Why we take FM Brussel’s closure personally

In a recent opinion piece on Focus/Le Vif about FM Brussel’s recently-announced closure at the end of this month, local DJ and promoter DJ Kwak, whose ubiquitous show Strictly Niceness was hosted on the radio, fondly remembered what the station meant to him personally. “I saw my wife’s pregnancy bump grow bigger in that station, saw my son grow taller in that station, saw my show get longer in that station.” What really intrigued me though is what he said next. “This radio taught me a facet of my profession and I can proudly affirm that if today I can call myself an FM-dial professional, it’s thanks to the FM Brussel school.” Bam. There it was. The one and only reason, in our view, to keep FM Brussel alive.

Yes there’s a ton of emotional reasons to feel aggravated and despaired by the lack of support (respect?) local politicians seem to show cherished local media imprints such as FM Brussel (and Brussel Deze Week, Agenda Magazine, TV Brussel, Radio Panik, Radio Campus and many others too for that matter). But what really grated us the wrong way here at The Word was the lack of logic, plain old fucking economic logic, that seems to have driven the decision to shut the radio down. Here’s a decade-old institution, a brand with actual local relevance, engagement and, above all, impact, that has served as a breeding ground for talent, a playground for the people that have something to say, that is being killed off. Here’s a platform that made an actual difference on people’s lives, giving local DJs and promoters such as Kwak – but also Onda Sonora, L-Fetes, Catclub, DC Salas and We Bring You to name a few – air-time to experiment on and up their game. Heck if I’m not mistaken even Julien Mourlon of LDBK got his start on 98.8. FM Brussel was an essential laboratory for people with broadcasting aspirations and side-projetcs to promote. Side-projects which – and this one’s for you Mister elected representatives – contribute enormously to the city’s dense and varied cultural landscape. Think of Lady Jane’s Catclub nights, or Bart and Alex’s Bonnefoi nights, or even L-Fetes’ nights. These side-projects, and many others, form an integral part of the city’s nightlife which, each in their own way, contribute to its social, economic and cultural strength. And FM Brussel was always first to back these initiatives. It consistently placed itself at the center of a wider, indispensable, tight-knit tribe of local cultural players that, first and foremost, represented the city. The diligent and loyal, local radio station always on board if and when it saw an added-value for Brussels. Fact is, and as anyone with a tad more insight than us will attest to, FM Brussel has identified, nurtured and supported more than one talent that has gone on to great things. Just consider another one of Kwak’s facts brought up in his piece: “FM Brussel has provided dozens of hosts, technicians and journalists to the radios of VRT. You can therefore realistically talk of FM Brussel as an undeniable training tool.” And that there is the point. A city such as Brussels, what with its linguistic animosities and frustrating realities yet growing international reputation as a creative and artistic hub, exists precisely because of this “let’s just give it a try and see where it gets us” ethos. And the folks at FM Brussel excelled at this particular point, spotting and supporting the talent that’d bring added singularity to our capital city. And increased employment too, by the way.

We at The Word are, for once, well-placed to talk about the impact and implications of such shocking, sudden and saddening news on the local community. Indeed, for the past few months we had been preparing a weekly radio show, under our Locals Only imprint, that was about to start airing on FM Brussel on Monday 29th June at 20h00. We had first come into contact with the station through Johan De Smet – host of now-defunct weekly the King Kong Show and currently at the helm of De Zoo van Brussel – who had right from the start shown an incredible amount of support to our small magazine and its sister projects. We then, at the end of last year, dropped the idea of hosting a radio show of our own at the station, asking him who we needed to talk to. Literally the following week, I was pitching a few ideas to then CEO Jeroen Roppe and the head of programming, Koen Van Dijk, who both were unbelievably enthusiastic at the thought of hosting our radio show on their station. Then, in the space of a few weeks and following a few tests with Koen as engineer and myself as host, the show was confirmed and everything was set for, well, nothing less than regional domination. Then politics came in and smashed our broadcasting dreams away. Just like that.

And this is where it gets personal, and where Kwak’s editorial has particular resonance. I was really looking forward to “using” this upcoming show on FM Brussel to learn about a medium I had always loved, and would hopefully get better at. I was going to benefit from pristine recording studios, experienced engineers and, above all, a regional broadcasting platform. Above all, I was finally being given the chance to take my life-long passion for music to the people and, hopefully, become a better, more locally-engaged resident. And that, there, is what Brussels lost this week. A radio station that had become a cultural imprint and that made better citizens of us all, citizens keen on contributing to their city.

Mr Gatz and Mr Smet, we’re sure we don’t know the half and that taking such decisions must have involved a great deal of political wrangling and soul-searching. All we ask is that you consider the following: Mr Gatz, Mr Smet, This Is Real. FM Brussel is real, its people are real and the purpose it fullfills is real. And it matters to the people that elected you. Everyone, us included, understand that loss-making imprints that rely solely on your offices’ largess cannot remain unchanged and unchecked, especially in these budget-constrained times, but surely there must be a middle ground. Surely, there must be an alternative to this sudden death you’ve inflicted on a radio the people that put you in office rely on? We’re hoping, really hoping, that it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. And we’re looking to you for answers.