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.

Remembering The Big-L : Radio London 50 Years On

Earlier this year we celebrated Radio Caroline which first went on the air at Easter 1964. Radio Caroline was Britain’s very first offshore pirate radio station but it was not as popular nor was it as profitable as Radio London which was first heard with test transmissions on 5th December 1964.

Radio London was the most popular and profitable of all the 60’s U.K. offshore radio stations. It gained many millions of listeners and, despite being on the air for only 32 months (closing on 14th August 1967) the Big L, Radio London left behind an enduring legacy as the first station to bring format radio, ID jingles and regular news bulletins to Britain. Radio London also provided the model, and a lot of the DJ talent (e.g. Tony Blackburn, Pete Brady, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, John Peel, Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, …), for the BBC’s new pop music service, Radio One which started in September 1967.

Philip Birch was Radio London’s Managing Director but in the words of Gordon Sheppard, Big-L’s promotions manager: “Philip Birch WAS Big L … The real financial brain, the controlling wizard that made it all work. … He put together that terrific team: Ben Toney, Alan Keen (Sales & Programme Controller), Eddie Blackwell and Dennis Maitland (Advertising Managers), Mike Stone (Press & Publicity). … In pirate offshore radio (1964-1967), Philip Birch stands taller than most. He put together that amazing team and has to have pride of place.”

In 1980, several years after Radio London had closed, Philip Birch gave an extensive interview recounting Radio London’s history. The recording also includes many original Radio London jingles, its famous Big-L theme tune and the voices of Paul Kaye, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Mark Roman, and other Wonderful Radio London voices.

Here are a few more useful Big-L Radio London links:
1. OffshoreRadio.co.uk recently updated its site and mark the Big L’s 50th anniversary with a six-part Radio London Story.

2. If you’re interested in pics, there are plenty to see here from Martin Stevens collection.
And here are more pictures by Gerry Bishop, Hans Knot and John Platt.
Plus more fascinating Big L pics here.

3. On 23rd December 2014 Chris and Mary Payne who jointly run the Radio London website, organised a 50th anniversary celebration on a floating pub on a ship moored on the river Thames in central London. Those attending included Big L DJs Duncan Johnson, Pete Brady, Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, Ian Damon as well as engineer David Hawkins and the m.v. Galaxy’s steward Mitch Philistin, who having crossed the Atlantic ocean with the ship in 1964, worked throughout all of Radio London’s life.

4. Radio London’s first Programme Director, Ben Toney, tells his fascinating story of “The Amazing Radio London Adventure“.

5. And to listen again to the Big-L, Azanorak has one of the biggest online collections of recordings to download for free. From test transmissions in December 1964 to close-down in August 1967, listen once more to Pete Brady, Earl Richmond, Dave Dennis, Paul Kaye, Tony Windsor, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Duncan Johnson, Tony Blackburn, Keith Skues, John Peel, Ed Stewart and many more.

6. Listen to DJ Keith Skues’ potted history of Radio London which he presented over the air on Big-L on 23rd July 1967, a couple of weeks before the station closed. This abridged version lasts about 31 minutes and includes jingles, the Big-L “Sonowaltz” theme and other well known Radio London promotions. Note that this recording is in .mp3 format within a password-protected .zip file. After downloading the .zip file to your computer, please contact us to obtain the password which you’ll need in order to unzip the file.