AIR 104.4 FM
In January 2003, Anastasi asked me to join the International Media Department of the Athens Municipality of which he was the director under Mayor Dora Bakoyanni and which was mainly set up to promote the Athens 2004 Olympics. One of the projects which Anastasi had planned for Athens was to create a radio station serving the foreign community and guests of the Greek capital. Due to my experience in radio programming, Anastasi asked me to come up with a proposal for the radio station.
First on my mind was to come up with a name for the station. I came up with Athens International Radio, with the initials AIR.
I set up a program guide which included the best from the BBC World Service, programs from Radio France Internationale (RFI), Radio France Internationale Music and local programming from the International Media Department, including a morning magazine program which I called Good Morning Athens which was to be live with news, features, traffic reports, weather reports, interviews, cultural events listing, financial news, Olympics news, City of Athens news, tourism news, etc. which would last 2.5 hours.
Also included in my first guide for AIR was news in English, musical programs in English, news in German, news in French, news in Spanish, The Voice of Albania, The Voice of Bulgaria, The Voice of Russia, The Voice of Poland, The Voice of Romania, The Voice of the Philippines (all featuring news and features in those languages), and musical programs in French from RFI.
Special weekend shows I lined up in my program guide was Greek Musical Delight to be hosted by International Media Departmentmember Maria Paravantes, Take It Easy hosted by me and featuring easy listening songs, Visiting Hellas hosted by International Media Department member Helen Iatrou consisting of a musical show with Greek tourism news and features and On The Way To The Olympics hosted by Anastasi featuring music and news about the Athens Olympics.
On Saturday, March 6, 2004, Bakoyanni held a reception for the international media and diplomatic representatives at Zappeion Congress Hall in Athens to present the projects of the International Media Department of the City of Athens, Mayor's Cabinet, headed by Anastasi.
"We are here today to assume you that I, as Mayor of Athens, along with our International Media Department, have plans to make Athens as user-friendly as possible for the thousands of visiting foreign journalists and their associates, for the hundreds of thousands of permanent foreign residents in Athens, and for the millions of tourists," Bakoyanni said.
"For the first time in the history of any city hosting Olympic Games, this week we launched a 24-hour international radio station on 104.4 FM, featuring news and entertainment from the world-renowned BBC World Service. It broadcasts mainly in English, but will also contain programs and valuable news and useful advice in French and German, as well as news in brief in six more languages. The Athens International Radio station, which we have launched in cooperation with the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, will become a valuable companion for foreigners and English-speaking Greeks in Athens and the surrounding regions, and especially for the foreign press," she added.
Bakoyanni also mentioned the launching of a weekly magazine and guide, a news agency for tourism and culture news, the setting up of an International Press Club and a website to explain all the different activities of the International Media Department.
As for the radio station, Bakoyanni turned over the responsibility to starting it to the municipal radio station Athina 98.4 FM and its director Giannis Politis and the new director of AIR 104.4 FM Thanos Economopoulos (no relation to me).
"AIR 104.4 FM obtained quality studios within the municipal broadcasting quarters and a very modest budget. But the original idea and programming soon fell victim to Greek realities. Dora Bakoyanni followed the usual practice of seeking first to satisfy political friends. So the radio station fell into the hands of Greek journalists with little understanding of the needs of tourists or local foreign communities," Anastasi said.
The protests by Anastasi and myself were answered with a quick execution.
"We were summoned to a meeting in the mayor's office where, to our total surprise, we were faced by Dora Bakoyanni, her 26-year-old son Costas, her son-in-law Dimitris, and one of her chief advisers, along with Politis. With only two months to go to the Olympics, I was removed altogether from the International Media Department that I founded and organized, and Lou was confined to non-radio work. Dora's young son Costas, with no media experience to his record, was put in charge of the international media as aide to his mother," Anastasi recalled.
Anastasi wrote a note to the mayor requesting that I be involved in the station on a more permanent basis, perhaps to help the situation from turning into a mess.
Thus I was asked to join the first meeting of the station which was held in May 2004 and included 20 persons who were invited by Politisfrom Athina 98.4 FM to join the new AIR 104.4 FM. He said he chose the staff because of their knowledge of foreign languages, but also because this would be a way to save their jobs at the station.
Thanos Economopoulos had told me in a meeting separately with him that the only job open to me was the Good Evening Athens program and that I would be the head of the program and should prepare its contents.
After the departure of Thanos Economopoulos, Politis assigned Ersie Vatou and Panos Polyzoidis as directors of AIR 104.4 FM with Vana Theoharatou as the station's secretary.
The first AIR 104.4 FM staff consisted of Alexia Amvrazi, Nickie Achimastos, Vanessa Alexakis, Tom Alexopoulos, Lou Economopoulos, Dimitris Dodis, Kalliopi Gonidaki, Lida Filippaki, Theodoris Zefkilis, Dionysis Iliadis, Teo Ioannou, Kerry Jacobs, Antonis Karayiannakis, Elena Karanatsi, Christos Karanatsis, Maria Katopodi, Vasiliki Kotzia, Vana Koutroulou, Ioulia Kostopoulou, Nickie Lymberaki, Elinda Lampropoulou, Takis Loukakis, Nick Malkoutzis, Tassos Mavris, Glyka Maglivera, Maria Nikolaidou, Eleftheria Pantziou, Barney Spender, Elen Skopi, Robert Stadler, Ioanna Stavropoulos, Lambrini Thoma, Magda Trichon, Thymis Tsiliopoulos, Apostolos Vaksevanelis, Constantine Venizelos, Alexandra Voudouri and Stavros Zorbas.
Others added to the staff later were Nasim Alatras, Iason Athanasiadis, Panagis Galiatsatos, Maria Kangelidou, Theoni Papas, George Petropoulos, Antonis Pothitos, Danny Vergou and Georgia Voulieri.
A lot of people for a small radio station and way beyond what Anastasi and I had planned.
Nevertheless, AIR 104.4 FM's first locally-produced broadcast took place in English at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 5, 2004, the day after Greece won the Euro 2004 soccer championship in Lisbon. During the course of that week, the station also began broadcasting in 11 other languages.
I was asked by Vatou and Polyzoidis to host Good Morning Athens with Alexia Amvrazi, which I accepted without question and in July 2004 we were on the air providing a solid magazine program, featuring Athens 2004 Olympics news and results.
In November 2004 I began producing Light Air, an easy listening show on Sundays with plenty of light music together with news, entertainment, weather, etc.
One month later I stopped working on the Good Morning Athens program to spend more time on my other jobs.
"Now that you're leaving news and current affairs as far as AIR is concerned (and, if I am not mistaken, you're the first of the 'pioneers' to do so - you've been there from the very beginning of the project), I just want to tell you that it has been great working with you and learning from your talent and experience, which the station has drawn a lot on. Frankly, the whole thing (however high or low one rates it) would hardly have been possible without you and very few other people," wrote Polyzoidis in an e-mail message to me on December 30, 2004.
The same day I sent the following e-mail to my colleagues at AIR 104.4FM:
"Just a couple of words to show my appreciation for all of you in helping make my chore at Good Morning Athens an enjoyable one all these months. AIR is a team project and in the mornings this could not be further from the truth. I had a lot of help from my friends. Thank you all. And for all those who had wished that I would stumble on some words and make an ass of myself on AIR, for a number of times your wish came true. Seriously though folks, thanks for the memories. As for me, I will not vanish from thin AIR. I will be floating away on Light Air on Sunday afternoons, and I do hope you all will join me there. See you on the AIR waves."
On January 15, 2005, AIR co-director Ersie Vatou hosted a party at her home in Korydallos where we cut the traditional vasilopita cake.
In October 2006, Vatou and Polyzoidis left the station and the new director Giannis Synodinos took over and I was once again appointed to host Good Morning Athens on June 4, 2007.
I made many changes to the format of the show.
The Sunday program Light Air turned into Rock N'Roll Radio Reunion in 2007, featuring pop hits of the past.
One of the highlights of news coverage on AIR 104.4 FM was the fires in the Peloponnese which was covered by the station on August 24-26, 2007. As a show of appreciation, the co-directors of the station, Antonis Alafogiorgos and Synodinos, gave out an announcement on August 26, 2007 thanking all the staff for their efforts.
On September 15 and 16, 2007, I hosted election special programs for the Greek parliamentary elections. On the program helping out was Asimina Tzatha, Eleftheria Pantziou, Vana Koutroulou, Christos Karanatsis, Stavros Zorbas, Maria Katopodi (music) and Dimitris Dodis (sound engineer).
Wanting to further expand my participation in the station, in October 2007 I sent a proposal to the co-directors of AIR 104.4 FM for new shows I could host.
On Monday afternoon I suggested Country Air, featuring the top 10 Hot Country Billboard songs of the week; on Tuesday afternoons I suggested Air Blast, featuring the top 10 R&B/Hip Hop Billboard songs of the week; on Wednesday afternoons I suggested Air Flow, featuring the top 10 Rock Billboard songs of the week; on Thursday afternoons I suggested Light Air, featuring the top 10 Adult Contemporary Billboard songs of the week; on Friday afternoons and repeated on Saturday afternoons I suggested Hot Air, featuring the top 10 Hot 100 Singles Billboard songs of the week; Monday to Friday evenings I suggested Night Moves featuring new song releases and features like Living Well, Bonehead of the Day Award, Showbiz Scene, Billboard In A Minute; and on Sunday afternoons I suggested Top American Hits Countdown, featuring the top 50 Hot 100 Billboard songs of the week.
What was accepted was Night Moves on Saturday nights and Top American Hits Countdown on Sunday afternoons.
For a short time in 2007 I also hosted with Asimina Tzatha, Weekend Blastoff, from 7-9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
In 2009 the AIR 104.4 FM English staff consisted of Athena Korlira (Editor in Chief, Financial Editor), Helen Skopis (Presenter/co-editor Good Evening Athens), Barney Spender (Presenter/ co-editor Good Evening Athens), Elinda Labropoulou (Journalist/co-presenter Good Evening Athens), Thymis Tsiliopoulos (Presenter/editor Good Morning Athens), Katerina Batzaki(Journalist/Presenter Good Morning Athens), Vaso Sklirou (Journalist/ producer Good Morning Athens), Eleftheria Pantziou(Tourism editor, City of Athens editor), Lefteris Yalouros (Journalist/Good Morning Athens), Alexandra Voudouri (Diplomatic correspondent), Jina Moscholiou (Journalist/Good Morning Athens), Maria Katopodi (Music producer), Antonis Karayiannakis(Journalist), Panos Polyzoidis (Journalist), Christos Karanatsis (Journalist), Riva Lavva (Journalist), Alexia Amvrazi (Journalist), Asimina Tzatha (Journalist), Kostis Nikiforakis (Music producer), Jo Borchelle (Music producer), Dimitris Triantafyllidis (Journalist), Konstantinos Nasiri (Journalist), Glyka Maglivera (Journalist), Elena Karanatsi (Journalist) and Lou Economopoulos (Journalist); the Russian staff consisted of Elena Contratova (Journalist) and Alexandros Souprounov (Music producer); the Spanish staff consisted of Elia Ramirez (Journalist); the French staff consisted of Magda Trishon (Journalist), Nefeli Tzannetakou (Journalist) and Natasa Digoni(Journalist); the Polish staff consisted of Beata Panagiotopoulou (Journalist); the Bulgarian staff consisted of Valeria Spyrova(Journalist); the German staff consisted of Elisa Hubel (Journalist); the Romanian staff consisted of Veronica Tontor (Journalist); the Albanian staff consisted of Barda Manche (Journalist); the Filipino staff consisted of Veronica Corpuz (Journalist); the Italian staff consisted of Tassos Mavris (Journalist); the Arabic staff consisted of Christina Pavlakis (Journalist); and in charge of the AIR 104.4 FMportal, Niki Lymperaki (Journalist).
Throughout my time with AIR 104.4 FM I helped the station create jingles for the various programs with the help of Ben Freedman, Bill Elder and Spencer Cork, and for my own programs, I also used the voices of Stephen Lawrence and Jeffrey Hutchens.
The problems for AIR 104.4 FM began on September 16, 2010, when an Athens prosecutor confiscated the station's transmitters on Mount Hymettus on the grounds that AIR 104.4 FM was operating without a valid license. This led to the station ceasing its broadcasts on the FM band, leaving it only with its 24-hour web livestream.
The National Radio Television Council reviewed the station's status on September 21, 2010 and refused to issue a temporary license for AIR 104.4 FM.
AIR 104.4 FM issued the following statement on September 17, 2010:
"The public prosecutor's office proceeded yesterday with the unacceptable action of shutting down the transmission equipment of Athens International Radio 104.4 FM, the foreign language radio program of Municipal station 'Athina 98.4 FM.' This comes shortly before the National Radio Television Council is due to opine on the station's status next Tuesday, September 21, 2010.
AIR-FM provides news and entertainment to the immigrants and all foreigners living and working in Athens, as well as the city's visitors, while at the same time it serves as a cohesive reference point for the capital's foreign communities.
AIR-FM is considered a unique global radio innovation as it has been broadcasting news and entertainment programs in 16 languages since 2004. It also broadcasts, as media partners, programs from the world's largest news networks (BBC World Service, Radio France Internationale, Deutsche Welle, China Radio International).
Furthermore, AIR-FM is the exclusive broadcasting vehicle in Greece for China Radio International, and has been forced to close its transmission on the FM frequency as Athens prepares to welcome the Prime Minister of China, Wen Jiabao.
Foreign embassies and news agencies have already been informed and we request that all relevant ministers, Giannis Ragousis(Minister of Interior, Decentralization and Electronic Government), Dimitris Reppas (Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks) and Giorgos Petalotis (Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister & Government Spokesperson), as well as all municipal representatives state their position on the underlying motives behind the abrupt closure of a station that provides a public service for citizens without commercial objectives.
AIR-FM will continue its 24-hour broadcasting normally over the internet."
On September 20, 2010, the International Press Office of the City of Athens issued the following statement:
"Athens City Council examined the matter of the confiscation of a transmitter belonging to Athens International Radio (AIR) 104.4 FM, the foreign language program of Athina Municipal Radio 98.4 FM, during its September 20, 2010 meeting and passed a unanimous resolution stating that it:
- considers the method via which the public prosecutor chose to implement the law to be selective and, for the most part, unjustifiable, considering that AIR 104.4 FM provides a community service as well as the arbitrariness that presently reigns in terms of utilization of radio frequencies, which are public property.
- condemns the delay in the matter of issuing a license to AIR and calls for the immediate enforcement of a regulatory provision, as foreseen by the 'Roussopoulos law,' in order for the matter to be settled.
- authorizes Athina Municipal Radio 98.4 FM (DERA) to undertake all possible legal measures in order to revoke the confiscation of municipal property.
- will be represented by Athina Municipal Radio chairman Athanasios Kafezas and legal counsel Themis Sofos at tomorrow's meeting of the National Radio and Television Council, which will opine on the matter of AIR's license.
- supports the public right to qualitatively inform citizens on a non-profit basis.
- recognizes AIR's contribution to promoting the city and the integration of its migrants.
- and demands the immediate resumption of AIR 104.4 FM operations."
The employees of AIR 104.4 FM held a protest rally on October 27, 2010 outside the Dorian Inn Hotel in downtown Athens where a meeting of candidates for the municipality of Athens for the elections took place.
In February 2011, the new director of Athina 98.4 FM Takis Kambilis decided that 83 employees of both his station and AIR 104.4 FM had to be fired to save money as the two radio stations owned by the municipality were in debt.
I was one of those fired. What bothered me more about the firing was that I was not told by the station, but I found out about it from websites. Probably very unique to have the creator of the station being fired by the same station. Nevertheless, this ends my story with AIR-FM and a few years later the station stopped broadcasting even on the internet.