Welcome to Radio Love – a series in where we take a look at the history of some of our favourite electronic music radio stations. In this edition we take a look at Parisian stations Radio FG and Maxximum. Maxximum radio was a fan favourite in the 90’s and was the first radio station dedicated to electronic dance music in France, featuring guests such as Laurent Garnier and Joachim Garraud. But after sweeping laws were put in place Maxximum prematurely met its end. What followed this decision was a wave of protests, and after decades off of the airwaves, Maxximum has risen from the ashes once again connecting generations of Maxximaniacs back to the underground. We spoke to Antoine Baudel of Radio FG about the story of this legendary station and its revival.


The Scene in France

 

Electronic music has a rich history in France. It was in 1940’s France that electronic artist Pierre Schafer created musique concrete – a form of art that involves splicing pieces of audio recordings together. This form of music composition was adopted and made popular further west by American artists such as John Cage. Later in the 1970’s, French artist Jean-Michel Jarre shook the world with the release of Oxygéne. The album had huge success, and was claimed by some as the start of the synthesizer revolution of the 70’s. Once again in the 90’s, French pioneers looked to shake up the world of music with their own spin on the dance music created in America that had taken over the world.

When electronic dance music (and the club culture that came with it) first arrived it caused controversy in nearly every country it managed to take influence, and France was no different. With strong opposition from authorities, it seemed impossible for any established scene to take root:

Antoine: In the early 90s to be honest, the situation was very particular in France, there was absolutely no comparison to Great Britain. In the UK clubbing was arriving, and you had amazing clubs like Ministry of Sound, Hacienda in Manchester, and festivals like Creamfields and so on. In France, everything like clubs and rave parties were forbidden because the police and the media said there was a big connection between drugs and clubs. Every time a club opened for sure it closed within the following months. So, Maxximum and FG were spaces of freedom because radio stations were allowed to broadcast, and therefor to permit and allow for the scene, as well as for the DJs to express themselves. The people couldn’t get out much even if they could, because the only scene that didn’t have too much regression was the gay scene, that’s the reason why the gay scene was so dynamic and strong in France for dance music. There was like a connection because the only places you could go out where the gay clubs.

I would say in London, you had amazing radio shows, especially on BBC Radio One with Pete Tong, Annie Mac and all those big DJ’s, but there were features. Maybe you could make a comparison with Rinse, but Rinse is like a recent program. The underground formats and radio stations where Pirates in the UK, so it was like the opposite.

On one hand in France, the clubs were very fragile and in a very weak situation because they always had threats to be closed from the police whereas the stations were strong, and it was the only way for the audience and for the DJs to have a connection. That’s the reason why in France the radio stations were so strong. But the big advantage is that all the DJs were used to talking to a microphone, and to express themselves to the format of a one-hour DJ set and so on. They were experienced in that kind of media.

With the hard stance from the authorities the future of French dance music seemed bleak, but the Parisians resisted, and with the workaround of radio, the flower of Maxximum began to bloom:

Antoine: Maxximum began in 1989, I think, October 23rd. It was a company of the RTL Group. It was the first dance music station who also played a lot of techno and house music. Unfortunately, the radio station didn’t last and after two years and something like 3 months RTL decided to stop the program and to merge it with another network, and Maxximum disappeared in 92. January the 5th of 92. A whole generation were so shocked and upset against this disappearance, because the station was very, very interesting and so Avant Garde, you know.

Maxximum
Maxximum billboard in the subway.

Despite its overwhelming success and popularity however, Maxximum unfortunately met its demise with the introduction of a law that prevented the conglomeration of national networks forcing Maxximum off the air. There was outrage on the Parisian streets which led to protests across the city as a voice of youth culture was lost due to the new legislation:

Antoine: It was a combination of elements. There was an antitrust law that was restricting the expansion of the parent companies of the new emerging radio stations, and as RTL in France is a very big national radio station, they were not allowed to own more than a second network and Maxximum with the third one, so there was like a limit you know? Like we say in French, a glass rooftop! So, every time they got a frequency from the french regulator CSA, they had to give back another one. So, the first situation was the antitrust thing, and the other issue was that the format was too Avant Garde. I mean, when you’re right too early maybe sometimes you can be wrong, you know, and that’s the point. They were too visionary.

Protests

Maxximum
People protested for Maxximum’s return.

The after effect of the anti-trust law would send ripples throughout the youth of Paris as demonstrators protested the closure of the radio station:

Antoine: Of course, there were demonstrations in the streets, and it was just amazing. I was part of it! I was a very faithful listener to the station, listening to Maxximum changed my life. I don’t know if I would have turned to a radio career if I hadn’t listened to Maxximum, you know? This radio station was a revolution. The format was so professional, they were inspired in the program, and the radio rules which were inspired by the American radio stations. But the sound and the programming was inspired by themselves, and by the DJs, it was a revolutionary station. So, there were demonstrations, protests against RTL, against the French ITC, the regulator, but nothing happened. They tried and tried, but it didn’t work.

The rise of Radio FG

Radio FG
Radio FG headquarters in Paris.

The revolutionary Maxximum Radio died as quickly as it grew, seemingly abandoned by an older mindset that didn’t understand it’s need. But as the light of Maxximum faded, another radio station was ready to take on the challenge of providing a safe haven for innovative music in its place:

Antoine: FG took off slowly, but when we took off, we were a very original project. Imagine on that small Parisian radio station you had every Friday at 1:00 PM, Daft Punk, every Saturday, David Guetta, and Friday Bob Sinclair. Every day was like this with exclusive programs, and there was no web or nothing, so people were obliged to listen and tune in to the station, and the mixes were live you know, they were not recorded. You didn’t have that kind of software. The mixes where completely live, and the DJs were expressing themselves live in studio.

The situation was completely different between FG an Maxximum because Maxximum as I told you was part of maybe the biggest Media Group in Europe, where as FG was a total independent company so we had time you know? We had no money, but we had passion and time, whereas maximum had money and passion, but they had no time. They were obliged to get into big, big targets, and the market was too strong in Paris and in the big cities. Of course, the market was like a little bit mature, but in the other cities, you know in the smaller cities in the centre of the country, the audience was not getting used to that kind of sound. It was too premature I would say.

So, when Maxximum died and stopped each program another station was launched, it was Radio FG in Paris, with a much more underground orientation. In the beginning Radio FG was a techno station, which turned to a house music format, something like 4 years afterwards but in the 90s and in the 2000s, an Y2K, Radio FG was, and is still the big flagship for French Touch, and all the first DJs On Radio FG: Daft Punk, David Guetta, Bob Sinclair, Cassius, Martin Solveig, they all started on Radio FG.

It’s pretty interesting because FG, before becoming an electronic music station, was the gay community station in Paris. From 81 till 91 it was the community LGBT radio station. And in 91, when I took over radio FG with Henri Maurel the founder of the station, I decided to turn the format into a techno station, and then one or two years afterwards into a house music format.

Re-launch of Maxximum

Maxximum
Maxximum/Radio FG.

After the rising success of Radio FG, the station became a powerhouse for all forms of electronic music. Always looking to push the boundaries, they eventually decided to take on a new format, and with a lurking legend hibernating within the aether of the Parisian airwaves, FG decided to wake it up:

Antoine: FG is now a national network broadcasting on FM and DAB plus. When the DAB plus increased in Paris, we decided to re-launch the brand Maxximum. Less than a year, I would say something like 8 months ago, the French ITC — whose name is CSA, got us a frequency for an underground program, which was a kind of a combination between the former, the previous format of Radio FG (techno), and the last month of Maxximum. So, we decided to re-launch the brand, a little bit like Virgin Radio in the UK. We had stopped, and then re-launched via and thanks to DAB Plus.

We did exactly the same thing; The logotype, the signature, the spirit and the values are very close to each other as with the previous format. And of course, we capitalized on an amazing brand with amazing values as well: creativity, innovation, curiosity, but with a target and a view to launch a Paris underground station. So that’s the way Maxximum was born. It’s pretty interesting because it’s not how it was born, but I would say it’s a rebirth. It’s amazing.

And you know what? The interesting point is that if we had launched another brand, this amazing cross generation, you know from the newest generation who will re discover the linear radio stations, whereas they’re listening to Spotify so far, and the older generation, they have a brand like FG where you can have 20-year-old people who listen to the same station as 50 or 55-year-old people with the same values, the same expectations, the same desires and aesthetics. And that’s the point, you know.

Maxximum
The Maxximum forum was still alive 30 years after the stations closure.

Another company, Airplay Records, tried to bring back Maxximum in 2007 via a web-based radio app with a new format. Unfortunately, it was a failure much to the disappointment of the Maxximaniacs. Despite this FG never gave up on Maxximum, and decided to re-launch the brand with a new vision:

Antoine: We wanted the station not be web radio, we expected something ambitious, and If you are ambitious, and if you want to see big for your radio station, you need at least a frequency in Paris. DAB plus is late in France compared to the to the UK or Germany, but it’s starting, it’s starting this year. So, when we had the opportunity to apply for a frequency in Paris there were two options for FG to be honest; either applying for a dance music format, but more commercial, or bet on a return of the underground!

FG is a very interesting format because it’s an overground station. This is not underground. This is not mainstream. This is house music. But the story of FG is like the flagship and the platform of values, house music, curiosity but also aesthetic. It’s a format, It’s a brand itself. And we had a first declination of FG in Paris on DAB plus, FG chic, which is playing nu disco, downtempo, sound design, lounge music 24/7. So, we came to the conviction that we wanted to have another format. We were a little bit hesitant, but the decision to launch an underground format came very quickly. But there were then two options: either a more clubby format, and on the other hand, something completely innovative.

Considering that underground is not a sound, there are values as well, just like FG. FG is sharing the values of house music. Underground has all these values as well, but other values too like intellectual, like expectations, utopia but also aesthetics and eclecticism. And we came to the conviction that the underground scene needed its own station with another brand in order to speed things off. You know a brand is very comfortable because it

allows your brain to have its own story. It was not a problem for FG to have a declination like FG Chic, because house music can be chic or it can be extravagant, but on the other end underground needs its own brand. We could have, of course, have our own brand, but having Maxximum reborn was a bet, and it was a personal conviction as well, meaning that the feeling we all had 30 years ago when this radio died could also be reborn with this station.

So, it was the follow up, and it was like a continuation of this utopia, so we decided very quickly to relaunch this brand. With a very close logotype, very close values from the format, but also with the conviction that what maximum did 30 years ago was best to launch dance music. It became a worldwide phenomenon.

We needed to keep the values of discovering, revolution, innovation, you know, do something very fresh and different. So, our conviction with Victor (Maxximum’s coordinator) was that the format needed to be very innovative. No inspiration from any other radio stations from Ibiza to Miami, from web radio to FM stations. Not any inspiration, you know, and it just mean that in the electronic music scenes, in plural, you get so many aesthetics that are underground, because what does underground mean? It means it’s under earth. You can do soulful to techno and industrial techno. When the music industry doesn’t support or follow you.  When only independent labels play your tracks, and independent DJs or alternative DJs consider your artwork. You’re underground. You can be soulful, you can be house music, you can be melodic, you can be techno, whatever!

I mean you need a platform, and we can show that all what we’ve done within the last 30 years is an amazing experience that allowed the worldwide career of so many amazing DJs. So, we came to the conviction that Maxximum was the perfect platform to be the place for the artist to express themselves with freedom, with no limits, no restrictions, and experiencing, and experimenting all the genres that no one considers but the underground. The todays underground is for sure going to be the mainstream of tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, and we need to support all those DJs you know, and that was the purpose of the format.

Radio FG’s current studio.

With new emerging technologies always around the corner, FG needed to adapt:

Antoine: Today you have web radio stations, you have dubbed radio stations, you get FM radio stations, you get playlists on Spotify, podcasts. I mean, this for me it is a format. On FG as I told you, the values, the playlist has not to be reconsidered, we are house music. On Maxximum it is not reconsidered, we are underground with a very eclectic playlist. According to me, because Maxximum is DAB only, there is one point. We have a larger playlist because on FM your playlist needs to be tighter because you get advertising breaks, and the rotations are a little bit squashed. On FG we are not that squashed. For instance, the comparison with the Big Top 40 network is: 1 rotation on FG, equals three rotations on the Top 40. On Maxximum, one rotation equals three rotations on FG, which means 6 on the Top 40. So according to me, DAB radio stations already allow something very particular. You have more time, and we have the conviction that those new DAB formats like Maxximum, like FG Chic are the future of radio stations.

I mean if we already do a comparison, why did the audience leave the radio media? Maybe because the rotations are too high? Maybe because they’re too much advertising? And even if we work on it on FG, in order to have lower rotations, less advertising, there is of course like everywhere, a glass rooftop, you can’t change the system. But on the other hand, with those stations, we have the conviction that we supply an alternative to the radio market. So, we don’t feel threatened or endangered by these new devices, because we are one of those new devices. That’s the first point.

On the other hand, all the brands we run in the FG Group have their own ecosystem. The contents are hybrid and liquid, hybrid because you can listen to them on a playlist on Spotify, on a radio station with a linearized radio program, but of course, also with podcasts. So, this is hybrid, and the contents are liquid as well, because the mixes for instance, you can listen to them in the linear program as well as the podcasts. So, we have the impression that it’s a great 360 opportunity now we got brands, and we work on their own territories.

The future of radio

Maxximum
Maxximum’s DJ booth which has been used for livestreams.

In a world where everything is online, and people enjoy the flexibility of on demand media, we asked Antoine why the world still needed radio:

Antoine: For two reasons. First of all, sometimes the streaming is, like you know, a forced sale. I mean, the algorithm and the AI force you to listen to a genre, and you can’t change, so it doesn’t appeal to your curiosity. It always forces you to listen to what the algorithm decides for you. I mean when you are listening to a genre of course you’re satisfied. But if your eclectic, you’re not. So according to me, the force of radio stations is that it appeals to curiosity, and on the other hand it talks to you. I mean the big difference between streaming and the radio stations is that it’s human. Someone is talking to you, you know. Of course, your streaming service comes with you in your ears, and with all your intimate steps of the day and situations, but radio stations too. In the bathroom, in the kitchen, when you’re waking up, even if you’re tired and you don’t want anyone to see you with your hair like this, or girls with your make up like this, your radio stations on your radio, and the moderators are with you, and they’re talking to you. And you’ve got such an amazing relationship with this media because your listeners trust in your choices and they agree with an amazing situation in that we can decide for them their musical education, musical inspiration, engagement as well as convictions.

This is something very interesting because there’s a new relationship, especially in this situation where people are isolated with the lock down. What did the people say at the beginning, I’m watching Netflix all the time, it’s great, and after one or two months, I get crazy with Netflix or Spotify because those services, as I told you, these are AI, so they don’t speak to you, whereas the radio station, under the conditions that the shows are live, allows for people to share their emotion with you. So, the very particular relationship you have with your listeners, and I talk to you as a moderator so I can tell you, is something very mysterious. I can’t see my listeners, but they can’t see me either, so the imagination for an audience is very subjective, but the senses are very excited you know, because you can’t touch it, it’s not a newspaper, or you can’t watch it, it’s not TV. You just can hear, so you imagine. Now with the streaming of course you can see the people. There is less mystery than they used to be 30 years ago, but you don’t see everything. You just see what we accept sharing, so I think that’s the reason why radio has got a big future.

The only thing I would say to conclude, because it’s my conviction, is that the evolution won’t be radio to streaming, because I think what streaming has killed is not the radio station. It is compilations, its physical records, and of course as with every technological revolution, there is always a big change between the market shares and so on. But I would say that what will change is that it will go from radio to audio.  And this is the big change from radio, which is a linear program you’re listening to, to audio. That means you can have the liquid and hybrid content, and it’s listenable on many devices, from connected devices, to radio in your cars, connected or not, and two services, with the multi declinations on the web, a podcast and so on. And that’s the big change. This is the big thing for us on FG and Maxximum, and we are very proud to program amazing exclusive shows and resident DJs such as: DAS KLO in partnership with the Parisian bar “Liebe” (a digital show where young talents can express themselves through dj sets filmed and broadcasted every Friday at 8pm on our social networks) ,EXHALE By Amelie Lens, Timo Maas, Demuir, Indira Paganotto Terrence Parker… and first-generation French DJs who were on the scene 30 years ago such as: Jack De Marseille, Joachim Garraud and so on.

Also we have the return of RAVE UP which is considered as the radio show that was at the origin of the techno movement in the early 90s in Paris, broadcast on Radio FG and hosted by the man who was considered the voice of raves: Patrick Rognant. The show is back on MAXXIMUM every Saturday from 10pm to midnight and will talk about the news of the techno scene, latest releases, and of course we will find the DJs in interview, with the presenter … Patrick Rognant! After 20 years he is back in the FG house! The premiere will take place on Saturday, April 17 at 10 pm (Paris Time) on MAXXIMUM!

 

You can listen to Maxximum radio live here.

If you would like to learn more about Radio FG and their rise throughout the 90’s they have have a collaboration with Google Arts & Culture here.

You can listen to FG live here.

We would like to give a big thanks to Antoine Baudel & Victor Salmon for helping us write this article.

 

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