Philippe Sage : 107.7Photography : Camille Noyon - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
Very inconspicuously, in a building nestled on the edge of the highway, Senlis is home to the studios of SANEF 107.7, the radio which accompanies commuters and truck drivers on their highway journeys through northern and eastern France, from Paris to Dunkerque or Strasbourg, as well as on the Paris-Normandie network, towards Rouen and Caen.
Philippe Sage has been a journalist and host there since 2011, at the tail end of a radiophonic career started at the dawn of free radios, in the early 1980s.
Thinking back on it, Philippe Sage says radio has always been part of his life. As a child and then a teenager, he was already listening to the legendary broadcasts of Jean-Bernard Hebey, a pioneer of pop music on the radio, hosting Salut les Copains on Europe 1 as soon as 1966, and of Bernard Lenoir, the booker for Pop Club with José Arthur on France Inter in the early 1970s.
Having passed his baccalaureate at the beginning of the 1980s, Philippe enrolled without much enthusiasm in medicine school, but quickly dropped out. He actually spent most of his time playing as a guitarist in a rock band he put together with friends under the moniker 42ème Rue. The band authored about thirty original titles composed in the style of Téléphone, U2 or The Cure. It was able to gather a real audience, first locally in Limoges, where Philippe then lived, with around sixty concerts over a three year time span, and then beyond : the group notably participated in a « talent contest » in Angoulême in 1986, with the soon-to-be-famous Noir Désir among the competitors, and had some interviews and playlistings, including on national radio.
Talking of radio. Noticing how comfortable he was speaking on the microphone during an interview, the founder of one of the region’s associative radios offered him to host a show dedicated to rock music. And this is how Philippe Sage came to make his debut in 1985 on Limoge Fréquence +.
Neither radio nor rock music were enough to make a living though, and in parallel Philippe went through a hodgepodge series of small jobs : unloading trucks at the central food market, serving customers at a fishmonger’s shop, or even selling appartments by phone.
In 1986, the band split up. So Philippe started working more extensively with the radio. He was soon recruited by Ariane FM, the competing, upmarket radio station locally, to be not only a host but a musical programmer and broadcast director.
Ariane FM was soon taken over by Fun Radio, which was in the process of building up a nationwide network. From there on ensued nearly twenty years navigating from station to station, first in Paris with Fun Radio, then in Aix-en-Provence with a mission to launch “Onde Latine”, a regional network broadcasting from Perpignan to Menton a program built around French song music, then in Bordeaux with WIT FM, and finally in Toulouse at Sud Radio.
Along those twenty years, the radio landscape has undergone a thorough transformation. The initial flourishing of associative radios has ceded ground, through successive buyouts, to the formation of large commercial networks, for the best (a real professionalisation of the job), sometimes for the lesser good (a musical programmation that is too often sanitized and limited to the current hits, with few exceptions like Radio Nova), or even for the worse (a formatting of broadcasts including « a morning programme with hosts continuously laughing for no reason, an open show in the evening with listeners calling to talk rubbish, and nothing in between »).
In 2010, by a stroke of luck, Philippe Sage was hired by Radio France and tasked with the mission of creating hours of audio programmes to be sold to radio stations which do not have their own in-house means of production. This is how he happened to land at SANEF 107.7, whose programmes were then produced by Radio France. A few years later, Radio France lost the renewal of this contract to MediaMeeting but Philippe stayed.
Since then, he has been on the air from SANEF 107.7 studio in Senlis for five to six consecutive hours five days a week, from Friday to Tuesday. The job has to be performed within strict guidelines. The radio station 107.7 is entrusted with a public service mission : to inform highway users of the state of traffic, with a minimum of one information bulletin every fifteen minutes, and more if the situation calls for it. Whenever an incident is reported by the highway control centre, it must be announced on air within less than two minutes. And incidents are aplenty, in every kind and style ranging from tragi-comical (a pedestrian knocked unconscious by a toll-booth barrier, a lion on the road escaped from a circus caravan, a wife « forgotten » at a highway rest-stop by her husband) to the really tragic (a man deceased on Christmas eve from a heart attack while driving, with his wife and children present aboard, after only having the time to pull over to the side of the road).
The radio speaker’s role in this context is first and foremost to inform, and then to entertain a heterogeneous public, going from commuters in a rush to get to work, to long haul truck drivers. While complying with these requirements, Philippe tries to bring a little extra something of humour or reflexion that will make the trip more pleasant – and admittedly he sometimes tinkers with the musical programming imposed to him, whenever his passion for rock music takes over.