It was twenty years ago this week that the first privately-owned radio station went on the air in Czechoslovakia just after the Velvet Revolution. “Radio Stalin” began as a pirate broadcast from atop the hill of Letná, underneath the structure that had once held up an enormous statue of the Soviet tyrant. The tongue-in-cheek name didn’t last for very long, but the broadcast has continued until today with the same focus on alternative rock under the name Radio 1.
A new era of radio broadcasting in Czechoslovakia began at a festival called “Totalitarian Zone” in 1990, with stuttering presenters with home record collections. Such was the six-day life of Radio Stalin, a makeshift studio in a catacomb in Letná Hill slapped together by college students, sharing their thoughts airing the concerts at the festival and chatting away on pirated airwaves with the visiting personalities, such as then-president Václav Havel.
The quality was poor, but the content was something Czechoslovak listeners had never heard before. The press seems to have been abuzz with surprised praise for the amateur broadcasters playing independent and avant-garde music at a time when Czechoslovak Radio was still the only thing on the airwaves. Some wrote that the youths of Prague finally had their own station.
Lenka Wienerová is the managing director of Radio 1: “I think all of us were really surprised at the response that the broadcast got. According to the estimates of the time, there was something like 200,000 people listening to us.”
When the municipal authorities came to take away the students’ transmitter after six days, a petition of 30,000 names was compiled to get the station back on the air. That happened within a few months, and the same voices were back on the radio in early 1991, this time legally, and with the new name “Radio 1”.
Today there are more than 80 radio stations in the Czech Republic, and Radio 1 has remained one of the most popular with their loyalty to alternative music, relaxed style and of course famous jingles.
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