For English-only radio listeners in western Slovakia, Austria's Blue Danube Radio had for 20 years provided a native-language haven from the assortment of Czech, Slovak and German stations found across the local FM dial.
But on the morning of February 1, Blue Danube listeners woke up to a station with a new sound and a new name. The familiar English and German news programmes intermixed with adult-oriented music had suddenly been replaced by an up-tempo, more youth-oriented format. The new station had also dropped the beloved 'Blue Danube' logo in favour of 'FM4', and had become the sole proprietor of the 103.8 frequency on the FM dial. Radio management hailed the new modern focus, but Blue Danube loyalists felt they had been tuned out by a station they had supported since its inception.
Great Britain native Pat Reiter heads a 350-member social organisation called Friends of the Blue Danube, formed five years ago to ensure the future of Blue Danube Radio. Reiter and members of the club were frustrated with the changes made to a station they had faithfully listened to for 20 years.
"I've made a great effort to listen to FM4 on a regular basis, but I can't listen for extended periods of time because it is just too awful," she said. "The music is just awful and the way they present the news now, they've got distorted sounds in the background."
Jill Zobel, coordinator of English language programming and radio personality at the station, conceded that some old listeners might be turned off, but believed there remained a strong following based on the people she had talked to.
"I've heard every response (from Friends of Blue Danube). Some of the older people surprised me because they loved the music and were very satisfied with the information. They are still listening," Zobel said. "There is stuff they miss, that is to be expected."
The musical format now caters to an audience between 14 and 29, playing what Zobel described as "alternative main-stream" - modern music with a hard edge and heavy beat. As one outside FM4's target range of listeners, Reiter admitted that the music was not meant for her, but that this was not the total extent of her frustration.
"Blue Danube was a family-oriented station. It was extremely friendly and had a special atmosphere, and that's missing now. I do not really appreciate some of these so called 'songs' where they use English swear words a lot. Especially in the morning, I don't really need this. I don't really think it's right to use our money to broadcast these things," she said.
Blue Danube Radio began in 1979 with the assistance of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) and the Austrian Foreign Ministry. It was launched when a United Nations body was opened at the Vienna International Centre, and a new UN-employed international community cried out for news and entertainment in English. The station began broadcasting primarily pop music for five and half hours a day, and through the years, which eventually grew to 24 hour broadcasts. The station is now broadcast throughout Austria with a reach that also spans into western Slovakia.
FM4 was introduced five years ago as a night-time youth-oriented broadcast, sharing the same frequency as Blue Danube. The decision to devote the frequency full-time to FM4 was based on market research supporting its popularity. An official market survey for FM4 is not scheduled until June, at which time an official response from listeners will be available.