Local Radio and Me

This is the story of my early days in Monaco and my involvement with Radio Nova, the very first English local Radio station in 1982.

The other day I was making my usual less than enthusiastic attempt to tidy some shelves when I came across my old, possibly unique, Radio Nova sweatshirt. The memories of simpler times came flooding back as I squeezed into it.

The year was 1982, I was a 25 year old computer hardware support engineer living and working in Monaco. My role at, the Monaco based, Cado Systems International was to provide technical support to our 20 or so distributors around the world. The computers looked like small refrigerators and could operate up to 64 user terminals with word processing and database applications. Remember this was several years before the PC would appear.

Although I can’t compare it with anyone else I think life in Monaco in those days at that age was very unusual. For me it felt like living in some combination of Desert Island, Yorkshire Village and Adult Disneyland.

Me up on the hill behind Monaco

It was a Desert Island in the sense that the English speaking expat community, of my age, clung together as we were all far from home and slightly out of our comfort zone. A Yorkshire Village in the sense that most people’s social lives centred around Flashmans, the adopted village pub. An Adult Disney land in the sense that the location and facilities were totally out of this world. We were on the hot and sunny Mediterranean coast, there were massive private yachts in the harbour that were unbelievably luxurious, we had beaches, casinos, nightclubs and supercars everywhere and did I mention the weather! For the more adventurous of us we were at the tail end of the Alps so rock climbing, mountain walking and skiing were all within easy reach by car.

Note the Pink Floyd Lambo on the right

I lived in a tiny 25 square metre apartment on the 32nd floor of a tower block within walking distance of work. I had no TV and very little ability in the kitchen. I did have a phone but it was wired into a socket and could not leave the room. Obviously it didn’t have a screen or Facebook or YouTube. It was just a device in the corner of the room for talking to people if they were at home.

My View from Home – the Palace can sort of be seen in the distance

When I first came to Monaco in 1981 my work colleagues were either older than me or did not live locally so outside work hours I was totally alone. In a way it could have been a really scary time. It was very easy to feel lonely. Mental Health was not a thing in those days, but looking back now it was certainly part of the challenge of growing up here. Loads of people I met in those early days didn’t stay long. Many left after a few months never having been comfortable with the challenges of living and working on the “Island” so far away from their normality. I was different.

Slideshow [2]: Monaco in 1982

In those early days after work I tended to go out to eat rather than go home and soon met English speaking people of my own age. Eventually I discovered the small English run pub called Flashmans and life changed for the better.

Flashmans was sort of like Ricks Cafe in the film Casablanca, (or the Cantina in Mos Eisley). A wide range of characters were either permanently glued to the bar or came and went like clouds on the wind. I especially remember Basil the retired English professor, Joe the Super Yacht captain, Athy the rock hard yet skinny lightweight boxing world champion, Gary the photographer, Andy the barman. It was a real melting pot of normal people who worked in the area, people who had retired here or were hiding from tax and the occasional superstar. I actually spent one evening chatting and drinking with Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi. My biggest Flashmans moment came in 1984 when I met my future wife, Penny.

The only Photo I have of Flashmans, which I guess explains it all !

By 1982 I had developed a very mixed social circle at the Village Pub. Monaco has a very big financial services sector and, of course, a lot of very rich people avoiding tax. This resulted in my social circle being mostly accountants and au pair girls. I was quite definitely the only technical guy in this expat town.

I don’t think every night was a party but looking back on it now it certainly came close. I didn’t have a big salary but equally I didn’t have any expensive hobbies so money was comfortable. Most of the time I met up with friends after work, went out to eat, then usually ended up at Flashmans.

Weekends involved some really long nights with both Friday and Saturday nights finishing somewhere around lunchtime the next day. Seeing how long a beer can last in the Monte Carlo Casino bar or the Hotel de Paris American Bar before heading to the nightclubs on the next road. It was so crazy in those days we had 3 nightclubs on the same road near Casino Square. After the nightclubs, as the sun came up, we would go to for breakfast at the Bistroquet Restaurant before heading to the Cafe de Paris to wait for our Social Media (the Sunday papers) to arrive mid morning.

I was also active in the Monaco Drama Group. I once performed in a play reading alongside Anthony Burgess (he who wrote A Clockwork Orange) and I was a regular at the British Association of Monaco‘s many “young people” evenings (that’s another story!) at the grandly titled “Ambassadors Club” on the port of Monaco, it was actually just a little bar restaurant with an outdoor terrace!

So that was my life outside work and finally I have arrived at the point of the story.

Radio Nova

It was during one of these British Association booze nights that I met local businessman Paul Raven. He had heard I was “The technical guy” and was interested to see if I knew anything about radio. In actual fact I knew lots about radio. Radio was my hobby before I went all digital.

When I was 9 years old in Yorkshire my parents bought me a Philips Electronics Kit for Christmas. This was a real eye opener and it totally sparked my obsession with all things technical. Soon I was building radio receivers, then transmitters, then I started modifying televisions and making all sorts of odd devices. This was the time of analogue electronics not digital. Actually I didn’t meet my first computer till I was 16 in 1972, but again that’s another story. Anyhow I did take some radio exams and earned my Amateur Radio license and call sign (G8FZZ, I think) somewhere in my teenage years. At University I studied Electronic Engineering and spent some time designing and building radio systems for the University’s unofficial Pirate Radio Station.

So yes I knew about radio, I told Paul on that boozy night. The next weekend he took me up to Seborga in nearby Italy to take a look at his latest venture, Radio Nova.

Paul Raven

This may be a little inaccurate, but as far as I remember a small group, headed by Paul, had bought a working radio station, possibly from a Dutch person, in the tiny village of Seborga. Now the interesting thing about Seborga is that it is high up on a mountain next to the France/Italy border. An ideal position to transmit into France without going through French licensing. Paul’s plan was to make an English only station to broadcast along the French Riviera. I think, at the time, French stations had very strict rules about content and specifically the amount that had to be in French.

Having arrived at the car park we walked down some tiny villagey streets and into the studio building that just looked like every other quaint Italian town house. Once inside I was given the tour of the facilities. All seemed nicely setup and very operational. I think the station had been around for a while but maybe not so well maintained. They certainly had plenty of records!

Radio Nova: Antenna, Transmitter Rack, Studio Villa and Twin Generators (Photos from Bob Le-Roi on the Internet)

After some time prodding and poking in a technical sense it was time to visit the remote main transmitter. We walked back up to the car then headed out of town into the wilderness. Quickly the road became a track then suddenly ended at a shed and an enormous rusty antenna tower. This was the transmitter.

I did wonder how anyone had acquired permission to build this in nature on the side of a quiet mountain. This was Italy though so probably best not to ask. Paul proudly introduced me to the transmitter and its twin diesel generators. I was in awe – that it worked! It seemed so basic.

So that was Radio Nova. A studio and production area in Seborga that beamed a tiny signal to a hut on a mountain to feed a transmitter rack running on diesel juice. I loved it.

Later over coffee in a local cafe he asked me what I thought and if I would like to invest. Certainly it looked like a fun project, but I was not so sure about investing. We sort of agreed that I would spend time around the station seeing how it all worked and possibly advising Paul at some level.

Radio Nova Main Desk

It was a fun time. I went on to spend many weekends in Seborga with the team, helping as best I could. I tried approaching the station maintenance from a technical point of view, but the DJ’s and Andy Howard, the official engineer, just seemed to fix things by thumping the mixer desk in the right place. I knew we had bad joints in the circuits, but taking it apart to properly find and fix them was a bit risky especially as it could knock the station off air.

The main transmitter was sometimes a point of concern. I remember one time working late into the night holding the torch while Andy carefully replaced some components that were in an advanced stage of melt down.

Andy was also the late night DJ and a few times wandered off during his program and left me to change the records and press the buttons. Yup I became a DJ on live radio. . . . This was like midnight radio so I don’t think anyone was actually listening though. One time I did record my session to cassette tape, not so much as a demo but for the car. Look at it this way Nova had a fantastic, I thought, music library so I could just play my favourite tracks and make a tape for the car all while helping Andy out. (Sadly Andy passed away in 2008).

My Ford Capri 2.0S

On a commercial level the quality of output was really good. The DJ’s were good and the content was good. It seems selling advertising was an uphill struggle and it soon became apparent that money in was becoming a big problem.

Slideshow [5]: Radio Nova Roadshow [3], Mark Dezzani in Deep Water, Pete Twist with a Cat

Due to work and the related travelling I think I drifted away from the station sometime in 1983. I had a great time at Nova and met some brilliant people. I especially remember Pete Twist and Mark Dezzani both of whom I am still in touch with some 37 years later.

Radio Nova had some great times, but eventually went into decline with its financial pressures. In 1984 John Kenning, of Radio Sovereign UK, made an approach to buy the station, but eventually decided to build his own down the road in Camporosso Mare, Italy. His station, Radio Sovereign International was very successful and eventually became today’s Riviera Radio based in Monaco.

In my research for this article I came across the Bob Le-Roi website which hosts a fascinating article by John Kenning about the history of Radio Sovereign International in Italy.

Tragically Paul Raven died of a heart attack in 1985 (I think).

Riviera Radio

I crossed paths with local radio again in 1990 when Daevid Fortune called me from Riviera Radio and asked me to build a database system to manage their Record Library and Play Lists. I built and maintained the system while my good friends Merville and Rosemary at Conference International managed the data and reporting. This relationship continued for many years.

Part of the 5,000 tracks library data

In 1992, with GALE FORCE Computing, my tiny computer business, I exhibited on a small stand at the very first Monaco Yacht Show. I remember a young very English looking couple with baby in pushchair came by and had a chat. He introduced himself as Rob Harrison, at the time I think he was the “new guy” at Riviera Radio and still exploring his territory. Today, in 2020, 28 years later he is still the mainstay of the Riviera Radio Breakfast show. Every morning just after 7am my wife (remember from Flashmans) and I wake up listening to his show. Didn’t I say this area was just like one big village?

1n 1995, when I was busy building the very first Internet access business in Monaco, Riviera Radio was the place I turned to for the announcement of the new service. After just the very first advert aired we were inundated with calls. It seems people really were listening to the radio, something I always wondered in the Nova days. If you have a local product people actually want Riviera Radio certainly was the best way to put it out there.

In the last few years we have been doing a great deal of travelling all over the place. In order to keep our usual routine I made a Raspberry Pi based Alarm Clock radio which hooks into the hotels’ WiFi and wakes us up with streamed Riviera Radio each day, no matter where we are. How cool is that!

My WiFi Alarm Clock Radio

In February this year, 2020, Rob mentioned something about 3D printing. As this is one of my current hobbies I sent him a photo of my 3D hashtag print which had gone to Africa on the Africa Eco Race Rally. His jovial quip was, “where is ours?”. So for a surprise I made him a couple. The real surprise was that I never actually got around to shipping them out. So like my Nova shirt they ended up on one of my many shelves. This week (December 2020) I am making a serious effort to finish this story, ship the 3D models and carry on with life as I understand it.

Slideshow [4]: My 3D Prints

4 thoughts on “Local Radio and Me

  1. Fabulous blog post Steve, Many fond memories of the early days of English language radio on the Cote d’Azur and some excellent pics too.

  2. It was good to read your Story Steve. I remember helping you with your Gale Force F1 Venture.
    All the best for the future –

  3. And all this time I though you that weird red-headed kid with a strange accent, allegedly English, who entered the world of CADO soon after I left Monaco to CADO HQ in California. Fascinating.
    Wonderfully varied life on the coast. I was always in “The Pub” or the “Merle Blanche” or the Loew’s bar – when I wasn’t flying around to sorts of places.
    I am so glad we are able (except this year) to get together in Monaco or at “the Field” for a day or two.
    Hope to see you and Penny again next Spring.

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