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.

CIB Origins : National Commercial Radio Movement and Free Radio Association

The Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB) came into being in 1969 but this was only a change of name from the same organisation’s previous title: National Commercial Radio Movement (NCRM). NCRM was founded in July 1968 and although not all the group’s records have survived, we know that its founder members were Fred Hasler, Hon. Chairman, David Prewett, Hon. Vice Chairman, Martin Rosen, Hon. Press & Public Relations Officer and Tony Peters, Hon. General Secretary. Other founder members included Paul Peters and Caroline Peters.

All NCRM founder members had previously been members or founder members of the Free Radio Association (FRA) based in Rayleigh, Essex. The FRA originally came into being in February 1967 through a merger of a number of listener groups which supported the offshore pirate radio stations. These radio stations had been on the air since 1964 and the Government were planning to put them out of business by passing the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Bill through Parliament which eventually became law on 14th August 1967.

Many radio listeners at the time did not object to the closing of the offshore stations as such – what really made them angry was the then government’s decision to reject the introduction of land-based independent radio by imposing a diet of monopoly radio only.

Three of the free radio listener groups which merged in February 1967 to form the Free Radio Association (FRA) were the “Commercial Radio Listeners Association” led by Catherine Baker and Roger Taylor, of which Fred Hasler was also a founder member, the “Free Radio Supporters Association” led by Geoffrey Pearl and a group from the Oxford area led by David Prewett.

Unfortunately, not long after the FRA’s formation, one or more disputes surfaced among the Committee members which by early 1968 led to several members leaving. The exact details and cause of the disputes are unclear. One side of the dispute is detailed in a 1969 brochure by FRA’s former Promotions Officer, Barry Schofield, entitled: “FRA – Rise & Fall of a Misguided Association” while the other side of the dispute is provided by Geoffrey Pearl on pages 11 to 13 of FRA’s Spotlight magazine.

In a letter dated 24th March 1970, former FRA and NCRM committee member, Tony Peters, remarked: “… I have had hanging over my head for over a year a writ for slander issued by this man (Geoffrey Pearl) as a result of my telling the truth about his operations to the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times. Writs which he refuses to drop and his solicitors refuse to take any further.”

While Barry Schofield’s brochure includes some factual inaccuracies – e.g. on page 3 he erroneously states that Mottingham is in North London when in fact it is located in South East London – David Prewett, writing in November/December 2013, clearly remembers several of Barry Schofield’s notes as being “a pretty fair record” of events.

The FRA disputes led directly to the formation of the NCRM in July 1968. However, despite the considerable number of people he had alienated, Geoffrey Pearl’s FRA appears to have remained undeterred because he invited NCRM to Rayleigh for a meeting on 23rd February 1969 and in the autumn of 1969 he again contacted both NCRM and another well known group, the Free Radio Campaign (FRC) led by Alex McKenna with another merger proposal.

NCRM/CIB records show that one meeting was held in London on 12th October 1969 and another meeting was planned to be held in Rayleigh on 23rd November 1969. The result of these meetings as far as NCRM was concerned was to agree to cooperate with the other two organisations wherever possible but nothing further.

On the other hand, FRC did agree to merge with FRA and this was confirmed on page 9 of FRC’s journal “Free Radio News No.6”. This merger however seems to have been short-lived because in letters from FRC dated 4th April 1970 and 7th April 1970 it is evident that many FRC organisers had decided to revert back to the “Free Radio Campaign” name.

Looking back today, there are three elements that strike me as to why the FRA failed to stay united:

1. FRA’s objectives were too broadly based on freedom of the individual and consequently lacked focus on the fight for UK independent radio. For example, in September 1967 Geoffrey Pearl had proposed to broaden FRA’s interests to include, among others, the National Federation of Property Owners, Free Britain, Aims of Industry and the Pure Water Society.

2. Geoffrey Pearl appears to have displayed a cavalier attitude which other committee members resented. For example, FRA’s meeting minutes of 11th February 1968 allegedly included comment from FRA’s own President, Sir Ian McTaggart, who “… thought that Mr. Pearl was a most remarkable combination, in that he displayed tremendous dedication to the Association plus a determination to take it over for himself…”.

3. Both sides agree that there was a financial dispute involving FRA funds.