The French Revolution that spread across the Channel
The Argus Saturday June 2nd 2007
“We take a trip to Paris to visit FIP, the radio station that proved a cult hit in Brighton thanks to one fan and his antenna”
“From chic Parisian cafes to the backstreet boutiques of Brighton, French radio station FIP has brightened the lives of thousands of people. But when watchdogs discovered it was being rebroadcast in Sussex from an antenna set up in a flat, it pulled the plug this side of the channel, plunging listeners into mourning. MILES GODFREY took a trip to Paris to discover how FIP is made and found steadfast support for the pioneering man who wanted to bring a little French flair to Sussex.
For more than a decade, part of Sussex has luxuriated in a veritable bubble bath of music from across the English Channel.
On many a day and night, the soothing sometimes sultry but always sophisticated sounds of Paris-based radio station FIP could be heard from the radios of those in the know or who had stumbled across the station by accident.
Its jazz or Brazilian samba could often be heard sizzling from the back of a Lanes boutique on a hot summer’s day or from the window of a Seven Dials flat as the sun set.
Few people ever realised its quirky mix of music and lack of adverts only became a winner in Brighton after one fan grew so smitten with the station he set up his own re-broadcasting antenna in a flat.
The man – who has still not been identified – is understood to live in the Seven Dials area.
Through his antenna, he brought untold musical pleasure to the ears of a diverse range of listeners, including shopkeepers, politicians and housewives.But alas, the soothing sounds of FIP are no longer with us after Ofcom, the communications watchdog, pulled the plug and confiscated the broadcasting equipment, following a complaint the law was being broken.
It has left listeners in Brighton in mourning – their object d’amour is no more.
Its loss has opened the debate as to why British radio stations cannot come up with a comparable station that is not cluttered with the usual mindless jingles, chart music and over-excited DJ’s.
So while FIP is off the airwaves – and there is realistic hope it may soon be back on our radios – we decided to take a trip to Paris to see for ourselves how sweet radio love is made.
Parked in a big BBC-like building owned by Radio France, less than a kilometre from the Eiffel Tower, FIP is the labour of love of about 20 members of staff.
It’s compact, but atmospheric offices are piled sky-high with what seems like every CD ever made and are littered with the sleeves of collectable records.
Among them is The Beatles’ Abbey Road, which just happens to be the FIP general manager Jean-Luc Leray’s favourite album.
It is ironic this most French of radio stations is so heavily influenced by that most British of bands.
When I first listened to McCartney and the others it did something to me. It is the reason I am at FIP and my passion. Without it I don’t think FIP would exist in quite the way it does.”
It is Mr Leray’s dream that Paul McCartney used to sit on his terrace in Western Esplanade, Hove, listening to FIP.
There is no one person or one thing that controls what FIP does and the station remains pleasantly free of the regulatory hand of the French government. There are no adverts and it is paid for in a way similar to the BBC licence fee.
This loose remit coupled with a complete freedom from chasing commercial success, has allowed FIP to develop in a startlingly different way to most stations since its conception in 1971.
It employs seven “programmateurs”, whose job it is each day to compile three hours of music, or whatever origin or sound, into a set.
It can take them up to eight hours, using their huge back catalogue of tracks.
The only direction Mr Leray gives them is to play music they like and that is varied. He said: “I say, ‘put on music that is good but music that is different’.
We want to give people music they may not be able to listen to anywhere else. That is the point of FIP, I think.
We can have one rock, one classical, one African song, but it must never be three songs in a row of the same type. That is the only stipulation.”
He is forthright in his music choices and have very definite tastes but he remains anonymous. A DJ that is never heard, other than through his music.
He said “I was very disappointed when FIP was taken off the air in Brighton.
It was very good our music was being heard there and we had all heard about it for a very long time.
I like to think my music is reaching a wide audience and being in Brighton definitely helped.”
Crucially, while recognising the rule of law in this country, FIP would like to get back on air in Brighton. Whether that is via a proper licence or by launching an official FIP England remains to be seen but there is support for it on both sides of the channel.
Armand Pirrone, who after 27 years is the longest-serving programmateur at FIP, believes even the French may not get to listen to the station in its current format for much longer.
He believes it may eventually have to cave in to commercial pressure and give up its independence.
Mr Pirrone said “There have been very few changes since I have been here but I think in the next five years the government will make us change.
I think at the moment the president likes us but in five years’ time, who knows?
The world is changing and radio is changing. It would be a tragedy if we do have to change but I think it may happen.”
Sources close to the Seven Dials man believe he may apply for a community licence to get FIP back on the airwaves in Brighton.
Since it was shut down, a series of Vive La Fip tribute nights in the city have raised funds for the cause.
But until it returns, Brighton has lost a certain je ne sais quoi.