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Its broadcasting territory is restricted and unlikely to grow significantly, and for good reason. Since 1982, Radio Atlantique has been broadcasting in the heart of the French overseas territory of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, a 252 square kilometers, self-governing Atlantic clump of islands just off the south coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland. The radio station has cultivated its uniqueness, becoming a key partner in the local life and cohesion of the 6,000 or so Miquelonnais. However, this state of mind has not prevented the project from going through difficult times and bringing uncertainties to its future.
Broadcasting in the territory of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is an extraordinary adventure every day. For example, coverage of the entire archipelago was only concluded in 2010 with effective broadcasting in Miquelon, only 18 nautical miles away from the main island. This challenge for the station has only reinforced its unique place within the islands’ society. The population on the islands is highly mixed, and the vast majority of the inhabitants have French and Basque origins.
Beyond the Borders
“We have a utility of proximity,” insists André Urtizberea, president of Radio Atlantique, when he evokes the format of his station. As proof, the local transmitter has taken on several missions of interest, such as live coverage of the island’s territorial council meetings without commentary or input by a journalist. The station also actively participates in the islands’ dynamism by collecting funds for associations via live lotteries and broadcasting regular, free local notices. But its peak audience remains with the broadcast of the Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon soccer championship, which pits the three teams of the archipelago against each other.
Local though the station’s focus may be, it has never been satisfied with the borders of the archipelago. During the passage of cruise ships calling on the island (which has not taken place for two years due to the pandemic), the station interviewed the passengers to hear stories from elsewhere and make its listeners have a sense of travel.
Finally, while the station broadcasts to the nearby Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland, an attempt to partner with Rafale FM (a station targeting the French-speaking community of Newfoundland) has failed to develop. This is just one of the many twists and turns in the station’s troubled history. Yet it remains committed to its course.
Getting a Little Unsettled
The team at Radio Atlantique is familiar with big squalls. The station broadcasts exclusively on FM (there are only four frequencies on the islands). Unlike in France, the subject of DAB+ is of little interest. The station is far more interested in maintaining its FM transmitters, but this doesn’t seem to concern the (French) national authorities too much.
According to a local school principal, a recent trip to the archipelago by the Comité territorial de l’audiovisuel, which advises on audiovisual and digital regulations in France’s territories on behalf of the country’s national audiovisual regulatory body, the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, did not “provide official responses but only observations to the concerns raised by the local broadcaster.”
Into this troubling situation comes another which could call into question Radio Atlantique’s very future. The station recently moved to new premises above the post office on the Place du Général-de-Gaulle in Saint-Pierre. The territorial council permitted the move in 2014. Yet, one year after the opening of the station’s new premises, and after nearly 60,000 euros of investment in equipment, the same territorial council withdrew the authorization to take over the premises and told the station to pack up and get out by the end of December 2021. Radio Atlantique is now without a home.
“We don’t have a Plan B,” says Urtizberea. Furthermore, the territorial council seems unwilling or unable to provide a solution. Faced with the situation, Urtizberea and the four radio station employees are considering resigning to encourage the territorial council to act. However, the team is familiar with weathering storms, and the station is committed to staying on course — its activities and mission remain as close as possible to the population, because that’s what matters.