MiniFM / Free Radio
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"Millions and millions of Alices to power." - Félix Guattari
Radio Alice was a free radio project that was created in Bologna in the late seventies by a group that brought left-wing activists together with artists who worked with counter information, or what Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (one of the core members) called ‘the creation of divergent realities.’
Perhaps to the surprise of the powers that be, the liberalisation of the radio airwaves that brought with it the country’s first free and non-commercial radio stations soon gave way to a local, short-range guerrilla movement that ruptured the long, tedious monopoly of the state media. Radio Alice was by no means the only free radio experiment in Italy, but in spite of its short lifespan–the station initially operated from 9 February 1976 to 12 March 1977–it had a strong influence on the social and political life of the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region.
Citing Lewis Carroll’s famous narrative of Alice in Wonderland, the name for Radio Alice was programmatically chosen to suggest a poetic, unconventional approach to broadcasting that was determined to stand up for social change and a transgression of political boundaries. With its claim for civic participation, Radio Alice “can be considered the first experiment of deterritorializing the telecommunication system and of attack against the centralized media system.” Berardi retrospectively describes the project as a collective enunciation directed against the hegemony of the established communication and information system that was destined also to counteract the “cultural conformism and the political dictatorship of the Communist and Catholic Party.”
One of the main concerns for the protagonists of Radio Alice was to work against the strict separation between transmission and reception. People were invited to call in via telephone or to come to the broadcasting studio and engage in the production of content with instant contributions. Since live calls and comments were transmitted directly without being filtered, also verbal invectives against the radio editors and hosts of course went on air, giving as much of a voice to adversary positions as to explicit affirmations of the free radio practice. The conviction that social practice and language are not separated, but closely connected and amalgamated with the modes of communication, was considered a basic orientation for Radio Alice’s general openness to affect and spontaneity, without restrictions concerning “contamination between different styles and cultures.” This commitment to impurity also “expressed a Dadaist, schizo impulse” that Guattari thought of “as a rehearsal for the emergence of…social creativity.”
Radio Alice broadcast news of the events as they occurred, often by airing telephone calls from militants who described events, called for assistance in a given sector, and reported police movements. The station was twice raided and closed down by police, but resumed broadcasting by switching locations and resorting to a transmitter powered by a car battery. Reflecting the opinions, obsessions, and stories of its listeners and organisers, and establishing itself as a creative platform in the new non-commercial radio space, this small neo-dada bastion was an important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of life in Bologna, eventually amplifying the voice of the popular uprising and the clashes between students and the police in early 1977 (the chain of events that eventually led the station to be shut down).
The strong personality of Radio Alice was more than just the sum of the points of views of the original collective (Franco Berardi, Paolo Ricci, Filippo Scòzzari and Maurizio Torrealta, among others). Rather, it can be seen as a complex collage of the ideas of the autonomous movement (which emerged in Italy in the sixties) mixed with the influence of the Situationists, the pre-punk seed that was starting to spread in Europe, and the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
RADIOACTIVITY #1. Radio Alice | MACBA |
In 1932, German playwright Bertolt Brecht demanded the Umfunktionierung or reappropriation of the radio apparatus, observing that “the radio is one-sided where it should be two.” According to Brecht, the radio should be changed from a medium of distribution, of “mere sharing out,” to one of actual communication: he envisioned a “network of pipes” that would allow the audience to transmit as well as receive. By turning listeners into producers, such a two-way radio would transform the dynamics of given social constellations: it would, according to Brecht, “bring [listeners] into a relationship instead of isolating [them].”
Brecht’s call for the repurposing of an already-existing apparatus of communication resounded as part of a number of postwar political movements. The radio, according to the writer and revolutionary Frantz Fanon, begot the very possibility of a shared perspective, a fantasy of collective participation in liberation: “Having a radio meant paying one’s taxes to the nation, buying the right of entry into the struggle of an assembled people.” A revolutionary consciousness was built not only through what was being said and heard over the ether but through the exercise of the public sphere as a site of active and engaged contention. The unsanctioned experiences that were aired contradicted the official narratives, but rather than simply establishing an alternative, autonomous zone of truer information and identity, they offered a counter-public consisting of the relationality between simultaneously existing, competing realities. As if to underscore the ongoing battle, the audience had to work their way along the dial to find the station, which was perpetually evading the authorities’ attempts to jam the frequency.
Radio was also used in Europe for political change. Appearing as an integral part of the Autonomia movement in the mid-1970s, radical radio in Italy, for example, saw the widespread occupation of public frequencies as a crucial mechanism of a substantial political movement. Activist Franco Berardi of Radio Alice in Bologna recalls: “The radio stations were operated with luck and very little money, but they could cover a territorial space adequate for the organizational forms and communication needs of the emerging proletarian strata. Through this channel circulated an uninterrupted flood of music and words, a flood of transformations on symbolic, perceptive, and imaginative planes…anyone could intervene in the flow, telephoning, interrupting, adding, correcting.” By this point there existed a number of “free” or “pirate” radio projects, from Mexico to Denmark and the United Kingdom to Japan, that sought to wrest the airwaves from tightly regulated state and corporate control. They were exploiting legislative loopholes or illegally broadcasting on the lower end of the FM MHz spectrum from off-shore and mobile micro-transmitters, in opposition to what was perceived as a highly selective and overtly commercial offering of information and culture.
- “Radio as a ‘Minor’ Art Practice,” Ursula Frohne, Radio as Art: Concepts, Spaces, Practices
The idea of a counter-public as a changing, historically determined network of strategically connected ideas and needs in turn informed the “mini-radio” movement, which became a mass phenomenon in the 1980s, with more than one thousand mini-radio stations on the air by the middle of the decade. Tetsuo Kogawa, a founding figure of the mini-radio movement—“mini” in the sense of not only tiny transmitters but also small service areas–attributes the birth of mini-radio to a particular set of circumstances: the splintering of political forces following the 1960s student and civil-rights movements, the isolation of individuals in a burgeoning consumer culture, and tight airwave policies.
In light of the difficulties and prohibitive costs of obtaining a license and operating a radio station, as well as the sophisticated surveillance and high fines for the illegal use of airwaves, special regulations for so-called “very weak airwaves,” such as remote controls and wireless microphones, provided the way forward.
Mini-FM transmitters could be made cheaply and by hand, often operating on less than one watt, covering a radius of only one hundred to five hundred meters. Tetsuo Kogawa calls this “narrowcasting” (as opposed to “broadcasting”), satisfying the demand for a diversity of cultures on the air and defying the commodification of information. Toward Polymorphous Radio by Tetsuo Kogawa
Rhizome / Molecular Radio
The temporary creation of autonomous zones for collective initiatives such as Radio Alice proved that the idea of producer-oriented broadcasting was not only technologically an operative possibility, but also a socially and politically feasible one. Its rhizomatic structure anticipated in fact a principle that today is ubiquitously accessible via the Internet.
Since the 1970s, a wide range of contemporary art approaches have referenced radio as a medium of critique that may also have an impact on the formation of collectives. According to Deleuze and Guattari, it is characteristic for minor art practices that they conjure resistance to the present and generate—similar to the modes of philosophy—a sense for “a new earth, a new people.” Following the logic of a becoming (political), also the notion of minor art is intimately linked to the imaginary, directed at the “invention of new modes of existence” and involved in the unclosing of alternative spaces for communication.
Kogawa cites Félix Guattari’s observations regarding the Italian free radio movement and its emphasis on “transmission,” “transversal,” and “molecular revolution,” suggesting that, unlike conventional radio, “free radio would not impose programs on a mass audience, whose numbers have been forecast, but would come across freely to a molecular public, in a way that would change the nature of communication between those who speak and those who listen.” Rather than producing and disseminating culture on an industrial level, mini-radio was designed to enable the politics of a street block or a housing complex, and, in turn, the politics of one network relating to the next, of one public connecting to another.
- “the Radio and/as digital Productivism,” Philip Glahn, Radio as Art: Concepts, Spaces, Practices
Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio received acclaim and is considered one of the best video games ever made for its graphics, soundtrack, and gameplay. In the game, DJ Professor K broadcasts the Jet Set Radio pirate radio station to gangs of youths who roam Tokyo-to, skating and spraying graffiti. One gang, the GGs, competes for turf with the all-female Love Shockers in the shopping districts of Shibuya-Cho, the cyborg Noise Tanks in the Benten entertainment district, and the kaiju-loving Poison Jam in the Kogane dockyard. The authorities, led by Captain Onishima, pursue the gangs with riot police and military armaments. After the GGs defeat Poison Jam, Noise Tanks, and Love Shockers in turf wars, they each drop a piece of a mysterious vinyl record. Professor K says that the mysterious vinyl has the power to summon a demon.
The GGs are joined by Combo and Cube, who explain that their hometown, Grind City, has been overtaken by the Rokkaku business conglomerate. They ask the GGs to help them to free their friend, Coin, who has been captured by the Rokkaku. The Rokkaku pursue the GGs and steal the vinyl record. Poison Jam explains that the Rokkaku CEO, Goji Rokkaku, plans to use the record to make a contract with the demon and take over the world. The GGs defeat Goji in the rooftop of his headquarters by destroying his turntable. Freedom is returned to the streets of Tokyo-to. Combo reveals that The Devil's Contract was an old record with no demonic powers and that wealth had driven Goji to insanity.