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.

Rare Pirate Radio Anthem Discs Discovered

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Do you remember a song called: Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Wilson?

How good is your memory?

Well, here’s a hint… we need to go back more than 40 years…

Back in 1970 there was no Internet, no music streaming, no music downloads and if you were living in Britain and wanted music on the radio there was only 1 station: BBC Radio One. And because of union restrictions known as “needle time” even monopoly Radio One didn’t play music all the time. OK, there was also evenings-only 208 Radio Luxembourg if you were happy to put up with music fading in and out.

And millions of British people at the time were very, very hungry for more music as they had already proven after the huge success of the offshore radio stations like 266 Radio London, 259 Radio Caroline, Radio 390 and several others, all of which the then Labour government had decided to outlaw 3 years earlier in 1967.

Mr Harold Wilson’s Labour government was dogmatically opposed to any form of commercial radio but was in for a surprise when a new radio ship called Radio Northsea International (RNI) appeared in international waters off the coast of Clacton, Essex in March 1970.

His government’s reaction was to start jamming RNI’s programmes in April 1970 in an unprecedented attempt to prevent British listeners hearing its output. RNI responded with pro-Conservative political messages for the general election on 18 June 1970.

Some weeks earlier, RNI’s programme director, Larry Tremaine, had had the bright idea of recording an alternative version of the signature tune to the popular BBC-TV comedy series “Dad’s Army” as a sort of campaign song.

The lyrics were changed, the title became: “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr. Wilson?” and the song was recorded at IBC recording studios at Portland Place, London — a lucky coincidence for UK commercial radio because IBC had been the company, owned by the legendary Leonard Plugge, which organised the very popular English language commercial radio programmes from Radio Normandy way back in the 1930’s.

Here is Larry Tremaine explaining to Paul Rowley on the BBC programme “The Radio Election” how “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr Wilson” came to be created:

 
RNI changed its name to “Radio Caroline International” during the week of the June 1970 election and repeatedly played “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding Mr. Wilson?” which was very popular. But it was never actually issued to the public as a vinyl record.

So exactly how many acetates of the recording were made?

RNI’s programme director, Larry Tremaine has said that “major rock stars” were in the studio during the recording and he also says that only three (3) acetate record pressings of the song were made and he has one of them.

The other two copies were sent to the m/v Mebo II for playing over the air during the election campaign and one of those copies was kept by RNI DJ Alan West, who, some months later, offered it for sale.

In about 1971 Alan West attended several CIB committee meetings, at one of which he lent his acetate copy to CIB’s John Ker, who now takes up the story:
“… I met DJ Alan West who would often come to CIB meetings. In about early 1971 he lent me his copy of the acetate which I took to Graham Bunce (BBC engineer) and he transcribed the disc to tape. He took a great deal of care to ensure a really good quality transfer to tape (15 ips. filtered and re-equalized using an “Astronic” graphic equalizer). Having returned the original acetate to Alan West, I took the tape to IBC Studios (in the basement of 35, Portland Place – just opposite Broadcasting House) and had five (5) acetates cut. I was very pleased by the fact that they were recorded onto exactly the same acetate blanks as the original at IBC, i.e. near perfect clones. The only differences were that the group “The Opposition” was typed on these blanks whereas on the original “The Opposition” was hand-written and included mention of “Beacon Records”.”

According to DJ Alan West, Beacon Records was, at the time, R.N.I.’s “secret London address”.

Of those 5 acetate pressings, John Ker says he kept one for himself, he gave one to Graham Bunce and two to CIB’s Fred Bunzl. John Ker cannot now remember who had the fifth pressing!

Fred Bunzl kept his two acetate discs together with his record collection until they were all packed away into cartons when his wife and he emigrated from the UK in 1976. He didn’t give them much thought until recently when he was compiling old CIB documents for publication elsewhere on this web site.

Fred has now scanned and uploaded his two discs. You can also download a direct copy of the recording.

And here is a scan of what may be one of the original acetate pressings.

Asked what he intends doing with these two rare copies of “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Wilson”, Fred said: “I haven’t yet decided. If there’s enough interest I’d like to auction them off and give all the proceeds to charity.”


Download the audio of this rare acetate pressing here.