Nova was founded in Spring 1979 by a group of free radio enthusiasts inspired by the success of the offshore pirates - particularly the first RNI, Radio Northsea International.
When the passing of Dutch legislation to outlaw offshore radio closed down most of the remaining pirates in the North Sea, and even Radio Veronica joined the Hilversum 'club' of licensed broadcasters supported by subscribers, the Swiss owners of RNI, Meister and Bollier, are said to have considered sailing the MEBO II to the Italian coast to commence broadcasting there under the name of Radio Nova International.
However, relaxation of Italian laws on private broadcasting, resulting from an almost anarchic proliferation of landbased pirates in that country, made the expense and inconvenience of broadcasting from ships at sea rather unnecessary. Meister and Bollier lost interest in the Nova project, but gave their blessing for a group of Dutch, Belgian, German and French investors to use the name. Best known among them was AJ Beirens (pictured left), but they also included Ruud Kegel (Danny Thomas - pictured centre), Nils van Schijndel, Peter Janssen (pictured right), and Richard Adaridi.
Licensing a private radio or television station in Italy was then as simple as going to the local post office and filling out a form. Frequencies were more or less a free-for-all, although you didn't want to jam a station up the road if you could avoid it, just in case those violin cases didn't really contain musical instruments.
Nova wasn't really interested in the Italian audience on the 'Riviera dei Fiori', being aimed at the French Riviera on the other side of the border from its mountain-side location at Camporosso, near Ventimiglia in the province of Imperia. Over in France, a tight state monopoly still had a strangle-hold on both state radio (ORTF, later Radio France) and the apparently independent 'périfériques', such as Radio Monte-Carlo, Radio Luxembourg, Europe 1 and Sud Radio - which the government controlled through a holding company called Sofirad. Landbased pirates such as Lorraine, Coeur d'Acier had begun to challenge this monopoly, and the election of François Mitterand as President brought about the licensing of hundreds of private stations in 1981, but in 1979 the private station with the greatest impact on radio audiences on the French Riviera had been Azur 102 - which also broadcast from the Italian side of the border.
From huge, directional FM aerials alongside the studios in a converted holiday bungalow (Bungalows San Giacomo), Nova tested on 101.5 MHz, and found the signal reached way past Menton, Monaco and Nice, as far as Cannes and even (patchily) to Saint-Tropez in the département du Var at the western extreme of the Riviera.
The station launched in four main languages: English, French, Dutch and German, although occasionally they announced the name, frequency and address in Italian. The on-air line up featured Programme Director Danny Thomas, AJ Beirens, Guy Starkey, Nadine, Pierre du Nord, Peter Janssen and Coeurdelion Richard (Richard Adaridi), and they all presented news bulletins in their own languages. The money began to run out, though, in Summer 1979, because the sales operation consisted of a single representative based in Cannes, Norbert Netto, who found the market reluctant to support a station aimed at unmeasured and often transient groups of expatriates and tourists.
Some of the original advertisers were impressive names, such as Townsend Thoresen ferries and the Dutch newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws which was very progressive (for the time) in printing a Riviera edition. These were contra deals, though, and actual cash deals were few and far between. The station struggled on until the winter of 1980/1, with Kegel and van Schijndel at times running an 18-hour operation alone, and debts to the owner of the bulgalow park, Martin Groenendijk, mounting up.
In 1981, fresh investment and the 'transfer of control' to a partnership between Groenendijk and ex-Radio Scotland presenter, Bob Hogarth, (by then a resident of Monte-Carlo,) brought a new lease of life to the station. Ditching the Dutch, German and Italian presentation, the station was to be firmly targeted at the British expatriate community and sales were placed in the hands of the well-connected Parisian aristocrat and occasional presenter, Edouard de Portalès. New presenters were brought in, including from France (Guy Starkey who was studying at the Université de Nice), from England (Mike Stevens and Marc Lawrence, both ex-Radio Caroline and Andy St John, ex-Voice of Peace) and from Denmark (Peter Griffin, ex-Voice of Peace).
During protracted talks with another British expatriate investor based in Monte-Carlo, the station won many more listeners and a small number of local advertising contracts. Rumours began to suggest London's Capital Radio was considering investing, when Managing Director John Whitney visited the Principality. However, the partnership of Groenendijk and Hogarth broke down in June 1981 with the collapse of the talks, and presenters had already begun to drift away: beginning with Mike Stevens and Marc Lawrence, then Programme Controller Guy Starkey, followed by Peter Griffin and Andy St John. By August, a new presenter, Fred Winston had joined the station.
The Nova name lives on, largely because of its international appeal, on stations across Europe and beyond - most famously in the English-speaking world in Eire, where Chris Carey launched and ran the very successful Radio Nova.
Produced by Steve England, then at Alfasound, the Nova theme captured the essence of hot, lazy days in the Mediterranean sunshine.
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Views Aerials Interiors Nova House and the 'Grey Thunder'