuguese office, there are 82 affiliates
The station is part of the World Family of Radio Maria, an association created in 1998 to promote the development of the station in the world by offering technical and organisational support to the associations that have arisen in various countries. The World Family of Radio Maria has 82 stations, of which 28 in Europe, 23 in America, 23 in Africa and 8 in Asia and Oceania. With more than two thousand transmitters, Radio Maria reaches more than 500 million listeners around the world, speaking in more than 65 languages.
Berlin-based Schlager Radio has announced the launch of its own visual radio station, which will be receivable via satellite on Astra and with a smart TV connected to the internet. The station’s intention is to offer additional information, such as displaying the title of the song being broadcast. “The aim”, says press spokesman Heiner Harke, “is to offer our listeners visual added value without being a TV programme“.
Boom in Italy
In Italy, on the other hand, live video broadcasts from radio stations are almost like television programmes and are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, around 19 million Italians now follow them on a screen (TV, smartphone or PC), 11 million of whom use TV. And according to the Censis research “La transizione verso la radiovisione” (“The transition towards radiovision”) “visual radio is strongly in tune with the expectations of Italians: 52% declare that they would like to have more and more the possibility to enjoy radio contents on different devices also in video format. And 50% of those who follow radiovision find it pleasant, 27.5% engaging, 24% innovative”.
With the pandemic, many Honduran radio stations have had to suspend broadcasts for four to five months because staff became ill and because of the economic crisis that has forced many companies to close, increasing unemployment. Now, fearing that the situation in the South American country will worsen, Carlos Enamorado, secretary of the Community Media Association of Honduras (AMCH), is asking for international aid to survive. In Honduras today there are more than 50 community broadcasters (not all of them authorized), of which 35 are active, and three community television channels, authorized but not yet operational due to the investments required to start broadcasting. More than 400 non-Community radio and television stations are active in the country. The HolaNews article discusses the situation in detail.
After the great enthusiasm for digital broadcasting in the DRM standard, the Indian government is rethinking the technology to be chosen for the future. Digitization began in 2010, and since then three shortwave and 35 mediumwave systems have been activated; the latter can serve an area of 300-350 km each and two or three are sufficient to cover one of the 29 federal states. However, there are few listeners because the receivers cost too much for the purchasing power of the average Indian: the price is at least 3000 rupees (equal to 42 US$), a huge amount considering that in the country one person out of four lives on 12 US$ per month (below the poverty line). India has been penalized by the fact that it was among the first countries to choose DRM because the industry, concentrating on DAB+ (a technology not considered usable in the country, given the vastness of the areas to be covered) has not realized economies of scale and the price of receivers has remained high. Yet the DRM technology could also be used for the FM band.
Further details in the interesting article by Sreejiraj Eluvangal appeared on ultra news, which reports the statements of Ruxandra Obreja, president of the DRM Consortium and Prakash Javadekar, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
In a bureaucratic statement that does not go into detail, the Chinese broadcasting regulator (NRTA-National Radio and Television Administration) has decreed the closure of the BBC World News satellite channel on 12 February 2021. This is despite the fact that the television channel cannot be seen by most Chinese, because in China it can only be viewed in international hotels and some diplomatic compounds. The British public broadcaster condemned the decision and stated on its website that the Chinese government had criticised the reports aired on the coronavirus and the persecution of the Uighur ethnic minorities. London’s response was not long in coming and was symmetrical: Ofcom (the British regulator) revoked the licence of the state broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN), which will no longer be able to broadcast its programmes in the UK. Separately, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has aligned itself with the Chinese decision, stating that it will stop repeating BBC World Service programming in the region. This is despite the fact that the former British colony must retain certain rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press, until 2047, as part of a transfer agreement between China and Great Britain. More details can be read in the BBC News article available here.
The Chinese regulator’s press release
This is a translation of the statement published on 12 February 2021 on the NRTA National Radio and Television Administration website: “After investigation, the content of BBC World News’ China-related reports seriously violated the relevant provisions of the Regulations on the Administration of Radio and Television and the Measures for the Administration of the Landing of Overseas Satellite Television Channels, violated the requirement that news should be truthful and impartial, harmed China’s national interests and undermined China’s national unity. The State Administration of Radio and Television does not allow BBC World News to continue to operate in China, and will not accept its application to operate in the new year”.
Ofcom, the authority that regulates telecommunications in the United Kingdom, is considering an application in which Bauer asks to change the format (the type of programs broadcast) of Absolute Radio, a station it acquired that broadcasts on 105.8 MHz FM from the Crystal Palace site in London. Ofcom has issued a statement to that effect in which it says that “Because these changes would substantially alter the character of Absolute Radio London, we are seeking the views of listeners and other interested parties before making our final decision.” A station’s program type is closely tied to its broadcasting license, so the authority is reviewing whether the format change will not eliminate a service to which listeners are accustomed.
On the side of consumers
The decision will follow the authority’s guidelines, as detailed on the website: “We also help to make sure people across the UK are satisfied with what they see and hear on TV and radio, and that programmes reflect the audiences they serve. We consider every complaint we receive from viewers and listeners. Often, we investigate further and we sometimes find broadcasters in breach of our rules. We are independent, and funded by fees paid to us by the companies we regulate“.
From Absolute to Greatest Hits Radio
If the request is accepted, Absolute Radio on 105.8 MHz will change its name to Greatest Hits Radio and will broadcast pop classics and rock hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as local news and information aimed at Londoners aged 25-54. The consultation will close on March 10, 2021. Greatest Hits Radio is the new radio network that began broadcasting in September 2020 when Bauer changed formats at 49 of its 56 radio stations. We talked about it here.
Greatest Hits Radio is already now available to Londoners on digital radio (DAB) on the London 1 multiplex on block 12C, in the standard MP2 flavour. On the same multiplex, Londoners also can listen digitally to their beloved Absolute Radio. It will be interesting to read OFCOMs decision – will the DAB presence have any influence?
What is your view? Who should be on 105.8 MHz FM in London?