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Teofil Pancic
The Moloch of Transition
author: Teofil Pancic
Vreme 577, FM Radio 2001

If the state radio-mastodon in 2001 had the task of patching up at least the most visible (more precisely: the most audible) consequences of the long standing internal devastation and systematic "patriotic" faecalisation of its image and sound, then those other stations, not financed from the budget, primarily the ones we called "independent" in the 90s, had just one Sacred Mission in order to keep their heads above water: by using "what they have" and other sophisticated means - and avoiding occasional tripping by the new authorities - to keep the high level of quality and credibility and justify the inflated expectations of the public, mainly awfully pissed offat anything that may resemble too intimate a snuggle with "victors" (but not the tolerant "laundering" of the losers, which almost nobody could resist).

ANTINOMIES OF FREEDOM: As an undoubtedly leading symbol of the broadcasters' resistance to tyranny in Serbia, Radio B92 (92.5 mHz, as you know very well, but let’s be polite) has carried out its silent perestroika to new political, cultural and primarily economic conditions pretty successfully, but not without losses, both actual and potential. At the time of dictatorship and censorship, B92's news program was, if not the only, the broadest and cleanest "window to reality" in the domestic ether; currently the competition is bigger and stronger, but the well-tuned B92 team impressed by it: their central daytime and evening news programs are unmatched by competition in the field (which could not be said of the current affairs-product on the television channel of the same name), and the copyrighted and magazine-style programs like Yutopia, Apatrija and primarily Pescanik - the best program of the kind in the country - sovereignly and painlessly switched to a new corpus of topics, the ones dictated by the altered social circumstances, not losing the recognisable no-pardon approach in the process. On the other hand, the time in which foreign donations are slowly drying up - another antinomy of the freedom to put up with! - imposes on B92 (too) not the least significant challenges of commercialisation. This will, I believe, be clear to anyone who was from the beginning aware that the "B92 project" was something much more and broader than plain informational and political infusion/alternative: it was a catalyst of a different, in a higher sense fundamentally "oppositional" lifestyle. You can't say B92 ceased to be it, but the (sub)culturally more prominent non-conformist contents are being pushed back into the more hiddenprogramming "pockets", often evening and night slots, while the daytime is being silently dominated by the completely non-listenable charlatan pop and quasi-R&B meow you already have a shovelful-till-you-puke on innumerous other colourless DJ-stationlings of the local ether (Venus, Naxi, Akademac, Siti, Pingvin, Dunav, Top FM, BG Radio, partly Studio B's Radio 949, etc.). C'mon people, give us a break! On the other hand, B92 still has an all-star set others could only dream of: Srdjan "Mejhur" Andjelic, Igor Brakus & Co., Uros Djuric, the "TV Maniac" duo of Mojsin & Ilic, sports brigade and others are B92's recognisable talking head aces difficult to match. Therefore, if we look at the transitionally somewhat more advanced ex-Yugoslav societies, B92 is currently somewhere between the two possible alternatives: Zagreb's Radio 101, as a commercially-populist urban little station which is living its sad yuppie life on account of the old, half-deserved "opposition" glory - which is why Radio 101's Belgrade equivalent has always been Radio Index (99.8 mHz) and not B92 it was usually compared with - and Ljubljana's Radio Student (www.radiostudent.si, it has live streaming!) which has always been and remains by far the most radical FM project in the whole (South) East Europe and which has, deep in transition, preserved its musical-(sub)cultural-political radical attitude, thus proving it possible to exist and survive without the all-equalising terrorism of the play-list. Of course, if you have (by and of itself fully legitimate) ambition to remain no. 1 in the city with dozens of stations, you will face a lot of problems by wanting "to have it both ways". Turbo-high ratings of the then "underground" B92 was a consequence of the abnormal social circumstances: namely, it is not exactly normal when the grannies from Vracar have to go through hell listening to Jane's Addiction or Butthole Surfers while they wait for the news or, for example, guest appearance of their guru, Milan St. Protic: since today you can find both the news and Protic almost anywhere, I can't see how you can keep accidentally recruited audience for a longer period, or why would you insist on it. It is much wiser to invest into the broadening of the audience for the said Jane's Addiction or Butthole Surfers… Of course, B92 is still the best station around and I don't doubt it will remain so for quite some time; however, it will be sad if a certain "crack in the identity", which is quite normal considering the radically new circumstances, was resolved by further concession to the Moloch of Commercialisation - which would be more a product of panic and being transfixed before the Market's scarecrow than the "only possible path". It'd be as if Vreme had suddenly introduced horoscopes, crossword puzzles, recipes for cookies, marriage advice and a TV guide. Which all together wouldn't help it have a bigger circulation than Svet - and it should not have a bigger circulation than Svet, just as The Guardian does not have and will not have a bigger circulation than The Daily Mirror.

GLORY DAYS GONE: Belgrade is a largish city, typically Darwinist in nature: if one man halts, albeit just for a moment, the other starts gaining on him! Primarily with musical content, Radio SKC (107.9 mHz) has won over those who wanted things somewhat "louder" in every possible, different and creative sense. Despite many of their spoken or spoken/musical shows still suffering from certain pretentious child diseases (for example, every once in a while a know-nothing eager fop is courageously judging everything because he think it's cool and that it suits him well), the SKC Radio crew managed to organise a program which would have to be seriously counted on in the future; its "dominant" target group is exactly the one its founder, the Student Cultural Centre, aims at with its varied activities: younger and educated city population with more demanding and unusual taste. Only dozens of metres farther, Radio Studio B (100.8 mHz) tries with mixed success to retain the best sides of its three-decades-old image of the "first urban station" and at the same time make a substantial breakthrough among the competition. Its (newer) glory days have come and gone, if my memory serves me right, somewhere between 1991 and 1999 (during "Mayor Covic's" pause), and especially at the time when it was headed by Olivera Milos Todorovic; after that (the bombing, SPO-cracy, regime crackdown, new authorities, undefined status…) the crew has dispersed, and the remaining one has been given an "asylum" called Radio 949, a specialised DJ program modelled on BBC Radio 1. However, Belgrade needs Studio B the most as the urban multigenre radio mishmash, which is exactly what the skeleton of its First Channel is.

Some other (semi)state mastodons wait to see what would happen to them: YU radio (100.4 mHz), as a part of Radio Yugoslavija, the (allegedly) too expensive state cold-war fossil, could either disappear or be privatised; whatever happens, it should be noted here and remembered that in the last ten years of its existence the radio in its "night-time" programming half ("from six to six") was, along with B92, some of the best the ether had to offer, and that at the time guest appearances from British DJs on this frequency were considerably responsible for the better part of the local DJ culture taking roots fast and thoroughly. Isn't that enough? Radio Politika (105.2 mHz) has went through a similar story of falls and rises, with Goran Kozic almost strangling it to death by turning it into yet another tasteless jukebox; after the October 5 ecological revolution, RP got back its trade mark shows and multigenre program slots (Polimix and other) and in addition they got Milan Petrovic Tica, one of the legends of the "early" B92, who is currently running an interesting night talk show. What will become of them remains to be seen, since according to the new Broadcast Act Politika will probably have to sell its ownership shares in the Radio and Television company of the same name.

BANAT CHARM: The only out-of-Belgrade FM station (I rule out Radio 100 because it belongs to RTS) which succeeded in imposing itself seriously onto the Belgrade ether  is Radio Pancevo (92.1 mHz): combination of uncensored information - which worked even when all the capital's media were shut down, as on March 9 1991, during the NATO bombing, or after May 17 2000 - and a decent musical landscape helped this radio acquire a whole lot broader and bigger listening audience than it should "rightfully" claim. After listening to Radio Pancevo in the first post-Milosevic year it seems to me there are chances it would remain so, since the program kept all of its virtues, with one significant comparative advantage: the positive influence of the nearby City Lights, fortunately opposition-combined with the easy Banat charm and therapeutic divide - if minimal - from the environment of the all-devouring and brain-consuming, primarily journalist, "Belgrade scene"… Only the high-calibre fool can ruin these advantages and such were at least until now considered trespassers at 92.1 mHz.

Bizarre transitional wonder has, therefore, just entered these parts and taken a sniff of them, and we have yet to taste both its sweet and bitter fruits: the FM- proletariat who did not fall before the rifles and boots of the psycho-deranged Tyranny now have a more complicated duty not to yield before the much more cunning "class enemy" which - just as in the most common Bolshevik brochures - is buying souls for a fistful of greenbacks. Of course, there is no sense in fighting it: it should be tamed and made an ally in your own Cause, and left to live in the illusion that it is the Boss!

 

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