Popular Free Radio

by Felix Guattari

The Evolution of the means of mass communication seems to be going in
two directions:
- toward hyper-concentrated systems controlled by the apparatus of
state, of monopolies, of big political machines with the aim of shaping
opinion and of adapting the attitudes and unconscious schemas of the
population to dominant norms,
- toward miniaturized systems that create the possibility of a
collective appropriation of the media, that provide real means of
communication, not only the "great masses", but also to minorities, to
marginalized and deviant groups of all kinds.
    On the one hand: always more centralization, conformism, oppression;
on the other, the perspective of a new space of freedom,
and the fulfillment of the singularities of desire.
    How is that a relatively old technology like radio has set the stage
of a breakthrough in this second direction -- in Italy and France --
through the phenomenon of the Free Radio stations? Why not video, which,
not long ago, raised so many expectations? Why not cable? Why not
Super-8? It would be very difficult to disentangle all the factors that
permitted Free radio to take off. Bug there are two factors that seem to
demand particular attention:
- with video and film, the technical initiative remains, essentially,
the object of big industrial enterprise;
- with Free Radio, an important part of the technology depends on the
improvisational ability of its promoters.
    For here as elsewhere, the technical choices always conceal
political and micro-political choices. For example, in the domain of
television, the technical options have all been centered on family or
individual consumption. Hence, a very narrow definition of the broadcast
framework results (the division of labor between technology, production,
and conception of programs; its perpetual reorientation toward the
as a closed vessel; the national vocation of the programs ...) which
leads ineluctably to an absolute passivity of the consumer. Yet nothing,
at the outset, imposed such a political choice on the technical level!
It was possible right away to conceive of technical equipment for the
kind of production and consumption that was adapted to "group-subjects"
and not to subjugated groups. But with capitalist and state
decision-makers lacking any interest in such an orientation, it is the
people "of means" that have triumphed. And today one has a tendency to
base the legitimacy of this choice on the nature of things, on the
"natural" evolution of the technology.
    With Free Radio, we find ourselves before the same type of
technicopolitical problem. But here, because of the confrontation with
power, it's the people "of lesser means" who assert themselves as if by
necessity. In fact, at the present stage, the only way to resist the
jamming and the searches is by multiplying the number of transmitters
and my miniaturizing the material in order to minimize the risks. (This
daily guerilla warfare the airwaves is perfectly compatible with the
kind of public airing that takes place whenever the balance of power is
poised for it: public broadcasts, national holidays, etc.)
    But the point the organizers of the popular Free Radio stations
particularly emphasize is that the totality of technical and human means
must permit the establishment of a veritable feedback system between the
listeners and the broadcast team: whether through direct intervention by
phone, through opening studio doors, through interviews or making
programs on cassettes by listeners, etc. The Italian experience, in this
regard, shows us the immense field of new possibilities that is opened
in this way; in particular, the experience of the Bologna group that
organized Radio Alice and the journal A Traverso. We realize here that
radio constitutes but one element at the heart of an entire range of
communication means, from daily, informal encounters in the Piazza
Maggiore to the newspaper -- via billboards, mural paintings, posters,
leaflets, meetings, community activities, celebrations, etc. We are far,
very far from the technocratic conceptions of the French partisans of
*local* radio, who insist, on the contrary, that those who express
themselves on the air represent their interests; or from the conceptions
of the traditional left, which is concerned above all that only the
party line and certain mobilizing propositions be expressed on their
wavelengths! (On Italian Free Radio, it is often the case that very
serious debate are directly interrupted by violently contradictory,
humorous, or even poetico-delirious interventions.) We are equally far
from the conceptions of the modernist technicians who declare that what
is important today is the content of the broadcasts and the care one
brings to the production, and who refer to the entire mythology of the
"modern look" and the "new sound". All these "preliminaries" relative to
the quality of the spokesman, to the content of the messages, and to the
form of expression, come together here. In effect, the "locals", the
militants, and the modernists have this in common: in one way or
another, they set themselves up as *specialists*: specialists of
contacts, of watchwords, of culture, of expression... Yet, to be
precise, the way opened up by the Free Radio phenomenon seems to go
against the whole spirit of specialization. What becomes specific here
are the collective arrangements of enunciation that absorb or
"traverses" specialties.
    Of course, such an assumption of direct speech by social groups of
all kinds is not without consequence! It fundamentally endangers all
traditional systems of social representation; it puts in doubt a certain
conception of the delegate, the deputy, the authorized spokesman, the
leader, the journalist ... It is as if, in an immense permanent meeting
-- at the surface level of listening -- anyone, even the one who is most
hesitant, who has the weakest voice, has the means of expressing himself
whenever he desires! In these conditions, one can expect certain thruths
to find a *new substance of expression*. Some time ago, Bertrand Boulin
launched, on Europe No. 1, a broadcast in the course of which children,
coming out after school, could express themselves directly by telephone.
the result was absolutely surprising and upsetting! Through thousands of
testimonies, certain aspects of the real condition of childhood were
revealed, the very accent and tone of which no journalist, educator, or
psychologist could otherwise have recognized. But the names, places, and
precise circumstances were also communicated: it caused a scandal, a
cover-up, and, finally, the neutralization of the broadcast...
    To draw up the *Cahier de doleance* in 1789, the spokesman of the
Third Estate literally had to invent a new means of expression, a new
language. Today the Fourth Estate is also in search of a sublanguage to
bring problems to light that, in reality, concern society as a whole. It
is in this context of experimenting with a new type of direct democracy
that the question of Free Radio is inscribed. Direct speech, living
speech, full of confidence, but also hesitation, contradiction, indeed
even nonsense, is the vehicle of desire's considerable burdens. And it
is always this aspect of desire that spokesmen, commentators, and
bureaucrats of every stamp tend to reduce, to settle. The language of
official media is traceable to the police languages of the managerial
milieu and the university; it all gets back to a fundamental split
between saying and doing according to which only those who are masters
of a licit speech have the right to act. Languages of desire, on the
other hand, invent new means and have an unstoppable tendency to lead
straight to action; they begin by "touching", by causing laughter, by
provoking, and then they make one want to "go towards," towards those
who speak and towards those stakes that concern them.
    One will object that France is not Italy and that there is a great
risk in letting the cohorts of private, commercial stations and the
sharks of advertisement rush into the breach made in the monopolies of
state! It is with this kind of argument that one pretends to denounce
Free Radio and to justify maintaining the monopoly, or adjusting it
slightly, which would drive the local radios into the service of the
bigwigs and under the indirect control of the prefects! it takes a holy
dose of bad faith to raise the question of advertising in the context
of the development of popular radios. They are clearly two separate
problems: on the one hand, there is the question of liquidating the
(state) monopoly as the first condition of expanding Free Radio and,
on the other, there is the bigger question of how to control commercial
advertising -- but *wherever* it can be found: on walls, in newspapers,
on TV, and eventually on Free Radio itself. Why should the issue of
intoxication raised by advertising -- supposing the Left had really
committed itself to addressing the issue -- imply control, censorship
or institutional protection of Free Radio? With lots of money on hand,
advertisers are eager to launch numerous private channels. Well! Let's
regulate advertising -- indeed, even prohibit it on all the airwaves.
It would be very surprising if these people were still prepared to
undertake such ventures! Yes, surprising if these people were still
prepared to undertake such ventures! Yes, but one will say, the
government secretly supports the advertisers (not to mention the local
bigwigs) while it represses true Free Radio stations, as we have
recently seen with the seizure of materials from Radio 93, Paris Free
Radio, and Rocket Radio.
	Who will win out in the final analysis: regulation, underground
power maneuvers, or an open balance of power? Let the dozen existing
Free Radio stations give way to hundreds of new groups and let whole
stratas of the population, ever larger and more diversified, begin
participating, financing, and protecting these new stations; then we
shall see just how strong the present alliance between the government,
local notables, and the private sector is! Monopoly and regulation would
not really guard the public from a<dvertising anyway -- as we see on TV.
And yet, is it not up to the masses themselves to organize against the
pollutant of advertising? People are not children -- and besides,
children themselves refuse more and more to be treated like
irresponsible people! They have no need of any protection, despite
themselves, against "bad influences" that might carry them off the trash
heap prepared for them by the advertisers! The day they can tune in to a
hundred different stations, they will simply choose what suits them! The
prudent attitude (at least an amusing one) of the parties of the left
and the unions toward Free Radio reveals an outmoded conception of mass
intervention in the social sphere. The texts, the petitions, the
regulations, the delegations are one thing, but living, social groups
taking real control is another. If one really wants to organize a
struggle on a grand scale against the advertising blitz, against all
forms of physical and moral billy-clubbing, and against all forms of
domestication (on which not only the power of the state and the
employers rest, but also that of the very organizations that claim to
fight them), then one can only hope in the meantime that militant
bureaucrats will cease bullying those who are striving, for better or
worse, to create a *real* instrument of struggle against such forms of
intimidation and domestication!

(Translated by David Sweet)

Source: Radiotext(e), Neill Strauss, Dave Mandl (Ed.), Autonomedia
New York, 1993 [ this book is a highly recommended collection of short
articles about the radio movements adding some context to 'net.radio'.]

 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
(a) (c) (o) (u) (s) (t) (i) (c) ( ) (s) (p) (a) (c) (e)
 |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
information&comunication channel | for net.broadcasters
http://xchange.re-lab.net  (Xchange)  net.audio network
xchange search/webarchive: http://xchange.re-lab.net/a/