A few days ago, as I was driving home from Toulouse and enjoying my usual fiddle with the car radio, I stumbled upon a radio station I'd never come across before: FIP. It stopped me in my tracks because it was playing the kind of music I don't often hear on French radio - or radio anywhere, come to that - a long, drawn out kind of jazz-funk track. After that came some salsa stuff, then afro-beat, then .... one of Dowland's Sorrowful Songs. And then - oh deep unjoy - I lost the signal.
But I was intrigued, and more. There seemed to be something so .... different going on here. Google told me that FIP has been around since 1971 and began as France Inter Paris, started up by two weekend presenters at France Inter. It's always been a radio station with a difference: its music is completely a eclectic mix of genres. So each programme is likely to feature jazz, blues, folk, rock, world, traditional, film music and so on, linked by a more or less obvious theme and moving in a kind of wave. Soon after its beginnings in Paris other 'FIPs' started up in different cities and the P changed according to location: Toulouse's station, for example, was FIT (though it's moved back to FIP now. Are you keeping up here). Some have closed, some - like Toulouse - have been resurrected after periods off air for various reasons, but FIP goes on, still a part of the Radio France group.
And there's a particularly quirky part of its history: for ten years, a resident of Brighton, UK, re-broadcast FIP on two frequencies until Ofcom closed it down in a raid in 2007. It was hugely popular and developed a cult following there: there remains a blog, LoveFIP, and a local appreciation society called Vive La FIP; and it's rumoured that people actually moved house to areas with good FIP reception .....
I have to admit that since that journey home, FIP has rarely been off my airwaves. I've discovered that it's one of the hundreds of radio stations that form a part of my TNT TV package, and that it streams 24 hours a day on the internet, with collections of music available for re-listening too. I'm hooked. It reminds me of late nights listening to my late hero John Peel - you never quite know what's going to come up next, and the presenters have something of the same touch of irony and humour. It's exciting. It's unpredictable. It's a one off. And already I'm grieving the 40 years I've never listened.
So if, like me, you're a fan of eclectic, non-mainstream music and despair of the pap turned out by most radio stations (the two community stations over this side of Ariège, Radio Transparence and La Locale being honourable exceptions, though both are - inevitably - more repetitive than FIP) I'd urge you to take a listen:
You can listen via the website at http://sites.radiofrance.fr/chaines/fip/endirect/index.php
or there are downloadable apps here: http://sites.radiofrance.fr/chaines/fip/evenements/applications/
or via the Astra satellite at 19.2 degrees east.
I'm listening now, of course. Just one more track (and one more, and then one more ....) and I'll turn off and go to bed. Honestly, I will .............