Geneva ex-Mayor Reveals – “I was a Pirate Radio Operator!”

As you may know, Geneva in Switzerland is known internationally for its famous fountain, its lake and it’s the place people often go for peace conferences.

Pirate radio is not usually on the menu of this small European city of less than 1/2 million people, a city almost totally surrounded by France. Geneva’s mayor is elected each year and from June 2007 to May 2008 the mayor was journalist and politician, Patrice Mugny, who now admits that he, with some friends, operated a pirate radio station in neighbouring France back in the 1970s.

In Patrice Mugny’s article in yesterday’s edition of Geneva’s local newspaper “Tribune de Genève”, he reveals some of his secret pirate radio exploits of yesteryear and raises the question of whether today’s abundance of free radio stations and the proliferation of social networks are really a positive step forward for democracy or not?

His article in French is here.
And for those who don’t understand French, here is a rough translation:

Before Social Networks: Pirate Radio!
We live in a frenzy of social networks, sometimes sending journalists back to the ropes. In the not-too-distant past, shortly after May ’68, in the early seventies, citizens were trying to have their voices heard over the airwaves. Which made them criminals. Geneva experienced such an episode.
We are in the 70s, free radio stations don’t exist. The airwaves are a state monopoly. We claimed the right to broadcast our own programs. One day, six of us created a pirate radio station.
We travel to Italy to find black-market transmitters. We meet people at the edge of the red line. Find ourselves in anonymous apartments, trade money for equipment, then dismantle the car to create caches for transmitters and return to Geneva.
Associations, especially feminists, have recorded tapes containing more or less subversive words. Our little group goes up the Salève (a mountain in France, extremely close to Geneva) and spreads the good news to Geneva from these heights. It becomes the event of the moment.
At 18.00 hours, radios are connected everywhere to listen to half an hour of the pirates. The newspapers talk about it. Swiss and French police are mobilized with the help of the PTT (the Swiss post office), which supplies the detection equipment. Helicopters and motorcycle police are engaged.
Our system is simple. We have, in advance, buried car batteries in a dozen sites to power the transmitters. Then the recorders, also scattered here and there. We go up and down the Salève on foot or hitchhiking, empty-handed. Once there, each time in a different location, the equipment is installed and the show begins. It should not exceed thirty minutes, so as not to give the police the time to find us and catch us by air. Then we bury everything, which we move later, and put our hands in our pockets.
Once or twice, it’s a close thing. A helicopter spots us as we return to a marked path. Remembering a chase in the forests of the Salève … We nearly got arrested twice.
In the end, not a single arrest. The adventure lasted a few months. Once I fell asleep at the side of the road. My friend left me and went on his way. The police passed by me several times along this road but did not see me.
We also tried and managed to hack television by disrupting a show. But we did not continue. Then France liberalized the radio space. One question among others: Is the plethora of the independent radio stations that exist today and the proliferation of Internet social networks a step forward for democracy?

More about Patrice Mugny here.

BBC Trashing 13 UK Medium Wave Transmitters

So the BBC has decided to turn off 13 of its Medium Wave radio transmitters.

The BBC is meant to be a public service, so in principle, saving money is good, but not if listeners are deprived from services. However, as MW use in Britain is probably pretty low now, the BBC will likely get away with it this time.

But some of the BBC local stations do occasionally split services to cover things like local sports events on MW only, leaving regular programs on FM. BBC Gloucestershire does this now and then, but I see they are not on the current list to lose MW yet.

I’m not sure how the BBC would get on removing national MW services, e.g. Virgin Radio possibly still has some audience on MW.

The Beeb’s decision is, of course, all to do with cutting transmitter running costs and the smaller but important costs of line-links and transmitter and mast maintenance.

Of course, the longer term issue is what is going to happen to the MW band? The obvious answer I wish for is to see the reworking of these frequencies using digital DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), which would give all sorts of possibilities … e.g. multiplexing of channels, an emergency alert system for the whole country and some small video content alongside radio.

But, so far, I don’t see any appetite for doing this. The BBC would probably say they could not accept the necessary capital costs and it would need the usual long-term blessing from OFCOM – and we know only too well that they are driven by political people at Westminster, who either don’t really know about the situation, or are driven by thoughts of avoiding expense … especially now when the Government faces huge capital spends reworking hundreds of high rise buildings, etc..

Is there an appetite from entrepreneurs to apply for use of some MW frequencies and start DRM? Somehow I don’t think so. Its not the same situation as in the 1960’s when there was a wide-open opportunity with a huge number of listeners equipped and ready-to-go with conventional MW sets.

It’s unlike India where the government has made the political decision and converted All India Radio to DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) without a huge number of receivers out in the population. They clearly live in hopes of building new receiver business in the country.