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“Producing outside the capitalist circle”: An interview with radio broadcaster, Nicole Niedermüller (Switzerland)

Grassroots media in Europe



Nicole Niedermüller is the Coordinator of the Women’s Programme at Radio LoRa in Zurich. Red caught up with her to find out how community radio stations work, what she loves about broadcasting, and how international collaborations over skype can feed inspiring new projects.

How did you first get involved in community radio?
I came to free radio, or community radio, from the viewpoint of a political activist. In the 90s, I was involved in the radical anti-racist movement. There was a huge campaign in Germany called “Kein Mensch ist illegal” [No one is illegal]. This brought together left activists with self-organizing migrants. I was involved in a group that worked with women. We organized a panel on female migration at a self-organized migrant congress. This was a lot of work and really inspiring. I wanted to share it. So I organized some lectures and meetings and wrote something about it to the local newspaper. I wanted to invite other people to join this action. But of course the newspaper did not print it. And this was just before the emergence of internet. It was in the mid-90s, when most people did not have internet at home – they had it at university, some of them had it at work, but it was not that widespread for subcultural activities. You needed a medium where you could bring your own topics. And there was a community media, not in my town, but forty kilometres away in Zurich. So I went to them and said, “I organized a lecture, can you please tell your listeners that this lecture will happen on this and this date?” Then they said, “Well. We are a community radio. If you have something to say, just do it.” So I got into it.

And that’s the radio station you’re with now?

Tell us about Radio LoRa…
We are un-commercial; our license is based on this. We don’t broadcast any advertisements. We also don’t do sponsoring. In LoRa there is a very strict anti-ad vibe. Around forty women are involved in feminist topics on the radio. In the beginning of LoRa, in the 80s, there was a strong feminist movement in Zurich who decided to go to this mixed gender project. But it was clear that they would only do it if they had enough space for themselves to develop as a feminist collective. So the men had to get used to it! In the mission statement, and the terms of service which everybody who broadcasts at LoRa has to read and sign, there are three main topics: no advertising, no racism, and no sexism.

What skills are important within the radio project?
I think the most important thing is that you must bring a certain level of self-organization. LoRa is a place where many different people do their radio shows. It’s a typical situation. Everything is crowded, the studio is occupied by some people making a jingle while you planned to come there and do your radio show— so you must do some improvisations and stuff like this. I often see people coming into the radio that can’t do this. They need a very fixed and regulated place to be able to broadcast and this is something LoRa can’t provide.

And how is that dealt with- when people have trouble with the idea that they have to be self-organized?
There are certain points that some people can help, to achieve a certain level of self-organization. For example, there are training courses, people get familiar with the studio equipment, and you can ask if you have a question. But these are some hints. The self-organization must happen at the level of the individual person. This is something that no one can do for you.

Did you train with the station?
Everybody who is hosting a radio show at LoRa has to do compulsory three day training about basic studio techniques, the law, and some basic introduction to the cutting and stuff like this. We also have women only training sessions. But this is something we offer- no woman is forced to go there. Aside from the training, I learned most from working with people. A friend of mine guided me and told me, “Well…maybe you want to try this or maybe we can do something like this”. It was learning by doing.

Have you found that your motivation with radio has changed since you started in 2000?
In the beginning, I felt really powerful when I sat in the studio. When I first got to know how to use all these buttons and stuff- it was like “Wow! I can cope with it”. I really loved the feeling of doing a live show. Now I’m at the point where I also try to work out what can I do with the material, rather than just presenting it. I like to combine it, to make cuts and collages, and this is something that took some time for me- to get familiar with all the possibilities, and to listen to the programmes of other women that are doing radio in this way. And then finding my own way and creating ideas.

And what do you love most about radio?
I like radio as it is about direct communication. That you can really bring people on air and develop a discussion with them. And, of course, media is the message. People talk about their own situation, about their own life. And people outside, they can hear it. With voice you can express so many things more than just writing it down.

How does Radio LoRa get its financing? How does it exist?
We have three levels of financing. Radio LoRa is organized as a non-profit organization. It’s a kind of syndicate. That means that we have a thousand members to that syndicate. And all of them give us 120 francs every year [about 80€]. So LoRa is a membership radio. About one third of the money we need to run this station is collected from the members and also occasional donations.

Another third comes from the Swiss telecommunication authority. Because of our license, Radio LoRa is a radio that gives some public service to groups that are not reflected in the governmental media. So we got this benefit from broadcasting in twenty languages. Every year we have to fill on lots of forms where we clearly declare how many languages and how many percents in each language we cover. And this gives us the benefit that we get one third of our money needed from the Swiss government.

And then the last third is money we organize through projects, to go more in depth on topics. We started some intercultural activities as a project, for example. We host a bi-lingual news magazine. And the project is about building up this editorial board that can host a multi-lingual radio show. Because then we can offer some training courses for multi-lingual broadcasting and voice training for people not talking in their native language, stuff like this. And this is money that we get from the City of Zurich. They have some integration funds and we also apply for scholarships. This is project based but we can also pay something from the project for the rent and from the use of all the materials and stuff in the offices.

So with the Frauen radio show, what would you describe as being the main content or topics?
This is really difficult to answer because in the women’s programme women from very different backgrounds broadcast. So issues of women’s rights in Switzerland but also of countries of origin play a huge role. Several shows, especially by women with migrant backgrounds, also deal with the fact of how women can organize themselves now living in Switzerland- this provides some basic information about integration institutions and things like that. The other focus is on culture made by women. We have several shows that present women authors or musicians. And topics of women’s view or with a feminist view to it.

Do you ever cover difficult topics like sexual violence or…
We do it, but we try not to leave this feeling to our listeners that this is a brutal world and that you just can’t help it. We try to focus on women that cope with situations that are harsh in women’s lives. For example, we hosted an international radio show. It was about sexual harassment in progressive grassroots organizations and we invited women from Latin America- it was a skype meeting. And they told us about their experiences in their mixed organizations and how to cope with the situation. And there came so many amazing ideas and so many different and very practical strategies women developed. It was like “ohhhhh, this is a good idea, I never thought about it. We also should discuss about it”, you know. This was a very specific programme and it was lots of work to organize it, to get all the women together and make up the skype meeting. And then cutting the stuff and dividing the programme to the different women that participated in- this is something we don’t do every Monday!

Do you find that women in particular are a lot more nervous about using technology?
No. I always thought about this in the beginning. But this is something I only felt when I did mixed trainings. I sometimes teach training and I can see a gender gap. Very often, almost in every mixed training session I lecture, men, and especially boys, are the first and front of the technical gear- trying, pushing the buttons, pushing the women almost away. And the women stand there and look. And then if you talk with them, you hear that some of the women may be DJs or did this in their job and stuff like this. And the boys, and the men…they aren’t necessarily more involved with technical stuff, but they are more like, “It’s my world. I use it. I try it”. And so women in mixed groups are a little bit pushed away to the sides. On Monday evenings, when a lot of the feminist broadcasting takes place, LoRa is a man free space. The men can’t enter the studio.

What are some of the challenges or obstacles of women’s radio?
Some women are really busy between two, three jobs, their social and political activities, and sometimes it is really hard for them to find the time to do their radio shows. And most of them manage it, to do their own show, but if you want to organize some broader activities, it is for some women really hard to do.

Have the media projects that you have been involved with shaped your career or life path?
I wouldn’t say so, because I’ve never done professional training and stuff like this. I also don’t earn my money with the media products I’m producing. I earn the money with coordinating the programme. I don’t get paid for hosting. This is something I really like because I think that everything is into this capitalist circle, and I really appreciate if some part of my life is not.

Do you see your radio work as activism?
Of course. This is an important part of my life. I’ve been political since I was 14- 15. For me the radio is a way to spread my opinions, to bring other people together, and to start a discussion, you know. We are not confident with the relationships and situations that are actually happening now, and radio is a possibility for me to be explicit. And also to find a term of work that is different from the way work is organized outside. Of course it’s something of a niche. And of course Adorno is right when he says there can’t be a right way of living in the wrong context. But for me, this is something I really love.

Nicole Niedermüller
Affiliated organisation: 
Radio LoRa,
Red Chidgey
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