History of community radio broadcasting in Hungary
The Hungarian media system distinguishes the following categories: the public-service radio, which includes only Magyar Rádió (MR) [“Hungarian Radio”], community radio stations, and all others, which are profit-oriented (commercial) entities.
Community stations ... constitute the third sector of the media system, only two broadcast at a relatively high power in Budapest while the remaining, nearly 70, stations operate at very small wattages spread throughout the country.
Tilos and Further Community Radio Stations
In 1991, free-thinking “rebel” youth founded Tilos Rádió, which in Hungarian translates “Forbidden Radio.” It operated without a license since it was launched during the moratorium years. In the name of freedom of speech, it broadcast three times a week political and culture-related talk programs in a style that attracted a youthful audience. This was unusual to audiences at this time in Hungary’s radio industry. The DJs used aliases in the transmitted programs. Its low-power, sometimes-mobilized transmitter was receivable in Budapest and pursued by authorities occasionally although they were never completely successful. As a result, staff members became heroes and symbols of freedom.
The Hungarian Government Decree No. 110/1993 (VII. 30) of 1993, which partly resolved the frequency moratorium, enabled the launch of local “non-commercial” radio stations, defining them as stations whose advertisements shall not exceed 10% to 20% of their programming time. This way, local stations — practically commercial ones — could at last get started in the country, taking over this role from local cable-television stations. Tilos Rádió then voluntarily terminated its broadcasts in order to be eligible with a clean record to apply for legal frequencies, which it finally obtained in 1995. This provided publicity and a voice for social groups (feminists, Gypsies, homosexuals, drug addicts, etc.) who had been excluded from the rest of the media. Later, interactive phone-in programs that were technically impossible to implement in the pirate period of Tilos also appeared. Since then, interactive programming has characterized this station to the present (Debreczeni, 2007). This is perhaps the only Hungarian station that has never broadcast advertisements and has always been operated as a community radio station financed by donations from listeners. For Hungarian audiences, this was also the introduction of fundraising marathons to pay for programming.
Besides Tilos, other pirate radio stations also appeared in 1991. Examples include Fiksz, which is available only online today, and Civil. Both the management and staffs of these three stations had totally different approaches to community broadcasting. Tilos represented a sub-cultural-liberal-electronic music profile. Fiksz exhibited an alternative-eclectic − “anyone-can-have-the-floor” attitude − while Civil was characterized by a more serious tone, serving as a voice for civil society and providing authentic folk music. At this time, more pirate radio stations were launched, operated by young adventurers who could build their own transmitters themselves just for fun, playing music hits mostly for one another, relaying satellite transmissions, and sometimes connecting into a network. The “golden age” of this kind of radio broadcasting occurred in the middle of the 1990s in the small town of Göd, where 8 to 10 pirate radio stations operated together. Although this radio subculture still exists, it has never reached the popularity of “outsider listeners.”
At Christmas, in 2003, Tilos got more attention when an intoxicated announcer made an offensive remark about Christians. Conservative circles called for banning the radio station, but, finally, after lengthy social debates, the only punishment was a 30-day “switch off.” This case, however, revealed a weakness of community radio stations operated by volunteers.
The Media Act of 1996 introduced the categories public-content providers, whose programming consists mainly of public-service programs, and nonprofit entities. Until 2010, community and micro-community stations were either nonprofit entities or public-content providers. The number of community stations never reached more than half a dozen nationwide, but due to the introduction of micro-community stations, whose operation needed less paperwork and financial resources, the community radio sector mushroomed in the country.
The Media Act of 2010 discontinued the use of nonprofit and public-content providers categories. Instead, it introduced a new term: the community media service. Formerly the then informal term “community radio” was used for stations which served a sub-cultural community or a very small geographic area. However, this definition has now been extended toeven national religious broadcasters. The Media Act of 2010 gives the following definition: “Linear community media services are intended to serve or satisfy the special needs for information of and to provide access to cultural programs for a) a certain social, national, or ethnic minority, cultural or religious communities or groups, or b) residents of a given settlement, region or coverage area” (Magyar Közlöny 2010).
Micro-Community Radio Stations
In 2002, ORTT issued an unprecedented resolution on a broadcasting scheme that included “micro-community radio stations” to have a coverage radius smaller than 1 km, ensuring frequencies for communities of institutions (e.g., schools), villages, and neighborhoods. They may operate exclusively as nonprofit broadcasters or public content providers. Regarding their formats, they could be either location specific (e.g., “village radio,” “school radio”) or specialized sub-cultural (e.g., religious, a specific music style, etc.). These stations are mostly operated by volunteers, whose expenses are covered from tenders issued by ORTT or listener donations. However, micro-community radio stations often operate as “full-service” stations in small towns not covered by local private stations. In such cases they finance themselves from advertisements, taking care not to exceed the scope of nonprofit operation (i.e., they transmit less than three minutes of commercials an hour). This way, they introduced competition for local commercial radio stations to an extent that was not expected by even the Hungarian authorities.
This is problematic from several aspects. First, these radio stations can be operated much cheaper than commercial ones because they do not have to pay frequency fees, and they have more tender opportunities. Second, they draw advertisers away from local commercial radio stations that feature a similar format. However, with their high diversity in programming and types of programs, most stations operating with a micro-community license could compensate the increasingly homogenous format of commercial radio stations. A primary problem concerning their programming is that with “amateur” volunteers working during their free time, it is hard to be competitive with full-time radio staffs who exploit the benefits of a professional environment.
Another problem of micro-community radio stations is that their approximately 1 km (0.6 mile) coverage area induces continuous conflicts rather than motivates volunteers. The attitude is because it cannot be received even on the next corner, why do it free? (Benedek, Gosztonyi & Hargitai, 2007). In spite of this, it is a remarkable that as of 2010, about 70 micro-community radio stations have been established all over the country since the first stations of this kind were launched in 2004.
The strong cohesion of community radio stations is demonstrated by the fact that they transmit a one-week common program each year on a temporary frequency called “Common Wavelength,” broadcast from the “Valley of Arts” festival. Following an October 2010 industrial disaster, which turned several thousands of people homeless and claimed many casualties, the Federation of Free Radios established a “disaster news station” called Common Wavelength News Service in the most affected area (the town of Devecser, Hungary, which had no local radio before). This formation continued its service for more than two months, run by volunteers from all around the country and the staff of Best Rádió, an online station of a nearby town, Ajka.
There are, however, some radio stations intended for smaller social groups; these stations broadcast on a commercial basis and not with a community license. This is the case of Rádió C, which targets the Romany (Gypsy) minorities in Budapest. It is the only radio frequency in the country that delivers popular music and entertaining programs to Romany communities (i.e., not analyzing social issues). Thus, there is only one radio station for the largest minority group in Hungary. Currently neither public-service radio nor any of the other stations broadcast regular programs for foreigners living in Hungary – ranging from Americans to Chinese – foreign tourists, or those who do not speak Hungarian.
In December 2010, the new government passed a new Media Act (Magyar Közlöny 2010). This regulates both electronic media, the online media, and the print media together and completely transforms and overhauls the system of broadcasting in Hungary.
Benedek, G., Gosztonyi G., & Hargitai H. (2007). Kisközösségi rádiózás Magyarországon: az első 3 év [Micro Community Broadcasting in Hungary: The First 3 Years]. Civil Szemle [Civil Review] 2007/3-4, pp. 123-144.
Debreczeni, K. L. (2007). A Tilos Rádió története [The Story of Tilos Radio] Part magazin [in Hungarian]. Retrieved from http://www.partmagazin.hu/index.php/urban-mainmenu-28/504-a-tilos-rrtte
Magyar Közlöny. (2010) 2010. évi CLXXXV. törvény A médiaszolgáltatásokról és a tömegkommunikációról [Act CLXXXV of 2010 on Media Services and Mass Media]. Magyar Közlöny [Hungarian Official Journal] 202, Dec 31, 2010. pp. 31959-32070. Official English translation available at http://www.nmhh.hu/dokumentum.php?cid=25694
Source: Henrik Hargitai, Csaba Szombathy, and Gary H. Mayer: The Radio Landscape in Hungary. In: JA Hendricks (ed): The Palgrave Handbook of Global Radio. Palgrave Macmillan (2012)