It was the 1981 congress of the French Anarchist Federation which signed the deeds which set Radio Libertaire on the road.. After long and heated debate the congress accepted, unanimously, the idea of launching a radio station which would be the voice for the FAF. At that time it had no name, no wavelength, no real goal, no presenters and for its launch a budget of (wait for it) 15000F (£150)! No member of congress, at that moment could have predicted the events which weree about to unfold other than that by the autumn anarchy would once again be on the airwaves. As in 1921, when the insurgents in Kronstadt sent out radio messages; as in 1936 with Radio CNT-FAI in Spain, or again the participation of anarchists in the Free Radio movement at the end of the 70s, with, in particular, Radio Trottoir (Toulon) and Radio-Alarme whose producers were members of the FAF.
It was on the 1st September 1981 (1) in a damp cellar on the slopes of Montmartre that the radiophonic adventure began. And in a very rudimentary fashion, in conditions that defied the laws of broadcasting: a studio measuring 12 m2, with an assortment of recuperated material and a mini-team of 6. The first calls came in from our listeners, the first listeners cards went out... and the jamming began!
Meanwhile old hands of the Free Radio movement were putting together some very credible studios in order to go for a slice of the cake represented by the FM band. The spirit of the Free Radios was already beginning to agonise, victims of the financial appetite of some of those who had run the pirate stations. In August 1983 the socialists put an end to 'the anarchy on the waves' by siezing a number of transmitters including that of RL. On the 28th August at 5.45am the CRS appeared at the doors of RL. They broke down the door and siezed all the equipment. The presenters were beaten up and arrested, the antenna cable and pylon were cut up into pieces. Neither the reinforced door, nor the numerous listeners who were present, were able to prevent our radio being siezed. The socialists, then in power with their chums in the French Communist Party, had not however reckoned with our determination and even less with the solidarity which was shown to us by thousands of listeners during the following two years. Two years during which, day after day, links of friendship between RL and its listeners were progressively strengthened. The reaction was immediate. And Impressive. The most important part translated itself on 3rd September 1983 into a demonstration of 5000 and RL back on the waves.
Moments of warmth and intensity were so many and the happenings so frequent that one article cannot do them justice (2): galas, jamming by the 'Cop-Radios', scuffles with the authorities, the obtaining of legal dispensation - the demonstrations... by enumerating these events we are setting down the essentials of the history of RL. However, in reality the most important can hardly be reported. This was the daily and collective history of RL, which all of us, listeners and producers, hold a part of. It's a history of tens of thousands of hours of transmission, telephone calls which brought with it letters, exchanges and meetings. Radio Libertaire was born with the passage of time. Everyone laid their own stone with their voice, their expertise, their ability or their energy. RL is also the listener who brought in a microphone ('You should be able to find some use for it'); that other one who left their visiting card ('I'm an electrician, if you need anything...') and the pensioner ('I'm ill, and my pension isn't much... but come round for a bite some day'), and the non-sighted person who, thanks to the mutual aid small ads, managed to go off to the countryside on a tandem with a young girl... and brought flowers back to the radio station; it's all the letters that came in to 145, rue Amelot to help, ask a question, encourage, suggest, inform, criticise. It was when a zine, an association, an individual, a union, the FAF had something to say, the telephone calls, the meetings, the networks.
The stations cultural identity also came with time. The first producers brought their own records into the studio and introduced thousands to music by artists such as Debronckart, Fanon, Servat, Gribouille, Jonas, Utgé-Royo, Aurenche, Capart and many others. In 1982 another kind of music arrived naturally on the airwaves, another music that they were listening to in the squats, on the edges of the system: Alternative Rock. Then other styles found their place: jazz, blues, folk, industrial music, rap, reggae. And other artists found the radio station open to other formms of expression: cartoons, the plastic arts, theatre, literature, cinema...
Though the radio of the FAF, RL nevertheless opened its doors from the beginning to its friends: anarcho-syndicalists from the CNT and other unions, Libre Pensée, the Pacifist Union, the Hopeful Ones, the League of the Rights of Man. And it was there in this daily reality, in the struggles and the meetings that forged itself, quite spontaneously, the links between RL and the social movement: strikers, the unemployed, shelterless, squatters, antiracists, ecologists, conscientious objectors, refugees, ex-prisonners... Surviving crises and the daily workload RL rose to the demands of the times. It supported the student movement in 1986, and became the radio of the street report movement, round table discussion groups, an open station to report police brutality, permanent agit-pop. When war broke out in the Gulf RL was at the front announcing, hour by hour, demos, meetings, regional committees whilst allowing for debates and analysis. Just as naturally it was during these times of crisis that RL really discovered its dimension as a 'radio for struggle'. RL is also a thousand reasons for listeners to be annoyed, rage and protest against the technical imperfections or those aspects that were judged incongruous, provocative, too reformist or too radical. But it was above all, we hope, an opportunity to discover the pleasures of debate, struggle and libertarian ideas. Shouting matches... cries from the heart... all was there and all was welcome! In a world of the market, the spectacle and dehumanisation where triumphant capitalism crushes both man and woman where thought, in the image of the economy is uniform and globalised, RL, with its strenghths and its weaknesses, its faults and its qualities does it not seem to be simply human... quite simply human?
(1) At the time RL was transmitting from 6pm to 10pm on
(2) See Radio Libertaire, la voix sans maître by Yves Peyraut published by Monde Libertaire (50F). Obtainable from the Monde Libertaire bookshop.
(A-Infos - 2nd October, 1995)