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.

The Oldies Radio Station Addicted To Jingles : On-Air Since 1963

If you were living in England in the mid-1960s and listening to music radio, then you’ll almost certainly remember 266 Radio London or Big-L as it was nick-named. In its short life from December 1964 to August 1967 Big-L, broadcasting from the m/v Galaxy just outside UK territorial waters, was Britain’s most profitable commercial radio station thanks to its Top-40 format combined with DJs, catchy PAMS jingles, regular news and weather reports and reverb/echo on the transmitter. And millions of listeners.

50 years after Radio London’s closure, the station is still remembered by many probably because of its unique style. Nothing quite like it exists today although many have tried to emulate the Big-L sound. But there is a radio station today that I believe comes reasonably close. Unlike the Big-L, WLNG isn’t located on a ship but it’s certainly close to sea-water as its studios are in Sag Harbour, right on the coast of Eastern Long Island, New York.

Although WLNG started in 1963 on AM they added FM in 1969 and since selling their AM channel in 1996 they’ve been entirely on 92.1 FM and additionally can be heard everywhere online. Their program format is Oldies and over the years they’ve earned a reputation as a throwback to earlier days because of their frequent jingles, constant reverb/echo, many outside broadcasts from local events and even a reluctance to embrace Stereo — in fact they stayed with monaural broadcasts until 2011.

And then there’s the station’s obsession with retro jingles. WLNG claim to have as many as 2000 of them mostly from PAMS and you can actually see the jingle cartridges lining the studio walls on their studio webcam. This jingle junkie addiction is best summed up in the words of Paul Sydney, WLNG’s President and General Manager from 1964 until his death in 2009: “We’re the only station that when we say ‘Here comes fourteen in a row’ we’re not talking about records.

So what’s the secret to WLNG’s enduring success? In 1998, which was the station’s 35th anniversary and Paul Sidney’s 34th year there, he stated: “The key to staying around for 35 years is pretty simple: Be local, in news, sound and music.

And WLNG certainly is local. Listen to the station and you’ll rarely hear an ad which isn’t for a local business or service. But I think there’s an additional ingredient for their continuing success… WLNG is owned and operated by the people who actually run the station, starting with their General Manager/President and chief DJ, Gary Sapiane.

So is WLNG a replacement for the Big-L? No, I don’t think so. But if you love oldies and especially if you love the old PAMS jingles, WLNG is well worth a listen.

If, like me, you are located in Europe, then I recommend listening during morning hours which equates to WLNG’s overnight show with Al Case or Bill Thomas running from midnight to 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. At that time there are fewer ads and more music. You can see WLNG’s programme schedule. And to listen now, just click the “Listen Live” button at WLNG.com.