broadcasted around Europe for 59 years (1933-1992). Due to the 55th anniversary
of the station in 1988 former Luxy jock Noel Edmonds took a look back in
the archives of 208. Read and listen ...
rise to stardum is a story with all the ingrediants of a bestseller. Intrigues,
entertainment and more than a dash of glamour. When it started in the 1930s
and later in the 40s and 50s it became such an important part of the broadcasting
fabric that millions prefered it's laid back style to the more formal tones
of John Reed's BBC. In fact it was following the pattern of the growing number
of english language commercial radio stations on the continent.
Luxembourg was a late starter but it had the most powerful transmitter of
them all. Owned by a french company it promised international broadcasts
which would not favour any nation. The english service was handled by an
agency ('Radio Publicity Of London'). They appointed 23 year old Stephen
Williams who'd been directing english programmes at Radio Paris to be principal
announcer. He remembers arriving in December 1933 with several hundred records
and a couple of hampers of musical arrangements.
(419 K/1:54 min)
'Tune in' - for many years Radio Luxembourg's signature tune. In it's first formative month the new radio
station switched wave lengths three times. And there lies the secret of why
even today Radio Luxembourg retains the slight taint of piracy for it's origance
are not strictly legal. The country - no larger than greater London - had
been allocated a low power medium wave frequency for internal needs. The
radio station refused to accept it and chose long wave instead because to
make money from foreign language commercials the signal needed to cover great
distances. The british government called the broadcasts objectionable and
through the foreign office condemn the violation of international agreements
on radio. The BBC embarked on a lengthy battle to scupper the station which
it described as a scandal, insolent and a pirat.
(462 K/2:06 min)
The BBC together with the post office
made sure the broadcasts could not be re-laid by landline to Luxembourg.
So the company encouraged advertisers to pre-record programmes in London
on huge discs or film soundtrack. These were created up and flown over weekly
by Thomas Cook. The newspaper propriety association where as opposed to Radio
Luxembourg as the BBC. They were apolled to discover that most of the sponsors
where also advertisers in the big national dailies. Worried about the potential
loss of revenue they refused to publish programme details in their papers.
A situation that lasted until the 1950s. However: they were carried in the
'Radio Pictorial Magazine' who's editor wrote: 'The BBC give their best but
that need not defiance to the fact that there are additional programmes of
an alternative character.'
(155 K/0:41 min)
By the end of 1934 sponsored programmes in english
were on the air daily. From noon to midnight on sundays and for shorter periods
during the week. The Luxembourg authorities did not exactly ignore the british
protests over commercial broadcasting. They probably invited the BBC to buy
all the advertising space to keep the sponsors off the air. The BBC then
tried exerting moral pressure on british performers warning anyone who was
offered work on Luxembourg that it might be to their disadvantage to except.
Christopher Stone credited with the title 'The first discjockey' was bared
until the end of the war after broadcasting on Luxembourg in 1934. Mind you
he was paid a princely 5.000 pounds a year for his work and he received 6.000
letters after his first programme alone. But noone really knew the size of
the audience as Stephen William admittes.
(293 K/1:19 min)
From the beginning the sponsors were allowed to create
their own programmes although there were strict rules on the length of the
sales messages. The football pools promoters and soap companies were the
financial driving force. They were joined by patent medicians, remedies and
department sores. Even an encyclopedia of dogs and of course the beverages.
Of these the fondest memories are reserved for the drink with it's own badge,
secret code and rulebook.
(286 K/1:17 min)
Roy Plummley became one of the first of many familiar
voices who made their names on continental commercial radio. Another who
appeared regularly in the 1930s was a young canadian Huey Greene.
(148 K/0:39 min)
As Europe lumbered helplessly towards the second world
war Stephen Williams remembers being in the studio when news was broadcast
the murder of the austrian chanclor. Just in time he noticed the title of
the next piece of music: "Vienniece caprices". As tension heightened even
the children messages from the shied Ovaltineys came under scrutinee.
(356 K/1:36 min)
The war changed the sound of european radio. The
continental commercial stations went off the air as the german invasion spread.
At home the BBC softened it's attitude and employed several of the presenters
who'd found themselves out of the job including Stephen Williams. Luxembourg
however continued to broadcast but the sound changed from entertainment to
nazi propaganda. The mocking voice of William Joyce who became better known
as 'Lord Haw-Haw' because of his wild and fabricated news stories.
(60 K/0:15 min)
While the nazi broadcasts continued the british government
was hatching it's own plans for Luxembourg. It was determined that uncontrolled
commercial broadcasts to Britain should not be allowed to resume. But it
also had a secret scheme to use the transmitter for the BBCs eastern Europe
services once the war was over. By September 1944 events began to move
BBC news bulletin
(97 K/0:25 min)
American troops from psychological war division took
over the radio station with Britain's backing. The broadcasts were designed
to build up the moral of all the allied prisoners of war. When peace came
the Americans turned Luxembourg into an entertainment station for their forces
in Europe. The Americans were impressed and open negotiations with the Luxembourg
administration for the continued use of the station as 'The voice of America
Europe'. But the talk broke down over money. This was Britain's chance. Stephen
Williams was asked to return to Luxembourg and reopen the english service.
But not to disclose he was working in close liaison with the government and
the BBC. Cabinet papers from the period show that in October 1945 the government
was trying to purchase a two year lease.
British government plans
(97 K/0:25 min)
The authorities in Luxembourg who were prepared to
cooperate in an american takeover told the british that they must negotiate
with the stations french owners. The talks lasted a year but fell through
when it emerged that the french government was also trying to conduct a private
deal. On September 12th 1946 Radio Luxembourg announced that english sponsored
programmes would begin again at the end of the year.
(53 K/0:13 min)
Geoffrey Everett who worked for Luxembourg for almost
25 years starting as an amateur football commentator and ending up as general
(121 K/0:32 min)
But the audiences returned. Lured initially by request
shows and in 1948 the first chart countdown on british radio. The Top 20
made the name of its first presenters: Teddy Johnston and Pete Murray. And
listening at eleven o'clock on a sunday night snowballed into a national
(191 K/0:51 min)
As listening figures overtook the pre war levels sponsors
again cued for air time. There was still plenty of popular music in the schedules
but now the range also included a mix of comedy, drama and quiz shows. Radio
Luxembourg's popularity helped other businesses. The expansion of the music
press and the independent recording studios. One of the most prolific was
'Star sound' which had taped - yes: tape recording had arrived - Luxembourg's
first post war show. 'Star sound'was now busily turning up programmes from
adventure serials like 'Perry Mason'.
(363 K/1:38 min)
The choice of these programmes rested with the sponsor
all Luxembourg retained was the right of veto. The output was a true mesh-mash
that did generate the birth of a number of original ideas including 'Take
your pick' with Michael Miles and 'The mystery of box # 13'. And 'W money'
- radio's biggest cash quiz game with it's 32-pound-question. 'Take your
pick' went on to capture an audience of over 7 million in 1955. That's more
than were listening to 'Hancock's half hour', 'Housewifes choice' or '20
questions'. But some of the programmes of the 50s like 'Opportunity knocks'
actually run first on the BBC. Geoffrey Everett insists: none of them was
(205 K/0:55 min)
But: according to Geoffrey Everett it's not Jack Jackson's
show or any other show that people remember most from the period. They invariably
recall a curious advertisement which claimed it could help listeners to win
the football pools.
(279 K/1:16 min)
Countless listeners continued to assume that Radio
Luxembourg was situated in Britain. Huey Greene who'd been a pilot during
the war decided to find out more about the station which he was supplying
(419 K/1:54 min)
According to Geoffrey Everett after the breakdown of
the governments plan to take over Luxembourg the BBC resumed it's pressure
on performers to steer clear of the commercial station.
(204 K/0:55 min)
In 1951 that's just what listeners had to do. For the
parent company decided it could make more money using the long wave transmitter
for the expanding french service. English programmes were switched to 208
meters medium wave and broadcasts were confined to evenings only. Despite
background whistles and a fading signal '208' became the best known radio
frequency until the birth of 'Radio 1' 16 years later.
(160 K/0:43 min)
There have always been problems over the quality of
Luxembourgs sound because of the distance it had to travel. In 1937 the BBCs
deputy director general described the difference between the two stations
as between an early gramophone and the latest HMV100 Ginny wonder.
(153 K/0:41 min)
Jimmy Saville; another broadcaster who established
his career on Luxembourg. He was working in a Leeds dancehall when he was
offered a job as a host on a programme for 'Warner Brothers'. During his
nine years tint on '208' he won the coveted top british DJ award eight
(85 K/0:22 min)
Jimmys programmes currencided with the most dramatic
change yet in Luxembourgs output. The radio station issued a triumphful press
release in 1957 proclaiming that the competition from television was not
affecting the audiences - which was true. However commercial TV was zapping
208s advertisers and even some of its programmes.
(557 K/2:32 min)
Perhaps 'lost' is rather harsh but Luxembourg certainly
had to find a new market. The record companies were ideal because this was
the swinging 60s when Edda Lessons were recast into teenagers. A brand new
consumer group with money to spent. They were egged on by whole new bread
Commercial by the ROLLING STONES
(104 K/0:27 min)
Luxembourg set it's sights on youth and non-stop-music.
And in doing so millions of teenagers listened secretly on transistors under
the bedclothes at night. One of the stuff DJs of the time was Chris Denning
(281 K/1:16 min)
Suddenly the pirates were the rebels. Luxembourg emerged
-as the BBC has earlier- as the tired radio station that sounded out of date.
The programme ideas were no longer fresh. Chris Denning recalls :
(298 K/1:21 min)
In 1968 Radio Luxembourg disguarded it's famous sponsored
shows and followed the BBCs lead on the new 'Radio One' by introducing all
live programming along with spot adds. A formatte that still existed until
the end of the station. To present this they needed a new team of disc jockeys.
'208' in the late 60s was the only place for inspiring DJs. 'Kid' Jensen
came all the way from Canada to join the team.
David 'Kid' Jensen & Tony Prince
(174 K/0:46 min)
Could they really talk that fast? So what where they
make of that sound back in those early days. Pioneer Stephen Williams was
never impressed :
(310 K/1:24 min)
By 1967 taped programmes from London became fewer as
208 went life from the Grand Duchy. The team included Tommy Vance, Don Woudell,
Tony Brandon and Stewart Grundy. And was move in and towards the 70s the
team included Paul Burnett, Tony Prince, "Kid" Jenssen, Peter Powell, Dave
Christian, Bob Stewart, Rob Jones, Stuart Henry and Benny Brown.
And here we are in the 80s. Do you remember Steve Wright,
Mark Wesley, Tony Blewitt, Davy Swout, Howard Pearce, the return of Keith
Fordyse and Timmy Mallitte? And perhaps it was Radio Luxembourg that first
inspired Mike Reed to write poetry.
(60 K/0:15 min)
But times changed. Already at the end of the 80s Luxembourg
lost it's top position which they owed so many years. Other stations that
more or less copied the succesfull market strategies took the peak position.
Another point: LUXY could only be heard on 1440 AM meaning bad sound quality
and fading in and out. Most of the competitors as BBC Radio 1 broadcasted
on FM. And finally there are many insiders in the business saying that LUXY
lost its clear format and was not as unique than it has been in the decades
ago. To look at the problem from the commercial point of view: CLT had to
recognize decreases in the quantity of the listers and that of course meant
less money from the industry for spreading their commercials. That's why
CLT decided to close down the frequency 1440 AM on December 30th 1991. From
that day LUXY broadcasted only on short wave and via the ASTRA-satellite
on the radio channel of "Sky TV" as already since 1990.
But this change could not solve the problems. Though broadcasting via satellite
enabled LUXY to reach millions and millions of people throughout the whole
Europe; this meant also the bad news. As it is impossible to get honest ratings
of this huge area the industry again decreased the number of commercial spots
and that meant that RADIO LUXEMBOURG was sentenced to dead finally for December
30st 1992. Owner CLT may have taken this decision already a few years ago
when in 1989 they founded "ATLANTIC 252".
On this last day broadcast very many of the former
DJs of Luxy reported their impressions live in the studio or by phone during
the shows. As you may think it was no happy goodbye when DJ Mike Hollis spoke
the very last words before the station closed at 24 h GMT.
Goodbye Radio Luxembourg
(128 K/0:34 min)
Maybe programme director John Catlett brought it to
the point saying that night:
'This station was the first in Europe to have success by programming what
people wanted to hear instead of programming what the government thought
people wanted to hear. That is why we could show such success against the
BBC in England'.
True. Luxembourg has for a long time been Britains only independent commercial
music station. And no one can take away the contribution it's made to popular
music. It's warmth and spontaneous style has influenced radio presentation
'It's time to say good night'
(254 K/1:09 min)