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.
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.
While at the end of 2020 the Uruguayan government had averted the closure of Radio Clarín, the historic broadcaster of tango, folklore and typical Uruguayan music, Radio Ciudad de Montevideo did not make it. The historic station (which has been on the air since 1930 on 1370 kHz on medium waves) was nicknamed ‘La 42‘ because of the identification code CX42 assigned to it (a code of letters and numbers, also known as “call sign”, inherited from the days of the telegraph, which in many countries of the American continent is attributed to authorised radio stations). Several burglaries to the transmission system brought the station to its knees, making the crisis irreversible. Programming ranged from tropical music to sports and summer theatre, and for 43 years the radio followed the Montevideo carnival.
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.
The intention of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) to leave the medium wave band in Perth (western capital of the continent and fourth-most populous city with over 2 million inhabitants) in favour of FM is seen as a threat by commercial radio stations. Five public channels would move into the FM band: 6PR, 6iX, ABC Radio Perth, Radio National and ABC News. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is exploring different solutions, but the commercial stations are against this migration. They do not find it acceptable that the ABC does not pay licensing fees to carry out this move, given that the public broadcaster receives funding of more than one billion Australian dollars a year. Radio operators complain of their own difficulties: the advertising market, still under the effects of the pandemic, does not yet allow for a return to 2019 revenue levels and having to share advertising resources with five new heavyweight competitors would be a problem.
The world of radio has accustomed us to the craziest stories. And this one certainly deserves a prominent place. Accomplice technology and probably… a tourist. Wirtualnemedia, a Polish site specializing in media and broadcasting, has discovered that Tunisian broadcaster RM FM had infringed copyright by using jingles from Polish radio station RMF. And in a very detailed report the site interviews an audio producer who explains technically how the infringement took place: the jingles, perfectly identical in melody and singing, are one second shorter, as the final part of the song has been cut to remove the F of RMF, since the Tunisian station is called RM. You can also see that the sound is compressed, a sign that the jingles were recorded from the net or downloaded from YouTube (where they are available) or from the site of the prestigious American production studio that made them.
A few days after the article RM no longer aired jingles
Wirtualnemedia monitoring the audio streamed by RM, and a few days after the article was published, they discovered that the counterfeit jingles were no longer being aired. So it approached the Polish network to see if it had warned the Tunisian station, but the station would not provide details. RMF is Poland’s largest network, with 30.1% of listeners between March and May 2021, according to the Radio Track survey conducted by research institute Kantar.
With the opening of six more stations, whose broadcasts aim to consolidate the country’s peace process, the turning point has been completed: the target to be reached by 2026 (twenty stations) is now closer
Announced last summer, the six new peace stations went into operation on 21 May 2021. They are stations that teach the pedagogy of peace, trying to mend the divisions caused by fifty years of armed conflict between the army, guerrillas and mercedarios in the pay of drug traffickers. Last year, the locations where they were to be transmitted were defined, then the frequencies were assigned, the equipment installed and the studios set up. These are the frequencies and the localities (department in brackets) 92.6 Algeciras (Huila); 88.9 Arauquita (Arauca); 98.5 Bojayá (Chocó); 92.0 Florida (Valle); 90.1 El Tambo (Cauca); 102.7 Puerto Leguízamo (Putumayo). They join the five other stations already active (there will be 20 by 2026): 103.5 Chaparral (Tolima); 92.3 Ituango (Antioquia); 94.7 Convención (Norte de Santander); 92.2 Fonseca (La Guajira) and 89.8 San Jacinto (Bolívar). All of them depend on RTVC (Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia) and are professionally organised.
Further details on the project can be read in our article from last year.
We continue our journey through the airwaves of Eastern European countries where the “old” FM OIRT band (between 65.8 and 74 MHz) is about to be completely abandoned. The situation in this band in Ukraine should be examined taking into account the presence of three public radio channels and some private broadcasters, of religious or informative nature. The head of the organization responsible for the development of the radio and television networks, National Radio and Television of Ukraine (NSTU), Dmytro Gruzynsky, in an interview in December 2020, affirmed the intention of the organization to soon dismantle almost all the installations still operating in the OIRT band.
The situation of the public broadcaster’s national programmes
In the plans of the company, about ten transmitters should have remained on air for Persha Program, as many for Radio Promin’ and 15 for Radio Kult’ura. The reason for the cuts was, on the one hand, the obsolescence and inefficiency of many systems, and on the other hand the possibility of being assigned FM frequencies in the same basins. Typically, new concessions are awarded through a tender and the state broadcaster must always beat competition from the numerous commercial radio stations. In some cases, the authorized powers have proved to be insufficient to satisfactorily cover the service area, so much so that NTSU asked to increase the power of a concession for UR1 from 500 watts to 1 KW). The fact remains that the presence of the three Ukrainian public broadcasters in the OIRT band is destined to be increasingly residual.
Commercial radio stations in the OIRT band?
As far as private broadcasting is concerned, both OIRT band frequencies of Yaskrave Radio and two out of three OIRT band frequencies of Hromads’ke Radio have been switched off. In addition, at the end of 2020, RadioM let lapse the concession for 68.36 from Odessa, which was the only OIRT band frequency of the station.
Two religious radio stations broadcast only in the OIRT band
The installations of two religious radio stations remain active; at the moment they only have frequencies in the OIRT band and therefore it is likely that they will not be switched off, since listeners still have devices and car radios to receive the programs broadcast in this band. To date, the Catholic Radio Mariya has 11 different frequencies, Svitle Radio Emmanuyil (close to the Pentecostal Church) has 8, while Golos Nadiyi (“Voice of Hope“, an Adventist radio station) has only 4 in the OIRT band and 3 in the “new” FM band and it can be assumed that it takes over some of the licenses issued by the NSTU.
Analogue TV channels remain on air – for political reasons
As a curiosity, the OIRT FM band is adjacent to a band used for TV and there are still some analogue TV channels on air, and can be received on 65.75 MHz (the audio frequency related to the TV channel R2). It seems in fact that not all analogue Ukrainian TV stations have completed the switch off; moreover Ukrainian authorities intend to keep on analogue transmissions serving the Donbass area and in several settlements in the Kherson region near occupied Crimea (for obvious political reasons).
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 pandemic does not seem to have had much effect on the listening habits of Poles, 72% of whom tune into a radio station every day, while another 19% turn on the device once a week. On the other hand, the ways in which radio is enjoyed have changed, with 60% following it in the car in 2019, a percentage that has been drastically reduced due to the limitations imposed by Covid-19. Almost one in three Poles choose RMF FM (29.49%), a leading station whose followers increased by an additional 1% during the pandemic. Second in terms of audience is Radio Zet, albeit at a considerable distance: it has almost a third of listeners (12.48%) but its site (radiozet.pl) is the most followed, with over seven million users.
Catholic radio stations are also very popular
Diocesan radio stations are also gaining an audience (but with very different numbers), but they have been overtaken byRadio Maryja (one of the seventy affiliated to the “World Family”, an association that promotes its development throughout the world) which, with a total audience of 1.73%, is in fifteenth place in the ranking. And to think that space on the media for programs of a religious nature was prohibited until 1980: it was the Solidarity movement that imposed on the authorities free access to all religious denominations, previously prohibited by censorship. So much so that today religious programs are very much present in the programming schedule of broadcasters: even the state TV broadcasts the rosary live every day in connection with the sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki. More details about Poland’s leading Catholic radio stations can be read in the article published by the Catholic news agency Sir.