Our Media Experience
From Ralf Petrov
How It Starts
After completion of the German Language School in Sofia I passed the entrance exams for the Sofia University in the fields of German and Bulgarian language. In 1985 we traveled with fellow students for two semesters to Berlin, the capital of East Germany, in order to specialize at the Humboldt University.
While studying in Berlin fellow students of a higher degree told me that the Bulgarian National Radio search for his German short-wave programs male newscaster with native-speaking skills.
Back in Bulgaria I contacted the German section of Radio Sofia that broadcasted about Bulgaria’s daily life and people for an audience in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. After appropriate testing I was initially hired as a freelancer. Even before I graduated Radio Sofia announced a tender for permanent journalists and speakers with German language skills. Fortunately I was among the few who got the job.
Already in the German high school I become fan of soul, funk, pop and rock music which could unfortunately only rarely and with difficulty overcoming the Iron Curtain. As a young employee of the Bulgarian Radio I immediately got in contact with the legendary music show masters of Bulgarian National Radio Yordan Georgiev and Toma Sprostranov. Both had of course a completely different approach to Western music and media information even if they were allowed to use it "On Air" in a strong limited way. To my positive surprise this colleagues were very open-minded and borrowed me regularly for one night brand new LPs which I always recorded on tape. And they gave me for a few hours the new Billboard, New Musical Express or Music Express Sound to read. The music department of the National Radio was subscribed to these officially named as "toxic" Western magazines. In early 1989 Billboard and New Musical Express reported with ads about an international conference on music and media. It was interesting that the event was planned to take place in East Berlin and supported by East Germany’s Ministry of Culture. The conference had the charismatic name "Looking East". Hardly anyone guessed that only a few hours after the event was finished the Berlin Wall would be falling down.
Ich bin ein Berliner
Berlin! While studying at the Humboldt University I fell in love in this city. Berlin was split trough an absurd wall, divided in two parts, the Western I would probably never could be enter, but for me it was an absolutely fascinating city, especially the media landscape.
On the first day of our stay at the student hostel together with my colleague Hristo we entered the room in the 13th Floor and our first concern was to find the best place for the cassette recorder so we can have suitable radio reception.
In contrast to Sofia where only three monotonous programs from one broadcaster could be heard, the city of Berlin offered an amazing variety of stations: AFN (American Force Network), BFBS (British Force Broadcasting Service), France Inter, RIAS (Radio im Amerikanischen Sektor), SFB (Sender Freies Berlin), DT 64 (East Germany’s youth radio channel).
From the information in the "toxic" music magazines I found out the exact dates of the conference "Looking East". I wrote to the organizers and they confirmed that the participation is free of charge for journalists from Eastern Europe. I was planning my vacation in a way to be in East Berlin during this event and there I was able to get in exciting new contacts like Dieter Gorny, chief of the POPKOMM. team.
Radio Ga Ga
With the fall of the Berlin Wall Eastern Europe and Bulgaria changed abruptly. Not only in the media.
The unexpectedly opened possibilities were a great challenge for me! I decided to join two ambitious projects that gave me also a lot of fun. Together with colleagues from the National Radio I start to work on creating the first private radio station in Bulgaria. We managed it and got the first official license. So Radio FM + went on air.
My second pillar should be a new real Bulgarian youth magazine. I convinced my partners not to reinvent the wheel but to seek for a license agreement with an international publishing house. Thanks to my Looking East contacts this was extremely easy to be done.
In 1992 the Sofia was surprised with the decision of publisher Jürg Marquard to fly himself with his privet jet to Sofia for signing our joint venture agreement. It was an unforgettable experience to have the legendary publisher of international magazines like Metal Hammer, PopRocky, Music Express Sounds, the German Cosmopolitan edition and Joy as a partner on the Bulgarian market. So we start together with the publication of the POPCORN Bulgaria monthly.
Video Killed The Radio Star
The occasions happened in a rush. During my two-month stay as a guest journalist at Swiss Radio SRG in Bern I had to decide which of the two projects I prefer for the future because both of them seemed to be impossible to be handled at the same time. I choose Europress - our joint venture with publisher Jürg Marquard. Only a few months after launch the POPCORN Bulgaria magazine riches an unexpected circulation of 35 000 copies and becomes the best-selling magazine in Bulgaria.
While we were negotiating further licensing contracts with some German publishers the Bulgarian economy crashed in a terrible hyperinflation. Printing, paper and licenses we had to pay in western currency but the income from our sales came only after months and then there were only a fraction of value. The advertising market also collapsed. With heavy hearts we agreed with our partners from Switzerland to close the publishing company.
A few months later I became a consultant in the marketing department of the Bulgarian National Television where I was responsible for licensing and advertising agreements with international media companies.
Later I become publisher and editor-in-chief of the traditional printed program guide of the Bulgarian National Television. We turned the old-fashioned weekly newspaper into modern magazine format and went with this TV & Radio guide to a long term market leader in this segment.
Meanwhile we started an outsourcing project with focus on television and radio program listings. In our Sofia based office a small team edited program guides tailor made for several print and online media in the German speaking countries.
After the enormous success of the music television channel VIVA in Poland together with the team of VIVA company founder Dieter Gorny we started the preparation of a Bulgarian subsidiary. Unfortunately after VIVA TV becomes part of the international MTV network this project was canceled.
On The Road Again
After introduction of the IMF currency board Bulgarian currency was bound by a fixed exchange rate to the former German Mark and the hyperinflation was overcome. So the media licensing business becomes again a realistic business model. The rise of Internet had already begun to change the local market in a way that we decided with our new partners of the Axel Springer publishing house to leave the POPCORN Bulgaria model and switch to an automotive magazine. In 2002 we start with the first edition of AUTO BILD Bulgaria. Europe's largest car magazine is now published by S Media Team in Sofia and my company Via Bulgaria is responsible for the editorial content and daily business communication with the German licensing partners.
As part of our cooperation with the Axel Springer publishing house we launched also the Bulgarian editions of COMPUTER BILD and AUTO BILD ALLRAD on the domestic market. As an independent publishing house Via Bulgaria produces and sells on the market the Bulgarian issue of the German construction magazine Bauelemente Bau. It is specialized in the field of doors, windows, glass and facades. Based on a license agreement with the publishing company Verlag für Fachpublizistik in Stuttgart we adapt international and create own local content for the print and online versions.
As writer of the Marco Polo travel guide Bulgarian Black Sea coast I already have updated several editions published in Germany. The book was also translated into Polish and English.
Together with my team I continue to create editorial content and deliver video and photo material for several German-language media, support TV and film crews visiting Bulgaria. As a media agency we take over the advertising acquisition on the Bulgarian market for international publishing groups like FVW Media Group Hamburg, Nouvel Observateur Paris and the Fruchthandel Magazine Dusseldorf.