04. Radio Alice

Submitted by Steven. on August 14, 2009

We've already printed some of the phone calls that were transmitted over Radio Alice. The revolutionary possibilities of the station were clear. It was for this reason that Interior Minister Kossiga ordered it to be closed down.

Now we're printing 2 articles: first, a translated account of the police raiding and closing Radio Alice. And second, an article about the growth of free radio ('radio liberal) in Italy .
During the street clashes of Saturday March 12th in Bologna, the free radio station Radio Alice had transmitted phone calls from comrades reporting the latest state of things. That night, at 11.15pm, the police raided the station and closed it. First they cut off the electricity 'to the whole building - but the comrades continued broadcasting via a cable from another building. Then the police broke in - but the comrades had hidden a microphone, and left the transmitter on. The whole episode was broadcast live.

This account comes from a tape-recording that was made at the time. However, it was not only comrades who tape-recorded the station. The police also made their own tapes - and on the basis of those tapes, comrades from Radio Alice have been charged with various offences.

(Background noises. Big confusion. Chairs being moved, people walking about. A phone rings.)
Hello - Radio Alice?
Comrade A. Get off the line. The police are here. We need the phone. Comrade B. Let's go upstairs .... let's get out of here ....
Comrade C. (The phone
Try to keep calm, rings again.)
Hello .... Alice?
A: Yes, the police are here. If you find anyone from the Legal Defence Collective, send them here at once.
No . look, don't go getting out of the windows, Please. (Chaotic noises). Listen, this is very important. Will you please get off the line. Here is a message for all lawyers, for all comrades who are tuned in. Will they please get in touch with the lawyers .....
(Voice in the background: The police are shooting ... they're firing at us).
B; Listen, the police are at the door. They're trying to break it down. Their waving pistols - and I'm refusing to open. I've told them I'm not going to open until they put away their pistols and show me their warrant. And since they won't put them away, I've told them we're not opening until the lawyer gets here.

(Phone rings.)
A: Listen, can you please come at once. they've got pistols and flak-jackets and all that 14, OK ... we're waiting for you.
This is urgent. Please .. shit .. via del Pratello
Tell him . Mauro! Keep your head down!!!
shouts to the police: The lawyers. Wait a minute, the lawyers are
(A comrade coming! )
(Doorbell rings non-stop.)
B: Radio Citta .. will you please call Radio Alice and tell us if you are receiving us and relaying this broadcast ..... oh, by radio please .. we're listening. We just can't tell if it's us we’re listening to, or if it's you relaying us. Radio Citta, could you please let us know. Thanks.
B: They've said they'll break down the door. We're being besieged by the police. I don't know if you’ve ever seen that film, shit, what the hell was the title .. that one about Germany .. the Katherina Blum case, that's it Well here we've got the very same helmets, the very same bullet-proof jackets, waving their Berettas around. It's ridiculous . it's incredible . it's just like a film. (Voices in the background). If they weren't right here banging on our door, I'd swear I was at the cinema!
C: Let's have a bit of background music. (The music plays;.
A: I dunno Listen, I don't even know if I'm going to get a night's sleep tonight .... What a fucking lousy situation! (Confused noises and heavy blows off).
B: Now the police have started banging on the door again. They're shouting to open up! Open Up! They're coming .... Watch out .. Keep down!
(Police: Goddamn it, open up open up!)
C: The lawyers are on their way. Just wait 5 minutes they're already in the street outside.
(Police: We’re coming in. Get ready .. !)
(A comrade answers the phone: Hello, Radio Alice here ..... )
Police: Put your hands up. HANDS UP! Right up ...
A: No, I don't know anyone called Alberto . I'm Matteo ... Listen, we've got the police at the door ...
(General confusion.)
C: They’re inside ... They're here!!!
B: They're here ... They've broken in!!! We've all got our hands up They've come inside now .. we've got our hands up ..
C: There, they've torn away the mike ..
Police: Hands up there!
B: We've got our hands up. They're telling us that this is a "hive of subversive activity" ..
Transmission is interrupted.

So, the police had seized Radio Alice, on a charge of having "directed" guerrilla warfare in the streets of Bologna. Was this legal, to close down a station because of an alleged offence by its members? The case of Radio Alice looks likely to become a test case for Free Radio all over Italy. The outcome will be very important.

Here we’re printing an edited excerpt from an article about the history and background of the development of Free Radio in Italy. It comes from an article by Mark Grimshaw and Carl Gardner in Wedge No 1, Summer 1977.

In Italy there are three national stations, each with their own news programmes. These stations are carved up between the political parties sharing power in the present coalition Government. A monolithic "status quo" which needed cracking.

How, then, was this status quo cracked? One of the crucial test cases was that of Onde Rosse (Red Airwaves) which took to the air (illegally) in Piedmont in July 1975. Its signature tune was the famous Chilean freedom song 'El Pueblo Unido' (The People United). During the week that followed, it was possible to hear interviews on the radio, with prominent Communists, Radicals and anarchists, interspersed with 'The Internationale', 'Bandiera Rossa' etc. Every morning, too, one could hear salutations and best wishes for a speedy release of Giovan Battista Fossano, under suspicion of being the guiding inspiration of the armed guerrilla group 'Red Brigade’
The transmitter had been set up in a second-floor apartment by a group of 30 people whose politics were broadly those of the PDUP/Manifesto group. Transmission lasted just one week before a somewhat embarrassed cohort of ten carabinieri knocked at the door with a confiscation order. After respectfully waiting for the last notes
of 'Bandiera Rossa', they walked off with the equipment.
Amazingly, later court action against Onde Rosse and others found such State confiscations unconstitutional, by the end of 1975. In this way, certain decisions of the State legislature made the State's monopoly of illegal, just at a time when you would have thought the State would consolidate its monopoly.

This 'liberation' of the airwaves led immediately to a vast and unfinished explosion of Free Radio stations - numbering over 800 within a year, all over the country. There are also about 100 Free TV stations. Many of the small stations have been set up for between £3,000-£4,000.

Running costs for radio stations are, in addition, very low, compared to newspapers. Staffing costs are minimal, the stations being run by voluntary labour. And, unlike newspapers, listening is free!

But finances are still a problem. These come from basically 3 sources:

First, by public subscriptions, for which the stations broadcast appeals. Second, through some limited advertising (though many stations refuse to allow any commercial penetration). And third, through being sponsored by political groups or parties, and other interested organisations (though here again, most stations try to stay independent of such funding).

For the time being, about 50-60% of the “free” stations are commercially sponsored, happy to guarantee a 24-hour service of rock music. Another 30% or so consists of a mixed bag of low-budget ventures mounted by radio hams or minority groups. And finally there is that 20% or so which might properly be called the socialist section of independent radio.

The attitude of the Communist Party in particular to these developments is worth mentioning. The CP have had nothing to do with the stations, at a formal level. They appear to be convinced that with the "Historic Compromise” their forthcoming entry into government will give them access to the State broadcasting network.

To take one example: Radio Citta Futura was set up in Rome with funds put up by the extra-parliamentary revolutionary parties AO and PDUP (Avanguardia Operaio and Partito di Unita Proletaria). There is no precise political control of the station, however. It is organised as a forum for the fullest expression of ideas by the revolutionary Left and the workers' movement as a whole.

A typical day's broadcasting at Radio 'Future City' runs something like this:

~: Morning call for the workers. News & political songs.
~: Analysis of the day's Press coverage of economic, political, trade union
and cultural affairs.
~: Domestic review. Food prices, home economics etc. ~: Music, varying from avant-garde to rock
10.00 Transmission by Radio Donna, an independent women's liberation unit.
11.00 Student news (in their morning break) .
12.00 Music
12.00 First of the "current affairs" specials, with an interview or discussion
on economics or politics.
1.00: Music
~: Regional news from Rome.
3.00: From the Base: trade unions. women, soldiers, tenants groups etc.
5.00: Second programme by the women's movement.
~: Second 'special', with discussion on one specific topic
News of the Day.
8.00: Music.
10.00 The major discussion of the day, with a phone-in link. 12.00 Music.
1 .00: "Comrades Night-Spot" where each staff member in rotation broadcasts -- what she/he wants.
3.00: Summary of the day's news headlines.
3.30 - 6.00 am Programme for night workers (taxi drivers, police, hospital workers etc) A previously-taped interview with a worker is broadcast, and people are free to phone in.

Now, the State is beginning to move against these stations and the danger they represent. There are two basic methods: economic sanctions and open physical repression. Proposals are afoot to demand the sum of £30 per day from each radio station - supposedly for the equivalent of record royalties. This would apply even to those stations who do not broadcast music. This move is designed to drive a wedge between the commercial stations (with rich advertising), who could afford the money, and the Left-wing stations, who could not.

These moves are being resisted. But if the economic sanctions should fail, the State can also use physical repression, as in the case of Radio Alice. During the March riots and demonstrations in Bologna, the radio station was being used in a quite new way. It was used as a directly offensive weapon, monitoring police movements during the demonstrations and relaying them to demonstrators. The police immediately moved in to close it.

In the past 18 months, Free Radio in Italy has expanded enormously. The question now is whether that expansion can be consolidated. In particular this will depend on whether the Italian Left is able to solve some of the more difficult organisational and political problems it faces at this/moment. But the essential breakthrough has been made, presenting the Left with new resources and also new problems. Leftwing propaganda and agitation can never be the same again. The Left has entered the electronic age with a vengeance!