The word sightseeing, so frequently associated with the custom of travel, leaves out the whole auditory experience of being in new and different surroundings. In Paris, the sound of a police car or ambulance passing you by on the street plants you firmly in the reality of France. Why? Because the sirens sound completely different than they do back home.
For all of us who are audiophiles, then, here’s some good news: in June 2014, a group of new digital audio broadcasting radio stations launched, and for the first time ever for Paris, in multiple languages (including English). The official launch on June 20 signified that the stations started broadcasting from their transmitter on the Montmartre hill. This means that anyone driving around in their car in Paris and the surrounding county of Île de France can pick up the station on their DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcast) car radio dials.
DAB+ radios in Paris now have more offerings than ever — Photo courtesy of Wilske
World Radio Paris (WRP), to use as an example, is the first radio station licensed to broadcast in English in Paris. Prior to this, no radio stations were licensed to broadcast in English in the French capital, even though there already existed English cable and satellite television stations such as France 24.
WRP is a non-profit, listener-supported community radio station for the 200,000+ English-speaking residents of Paris and its suburbs. Those numbers don’t factor in the 27 million tourists Paris welcomes annually, the majority of whom speak a language other than French, and many of whom understand English as a second language. Some community services WRP provides include local programming that covers everything from food to wine to what’s on in Paris during any given week.
DAB+ transmission reach in Paris and environs — Photo courtesy of World Radio Paris
As of September, when transmission power will increase, the signal will reach as far as the airports. So as soon as you touch down at Charles de Gaulle, you can tune in to hear the latest NPR/BBC/RFI news reports as well as get current on the art exhibits, concerts, restaurants, good wines and activities for expats that are all abuzz in Paris at the moment.
Other radio stations, such as the Ayp FM (La radio de la communauté arménienne d’Ile de France, or Armenian Community Radio Station of Ile de France), have been broadcasting on FM since 1993. Their mandates are to inform, provide a forum for information and opinion exchange and to promote their culture amongst their own community and the larger Parisian population.
What’s new for them, then, is the capacity to broadcast digitally as well. Digital receivers are now widely available at electronics stores and even on Amazon. They look a lot like little radios, it’s just that they’re digital. Even Audi is equipping all their latest car models with DAB+ receivers as of this year and going forward.
"June 20 marked a historical moment for digital media when 75 new DAB stations went live in Paris. These are radio stations freely broadcasting with unlimited transmission potential," according to France’s SIRTI (Syndicat Interprofessionnel des Radios et Télévisions Indépendantes). "This means there is a completely new radio landscape in Paris and its encompassing county, Île de France."
A cluster of the community radio stations that are transmitting from the Montmartre Hill include WRP (English-language radio station), Campus Paris 93.9 (French), Aligre FM, Frequence India, 100.7 FM Frequence Protestante, Radio Soleil, Vivre 93.9 FM, 106.3 FM FPP, Néo Liberateur de Talents, AYP 99.5 La Radio Arménienne d’Ile de France, Ici et Maintenant!, Radio Pays and Radio Mandarin d’Europe.
And a few more of the new commercial DAB+ radio stations include Latina FM, Radio Orient, Africa No°1, Vitamine, Voltage, Top Music and more.
So next time you're traveling to Paris, keep in mind that sound offers a distinctive travel experience. Some parting words from Trevor Cox, who first introduced the idea of "sound tourism" in his book The Sound Book:
"There is so much to delight the ears when we bother to open them."