I must admit, I never was a loyal listener of Radio Beethoven. Probably most Chileans weren’t, but nevertheless we were all very aware of its existence. Radio Beethoven was not only the most important sponsor for music arts activities among youth in Chile. Radio Beethoven was, really, a true shining star in the Chilean FM spectrum. If you were a FM listener in Chile, you were aware about Radio Beethoven. Surfing the FM spectrum in Chile was a monotonous and often boring thing to do. A lot of pop music radios, lots of talk shows, news radios, reggaeton and tropical stuff for the youth. The menu was always kind of similar. But when you went with the tuner over 96.5 MHz of the modulated frequency in your device… it sounded different. Even if you didn’t like it, Radio Beethoven shone with the strength of its own light in the dial.
You knew that it was the door to another universe, to the which you always had the possibility to escape, even for just a moment. A universe inhabited not by the boring voice of a radio speaker sending greetings to someone’s neighbour, and not by the tropical beats of a youth program. Dialling 96.5 MHz in your radio was letting the strength of Beethoven, the magic of Strauss or the inexplicable beauty of Mozart breaking into your house.
It is with great grief that I must end the story of Radio Beethoven telling you that today, 30th of November of 2019, in approximately 10 more hours (24:00 in Chile), Radio Beethoven will end broadcasting on the air. The controlling group, after facing several problems funding the radio, decided to sell the radio frequency. Because of the intensity of the masterpiece, as well as because of the style of the radio, Radio Beethoven had decided to say goodbye this night with the 9th Symphony of Beethoven performed by a Chilean orchestra.
More than thirty years of Neoliberal policies governing agreements among Chileans not only caused the current social uprising, demanding a new “social agreement” which now is pushing forward the project of a new Constitution, but also penetrated deeply in Chilean culture and “way of being”. There is no place for permanent funding of a well conducted long term policy for art and culture development in a neoliberal conception of state.
Instead of beginning an extensive thesis of why and how neoliberal conception of society impacts Chilean culture, let me just tell you the history about an icon of culture broadcasting in Chile: Radio Beethoven.
It all began in 1981, 38 years ago. It was the middle of Pinochet’s dictatorship, and media was already military intervened for years. Culture and artistic expressions of all kind, including music and books from the rich cultural period of “La Nueva Cancion Chilena” (The Chilean New Song), and others, were now banned by the state secret police, known for torturing and murdering political opposers. Times were hard, violence and tension were in the air, and of course art and culture were not even a thing for the neoliberal terrorist dictatorship that ruled Chile 17 years: from 1973 to 1990. But in this context, two well renewed Chilean musicians, Fernando Rosas and Adolfo Flores, managed to establish like a private initiative Radio Beethoven. Probably the only important initiative for culture broadcasting during Pinochet’s dictatorship, Radio Beethoven meant no menace for the militaries because it was dedicated exclusively to the appreciation of, in words of the founders, “good music”, specialising in classical music specially if it was played by Chilean musicians and orchestras.
In the crazy times of Pinochet, in times in which politics divided families and friends, times of rumours and mistrust, and most of all fear, Radio Beethoven was a true island of beauty contemplation in the Chilean FM dial.
In times in which just contemplating beauty was not even considered, Radio Beethoven shone like a lighthouse for those with serious a music artistic call. It’s role was important even beyond broadcasting: Radio Beethoven has organized for years a contest for young piano players in two categories, under the age of 16 and 12, which has made possible to highlight a great amount of talented Chilean piano players who are now pursuing international careers.
Nevertheless the radio had always to fight the constant problem of reduced funding, and nevertheless, in words of the same workers of the station, “there were months in which I don’t know how we continued broadcasting”, Radio Beethoven kept being this island of beauty and true artistic contemplation in a FM dial that during 38 years changed a lot, reflecting changes in Chilean culture, fashions and “way of being”. Culture and arts became more and more irrelevant. Some years high in gossip, others more pop or reggaeton oriented, others turning heavy into current events commenting. Chilean radio changed but, in a total neoliberal context (there is no public radio in Chile), never gave place to what you could get at Radio Beethoven: art, beauty contemplation, culture.
This is a terrible loss for music, for art and for culture in Chile. Even people who never listened to Radio Beethoven are going to miss it, I have no doubt about it: for almost forty years, until today, you could always switch to Radio Beethoven and give it a chance to real art. You always knew their fine selection, comments and explanations were there for you to try them. Maybe you didn’t in all your life. But true art was there, at the reach of dialling 96.5 in your kitchen radio. Now not anymore. Who is going to show Beethoven to Chilean people? Who is going to show our youth the difference between a Minuet and a Walz? How are the next generations going to be aware of how the beautiful halls of Vienna sounded in the 18th century? Who is going to be there to show a future talented boy or girl their true vocation? They are all questions without answer today. Because if you know what you want to hear, Spotify or YouTube are just perfect. For reliving and singing loud last summer hit, you don’t need anything else. But if you want to give, maybe for the first time in your life, a chance for listening Bach, Strauss, Mozart or Schubert… what are you supposed to look for in the internet? Really, can you imagine a total amateur in classical music looking for something like “Minuet in G mayor, BWV Anh 114 for Piano from Johan Sebastian Bach played by the Vienna Philharmonic” in Google? Probably not.
Today’s farewell is a tragedy not only for the lovers of classical music, who are going probably to keep listening classical music since they are well trained in what they like and what to look for, but it’s a great loss for appreciation of art in the population. Chilean people are losing today the shining star, the unique door to another dimension in the FM spectrum. We had the possibility of high arts at the reach of our hands, and now not anymore.
Now, besides writing this column, remembering the sound of Radio Beethoven voices and beautiful music selections, all we can do is to hope. The impact of this tremendous loss has mobilised some in Chile. In the website change.org there are already over 50 thousand signatures asking for the radio to remain on air. Nevertheless, that won’t happen, the directors and personnel of the radio have stated their strong intention of continuing with the project of Radio Beethoven but “in another format”. It is still not clear how, but for the sake of beauty, arts and culture in Chile I really hope this is possible. Maybe we could have Radio Beethoven back like a podcast in the future, who knows. But even if that gets to happen, today farewell marks a before and an after in Chilean FM radio broadcasting. Neoliberalism kicked out Beethoven from the FM spectrum.