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Stations Celebrate Belgium’s Centennial

Private and public-service broadcasters take part in live broadcasts, exhibitions, special programming and more

Presenter and Producer Els Broekmans gives
listeners a guided tour of Radio 2 studios in
Antwerp on March 29. Photo by M. Maes
BRUSSELS — This year marks 100 years of radio broadcasts in Belgium — the country now boasts more than 4.2 million listeners per day. Over the last few months broadcasters have celebrated the anniversary in a number of ways, including special broadcasts and exhibitions.

During the commemorative expo “Vu à la Radio” (“Seen on the Radio”) held at the Tour et Taxis complex in Brussels, numerous radio stations grasped the opportunity to set up live broadcasts from the spacious studio at the site.

For the event, organizers set up an 180-square meter studio on the exposition premises. Equipped with studio furniture, an audio control room and sound reinforcement system, each station brought in its mobile broadcast “plug and play” equipment.

Radio broadcasters such as Bel-RTL, Radio Contact, TLM, Radio Nostalgie, Fun Radio, Radio Antipoda, RCF, Radio Campus, Pure FM and Classic 21 broadcast live from the studio with an audience present. Making use of an auditorium that holds 100 people situated in the Tour et Taxis site, stations invited listeners to visit the exhibition and enjoy the live broadcasts.

Classic 21’s Marc Ysaye and Radio Nostalgie’s
Brice Depasse share the antenna on March 2 from the
Vu à la Radio exposition. Marc Vossen, general manager
of Nostalgie and NRJ Belgium was invited to the show.
Photo courtesy Classic 21
The highlight of the series of celebratory broadcasts was the joint broadcast of commercial network Radio Nostalgie and public-service station Classic 21, celebrating 100 years of radio in Belgium.

On Sunday, March 2 from 10 a.m. to 12.00 p.m., both stations shared the antenna for a unique simulcast, aired live on public Classic 21’s (part of RTBF) eight frequencies and private Radio Nostalgie’s 40 stations in the south of Belgium.

Classic 21’s Station Manager Marc Ysaye and Radio Nostalgie’s Producer/Presenter Brice Depasse hosted the program. “We took great pleasure in setting up this project,” said Depasse. “We’ve known each other for a long time but who could have imagined that we would team up to host a show together?”

Depasse explained that the Classic 21 and Nostalgie styles and music formats “were not that different — we each have our own format but we managed to set up a broadcast that fit both stations, and we had tremendous feedback. The Led Zeppelin track ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ is a typical example of the type of music played during the historical collaboration between the private and public stations.”

Presenter Evelien Mannaerts hosted Radio 2 Limburg’s lunch
drive show from the new studio in Hasselt. Photo by M. Maes
Pascal Decarpentrie was the exposition’s technician — he put in place the cabling and connections for the studio and auditorium. “The studio was created as a ‘normal’ radio studio,” said Decarpentrie. “In addition, we added a sound reinforcement system for the audience. Stations could decide either to transmit their signal via ASDL or ISDN.”

Whereas the public stations and bigger networks had their music playout system in their main studio, with just a basic setup (mics, headphones, display) in the exhibition studio, smaller radio stations brought in a complete mobile studio.

Radio Nostalgie kicked off its 25th anniversary celebration with a “Vinyl Day On Tour” broadcast from the Tour et Taxis site. “The Vinyl Day show was entirely produced in the expo studio,” said Thierry Libert, technical director with Nostalgie and NRJ Belgique. “We adapted the configuration and music, the jingles and the presenters went live on the air. We used AETA codecs for the transmission of the signal via ADSL lines.”

Vu à la Radio, which ran from December 12 to April 27, drew in more than 20,000 visitors. “The fact that, today, over 15 percent of all advertising expenditure in Belgium is channeled to radio illustrates the importance of the medium.In terms of audience, the average Belgian listens to radio about 30 hours per week,” said Francis Goffin, CEO of RTBF’s radio division.

“And with the further development of the digital domain, the whole radio sector (public and private) is poised to support Smart Radio as a future medium. ‘Compete on content and cooperate on distribution technology’ will be the new adage,” he said. With the Vu à la Radio event focusing on the French-language radio landscape, the Dutch-speaking stations developed their own basket of events for the radio centennial celebration.

During the R100+ exhibition opening, Christophe D’Huysser
of Story Radio interviews Jacques Vermeire, former
Radio 2 presenter. Photo courtesy VRT
On March 12the Flemish radio sector began its festivities. The iconic Flagey building (home of the former VRT studio) played host to both public broadcaster VRT and commercial broadcasters, including Q-music, Joe FM and Nostalgie. Some 800 radio professionals, audio production studios, advertising agencies and broadcast veterans attended the event that was co-hosted by presenters of the participating stations.

On March 28, exactly 100 years after the first radio broadcast in Belgium took place from the Royal Palace’s gardens in Brussels, VRT opened R100+, an interactive exposition on radio and radio production running until Sept. 1. The exposition includes a vintage 1938-built radio studio and genuine radio gear. In a separate interactive part of the exposition, visitors are invited to put together their own radio show.

While VRT dedicated quite some airtime to the R100+ celebration, the commercial broadcasters stuck to their normal roster. “We didn’t plan anything special in our programming,” said Tom Clercks, program director for Q-music and Joe-FM.

“We limited ourselves to participating in the Flagey-celebration, but the R100+ festivities represent more a of public radio story than a private one — although we have written a substantial part of the commercial side of radio,” Clercks added.

Other initiatives included VRT Radio 1 airing a 13-week special series on the history of radio in its Sunday evening “Memento Mori” program, while Studio Brussel (StuBru) broadcast from the Radiohuis in Louvain on April 1.

The country’s leading Dutch-language radio station Radio 2 opened its doors in all of its regional stations on March 29 and also inaugurated two brand new on–air studios in Hasselt and Kortrijk.

The new studios are part of a general makeover of all of Radio 2’s broadcast infrastructure, and mark the switch to new DHD MX52 control desks. Radio 2 Kortrijk became one of the first VRT studios to have the new Dalet+ playout system operational.

Marc Maes reports on the industry for Radio World from Antwerp, Belgium.

Vintage radio gear on display at the R100+ expo in the RadioHuis in Louvain. Photo courtesy VRT