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Government exaction

Do you listen to the radio?

I don't, and there are multiple reasons for that:

First and foremost, I don't like the music they play these days. Even though there are stations which will occasionally play a more eclectic tune, the Swiss government does not, to my knowledge, dictate any quota, like New Zealand requires stations to broadcast New Zealand music at least 20% of the time.

The result is music made by producers, who stand pop icons with little clothing in front of microphones, instruct them to move their bodies in obscene ways, and coach them to croak songs someone else wrote en masse in some basement somewhere. All those "songs" sound alike.

To ensure a constant supply of pop dolls, they hype television shows with titles such as "Germany's seeks the next superstar", when most of Germany actually couldn't care less, and only those with vacuous brain capacity follow with excitement, because they wouldn't know what else to do.

Second, I don't have the time or energy to listen to "discussion rounds" on the radio, especially not when topic are about "society", which noone can define in the first place. Wittgenstein always had it right.

The same goes for most commentaries. If I don't have anything to do, I prefer to listen to birds in the trees, rather than someone's polished opinion. The scariest aspect is that those people actually believe that they have something worthwhile to say, and so do their producers and the other staff, when in most cases, they don't. At least not worthwhile to people who have other things occupying their minds.

I also don't like someone to make a pre-selection of news and squash that into 5-15 minute time slots, to be read out by dull-sounding speakers. I'd rather skim over articles, and the Web ensures that I get the information I want much quicker than the radio stations can transmit them.

And sports over the radio waves makes me come close to aural epileptic seizures.

I am painting the sky black a bit. I am fully aware that there exist people with thought-provoking arguments, that some stations play interesting music I would otherwise never discover, and that the radio is a source of entertainment in the lives of thousands of other people who are less privileged than me.

But when the Billag rang my doorbell today and wanted CHF 14,10 per month for posession of any device capable of turning radio waves into sound, including those radio "waves" broadcast over the Internet these days, I got a bit furious.

In the past, they concentrated only on actual radio and TV receivers. When I moved into my previous flat in Zurich in 2002, they wanted money because my stereo had a "tuner" button. I refused to pay, opened the device, unsoldered the radio coil, and sent it to them with an angry letter of refusal; they let me off the hook.

Since then, they changed the law in 2007 (but haven't actually updated the forms they force you to sign) to include audio players, cellular phones, and computers, which are all radio-capable. I'd really prefer if they used their funds to revert that trend, or at least remove the loudspeakers from all mobile phones.

But instead, this morning, I skid right into their claws.

As I said before, the radio is also a social support system, and as such I have less of a problem to subsidise it. However, given that I strongly disagree with the quality level broadcast, I would prefer to direct my money towards causes I consider more useful, and with which I could better identify. Unfortunately, the whole system is "governmentalised" to the point where this choice is taken away from me.

The Billag website helpfully offers answers to the common questions, including one along the lines of quality. They suggest that you get in touch directly with the programme directors to complain about their content, and offer suggestions. Shortly after I moved to Zurich, Radio Lora offered me a radio show. Radio Lora is a private station, but they also receive subsidies from the monies exacted by the government, so I am using them as an example here.

I suggested that I concentrated only on progressive and psychedelic rock from the sixties and the seventies. They refused the show in the end, claiming that this would not be what their listeners want.

So instead I now get to pay for content that is deemed more appropriate.

I can only imagine the pains I'd have to go through to be able to host a radio show concentrating on eclectic tunes on one of the public radio stations. And even if I succeeded (without becoming a full-time public radio broadcaster), then I could only contribute a few hours a week to that content.

If you ask me, the Swiss government is overstepping its competencies a bit.

NP: Mono: Hymn to the Immortal Wind