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Radio Ragtime leaves airwaves

When Radio Ragtime signed off for the last time on September 30, 24-year-old Vladimír Forró shook his head in disgust. For him, as for other devoted Ragtime fans, the radio had been the only Slovak station devoted to non-commerical and progressive music. It gave way on October 1 to another mainstream channel, B1 Radio, in a sure sign that ecomonic pressures are weighing heavily on Slovakia's developing media market.
Deep economic troubles at small Radio Ragtime were behind the change, which swept away Ragtime's former owners, conception and programme director. Ragtime's frequency, 106.6 FM, is now occupied by B1 Radio (Bratislava 1), using a license issued to Ragtime by the Slovak National Council for Radio Broadcasting and altered on September 7.
With a looser programme structure than other private stations and more autonomy for DJ's, Radio Ragtime had attracted a young, international audience, concentrated in the Slovak capital. The behaviour of DJ's was also different from that of other private stations, as they were not required to speak in constantly bright tones or to put on a violently good mood in the early morning.


The Bratislava studio of the new 'B1' radio no longer spins the same alternative music as Radio Ragtime did.
photo: TASR

When Radio Ragtime signed off for the last time on September 30, 24-year-old Vladimír Forró shook his head in disgust. For him, as for other devoted Ragtime fans, the radio had been the only Slovak station devoted to non-commerical and progressive music. It gave way on October 1 to another mainstream channel, B1 Radio, in a sure sign that ecomonic pressures are weighing heavily on Slovakia's developing media market.

Deep economic troubles at small Radio Ragtime were behind the change, which swept away Ragtime's former owners, conception and programme director. Ragtime's frequency, 106.6 FM, is now occupied by B1 Radio (Bratislava 1), using a license issued to Ragtime by the Slovak National Council for Radio Broadcasting and altered on September 7.

With a looser programme structure than other private stations and more autonomy for DJ's, Radio Ragtime had attracted a young, international audience, concentrated in the Slovak capital. The behaviour of DJ's was also different from that of other private stations, as they were not required to speak in constantly bright tones or to put on a violently good mood in the early morning.

Most of Ragtime's DJ's have stayed on at the new station, and have pledged to keep the same quality while changing their programming sufficiently to attract more listeners. They envision the new station playing about 20% Slovak language hits, considerably more than Ragtime did.

But some die hard fans are not listening. On October 1, a small group of eight Radio Ragtime supporters protested below the windows of the office on Štúrová street. "They were shouting that they wanted me to quit, but when I went down to meet them face to face, they weren't able to tell me anything meaningful, but just looked down," new B1 Programme Director Oľga Záblacká said on October 4.

Ragtime was defined as much by the music it played - progressive music like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Letfield, the Chemical Brothers and Cypress Hill - as by what it didn't: commercial artists like Ricky Martin and Back Street Boys. Former listeners say that B1 has already begun to play such mainstream music, a slippery slope they feel will end in the station's losing its distinctive flavour.

"I don't think I'm going to listen to B1 Radio. For me, Ragtime aired the best music, which I couldn't get from any other station. Now they want to play something betwen alternative and commercial music, but there is nothing between for Slovak listeners," said Forró, after listening to B1 for three days.

Rumours of impending change at Ragtime Radio were audible over three months ago, but crystallised on September 7 when the Radio Council confirmed a change in the station's name and programme structure.

A decline of committment

In its last few days on the air, Radio Ragtime was in its death throes. Shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings were not anchored because no announcer was willing to work at that time. Now the situation has changed.

Along with the old Ragtime DJ's, there are also new B1 voices like young Slovak actress Slávka Halčákova, who two years ago anchored the commercial video countdown show "Deka" on the private Markíza TV station.

Programme Director Záblacká praised Radio Ragtime's hallmark: that each DJ was permitted to come up with his own play list. But she added that the new station would be slightly different in conception. "Radio Ragtime was one of my favourite radios even before I came to work here, but it differed from show to show because I hadn't ever heard some of the music aired here," said Záblacká, herself a well-known personality from the commercial Fun Radio station and TV Markíza.

B1 station director Miloš Spišák didn't want to comment on the economic troubles which had buried Ragtime. "It's already behind us. Now we start something new," Spišák said on October 1. But other employees said economic troubles had led to a simple choice: "We could either switch off the mikes or change conception," said Bebe, one of Ragtime's best-known DJs.

The latest statistics available, produced by the Dicio agency in July 1997, say 9.1% of Bratislava inhabitants tuned in to Radio Ragtime daily. Almost 94% of listeners were between 14 and 39.

Radio Ragtime first hit the air on May 1, 1993, as a high-profile student station with a very weak transmitter. Radio B1, however, can now be heard within 130 km of Bratislava, including larger regional centres such as Trnava, Nitra and Komárno.

When asked if the new station would have English-language programming, Záblacká said she hadn't considered the idea. She did point out, however, that under Slovak law, private radio stations are forbidden to air their shows in any language but Slovak.

While she would not disclose the identity of the radio's new co-owners, who recently purchased 50% of Radio Ragtime stock, she strictly denied they had any connection to Slovak media baron Pavol Rusko, the head of the TV Markíza, who has recently bought into other media outlets.

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