Pirates jostle each other in latest traffic jam in Paris - on the air waves
Paris — The French radio ''pirate'' was reacting live on the air, seconds after being silenced by an FM wave band marauder who had unceremoniously set up a more powerful transmitter on his wavelength.
He telephoned a distress call to another ''pirate'' and the two discussed how to deal with the situation.
But the announcer finally had to admit: ''I don't know what to do or where to go. I am completely disoriented. We want to continue but we've got to be given a chance.''
He could have been speaking for a number of small FM stations in the Paris region, where it is estimated that at least 150 stations - all illegal - are jostling for air space previously occupied by only five government stations.
The government thinks there is room for no more than 40. But new stations, with increasingly powerful transmitters, are piling onto the wave band daily.
Approximately 1,000 stations currently operate in France. But it is in the Paris region that crowding on the wave band has reached crisis proportions.
Most of the new stations have come into being since the parliamentary and presidential election victories last spring of the French Socialist Party. Before the elections, the Socialists had declared themselves opposed to the government monopoly on all French broadcasting. And so radio enthusiasts had expected freedom of the air waves to arrive with the Socialist government.
But the new government was caught off guard as enthusiasts rushed out to buy equipment and get on the air without waiting for new legislation.
Faced with gathering chaos, the government has reacted by rushing through parliament special legislation under which a commission is to be set up to grant exemptions from the monopoly legislation.
Advertising is to be strictly forbidden and the range of transmission must not exceed 30 kilometers (some 18 miles). The aim, says Communications Minister Georges Fillioud, is to keep out big money interests and encourage genuine community broadcasting.
The problem is that not everyone sees local broadcasting in the same way as the minister. A number of stations want to set up in full-scale competition to the existing ''official'' stations. To do that, they say, they need advertising. The government is jamming stations already using advertising.
One of the most successful of these stations is run by Patrick Meyer, a former government radio employee. He recently tried - unsuccessfully - to get a Paris court to rule that the government itself was acting illegally in jamming his station, which, he claims, has a higher listeners' rating than its official competitors.
He says he intends to fight the government to the end, a serious threat, since he has one of the most powerful transmitters in the region.
A number of the noncommercial stations admit privately that they are banking on a government turnabout on advertising so they can continue broadcasting.
As matters stand, it looks as if it is going to take more than a new law to calm France's troubled air waves. Most ''free'' radio proponents agree that the overcrowding problem can be solved eventually by the amalgamation of small stations into larger groups and the sharing of wavelengths.
But unless the government shows willingness to give ground on advertising, it could find itself backed into enforcing the new law as its predecessors did - with riot police.