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Political loyalties divide two top radio stations

Monika Beňová, Director of Bratislava's Rádio Koliba, threw a party on April 1 to celebrate her station's one year anniversary, inviting over 300 guests. Many showed up, but Radio Twist Director Andy Hryc was not among them. "Ever since we started broadcasting, he has been so unfriendly," said Beňová. "Maybe it's because I'm a woman."
Since Koliba's entry on the market, Beňová and Hryc have been locking horns over the question of political manipulation. Hryc and others in the media business have alleged that Koliba was founded as part of a Slovak government campaign against Twist. Beňová has insisted that Koliba has no political affiliations, and has dismissed Hryc's charges as sour grapes over Twist's loss of market position to her station.


Koliba's Director Monika Beňová
Rádio Koliba

Monika Beňová, Director of Bratislava's Rádio Koliba, threw a party on April 1 to celebrate her station's one year anniversary, inviting over 300 guests. Many showed up, but Radio Twist Director Andy Hryc was not among them. "Ever since we started broadcasting, he has been so unfriendly," said Beňová. "Maybe it's because I'm a woman."

Since Koliba's entry on the market, Beňová and Hryc have been locking horns over the question of political manipulation. Hryc and others in the media business have alleged that Koliba was founded as part of a Slovak government campaign against Twist. Beňová has insisted that Koliba has no political affiliations, and has dismissed Hryc's charges as sour grapes over Twist's loss of market position to her station.

Hryc said his beef with Beňová and Koliba was not personal but professional. "She's a charming woman, really," he said. "But Koliba was born for one purpose - to stop people from listening to Twist."

Beňová flatly denied the suggestion. "Founding this station was neither a political nor a government decision, but a business one," she said, adding that far from taking listeners away from Twist, Koliba was primarily a music station focused on young listeners. "That's why [Twist is] not our competitor," she concluded.

Koliba has been judged a success by radio industry observers. The March 1998 issue of the advertising journal Stratégie reported that "significant changes occured on the radio market in 1997, the reason for which was mostly the entry of Radio Koliba in April."

A survey conducted between November 5 and December 16, 1997, by the Market & Media & Lifestyle group, gave Koliba a 6% and Twist an 8% market share. These numbers make Koliba the third most listened-to Slovak private station, behind Twist and Fun Radio (12%).


Twist's Andy Hryc
Mišo Bak

Beňová, however, cited a yet-to-be-published February survey by Stratégie's Dicio agency, which gave Koliba an advantage of 8.1% to 7.5% over Twist among 'daily reach' listeners (people between 14 and 65 who had listened to a particular radio station for at least 5 minutes in the previous 24 hours). "These results prove that advertisers were sensible to go with Radio Koliba," she said. "They [gave] their money to a station that in one year has passed a competitor [Twist] which had been on the market for five years."

Hryc said that Koliba's connection to the Slovak government and affiliated financial groups had given it a series of advantages over its competitors. The station is owned by Fedor Flašík, head of the Donar advertising agency, which is in charge of the political campaign of Premier Vladimír Mečiar's party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Donar also arranged the huge clock opposite the presidential palace in 1997 that ticked down the days remaining in former Slovak President Michal Kováč's term in office.

Hryc charged that Donar's financial patronage had given Koliba deep pockets and had allowed it to pay huge salaries to top DJ's and purchase enough equipment to send a strong signal out over Slovakia.

"The majority of companies in this state, maybe 60%, are not allowed to deal with Twist," said Hryc. "They are obliged to send their advertising money to two agencies - Donar and ArtMedia - owned by government figures, which then divide the money among pro-government media."

"We get money from Donar clients, yes - not all of them, but some," Beňová conceded.

Mikuláš Čurík, Twist's financial director, reported that his station's 1997 advertising revenues had been 32 million Sk, while Beňová set Koliba's advertising income at 52 million Sk for the year ending April 1, 1998.

Luboš Machaj, Twist's co-owner and program director, said that the disparity in funds was particularly harmful to Twist, whose direct news coverage was many times more expensive than Koliba's music programing and wire-service newscasts.

In April 1997, Culture Minister Ivan Hudec declared that Koliba would improve the HZDS's communication with Slovak citizens, and advised the public that "you will find very soon that Radio Koliba has slightly different opinions than Radio Twist."

Perhaps to facilitate that communication, Koliba was from the outset of its operations given four frequencies, covering all vital parts of the country, whereas other private radio stations were only allowed one.

After five years of broadcasting, Twist has recently opened a third frequency in Eastern Slovakia. But the station's signal still has occasional problems reaching listeners. Last October, the state-owned Slovak Telecom (ST) took Twist off the air for 25 hours, citing unpaid bills. "This was both a political and economic decision," remarked Ján Sand, a professor of radio journalism at Bratislava's Comenius University Faculty of Journalism. "[Twist's 170,000 Sk outstanding dues to ST] were used very nicely - [the government] was able to say 'oh, such big democrats, but they don't pay their bills'."

Machaj pointed out other forms of harrassment, saying that Twist's signal was monitored many times longer than that of its competitors, and the station had been fined for even the most minor of infractions. Jarmila Grujbárová, Director of Slovakia's Radio and Television Council Office, confirmed that in 1997, Twist had been monitored for 351 hours compared to 155 for Koliba, and that Twist had paid 50,000 Sk in fines compared to none for Koliba."It's been crazy," Hryc agreed. "If any of my people even forget to play a jingle after a commercial, we have to pay a fine."

The Slovak government regards Twist as a thorn in its side, because "[they are] not able to understand the duty of media in a democracy, which is to control the government, to control those in power," Hryc said.

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