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Radio Luxembourg
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 ...


Radio Luxembourg's 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.

REAL AUDIO
Stephen Williams
(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.

REAL AUDIO
Stephen Williams
(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.'
REAL AUDIO
Programme presenter
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Stephen Williams
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Ovaltineys
(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.
REAL AUDIO
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.
REAL AUDIO
Stephen Williams
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Lord Haw-Haw
(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 quickly.
REAL AUDIO
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.
REAL AUDIO
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.
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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 manager says:
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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 institution.
REAL AUDIO
Teddy Johnstone
(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'.
REAL AUDIO
Opportunity knocks
(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 pinched.
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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.

REAL AUDIO
Horace Batchelor
(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 programmes.
REAL AUDIO
Huey Greene
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Luxy programmes
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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 times.
REAL AUDIO
Jimmy Saville
(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.
REAL AUDIO
Geoffrey Everett
(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 of advertisers.
REAL AUDIO
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 :
REAL AUDIO
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 :
REAL AUDIO
Chris Denning
(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.
REAL AUDIO
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 :
REAL AUDIO
Stephen Williams
(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.

REAL AUDIO
Mike Reed
(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.

REAL AUDIO
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 until today.

REAL AUDIO
'It's time to say good night'
(254 K/1:09 min)

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