Luxembourg (circled in red), home of Radio Luxembourg
|Dissolved||30 December 1992|
Radio Luxembourg was a multilingual commercial broadcaster in Luxembourg. It is known in most non-English languages as RTL (for Radio Television Luxembourg).
The English-language service of Radio Luxembourg began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to the UK and Ireland. It was an important forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom. It was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum. It boasted the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world (1,300 kW broadcasting on medium wave). In the late 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, it captured very large audiences in Britain and Ireland with its programmes of popular entertainment.
In 1922, the British government awarded a monopoly broadcasting licence to a single British Broadcasting Company, whose shares were owned by British and American electrical companies. Although in theory the BBC could have sold sponsored airtime, it attempted to gain its revenue by selling its own brand of licensed radio receivers manufactured by the member companies of the BBC. This arrangement lasted until 1927, when the broadcasting licence of the original BBC was allowed to expire. The assets of the former commercial company were then sold to a new non-commercial British Broadcasting Corporation, which operated under a UK charter from the Crown.
With no possibility of commercial broadcasting available from inside the UK, a former British Royal Air Force captain and entrepreneur (and from 1935 Conservative Party member of parliament) named Leonard F. Plugge set up his own International Broadcasting Company. The IBC began leasing time on transmitters in continental Europe and then reselling it as sponsored English-language programming aimed at audiences in Britain and Ireland. Because Plugge successfully demonstrated that State monopolies such as that of the BBC could be broken, other parties became attracted to the idea of creating a new commercial radio station specifically for this purpose.
In 1924 radio technician François Anen built a 100-watt transmitter in his home, located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Within two years the government of Luxembourg had reached an agreement to subsidize the station to broadcast military music concerts and plays performed in the local dialect of Luxembourg. Because the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is centrally located in western Europe, it was an ideal location for transmitters aimed at reaching audiences in many nations, including the United Kingdom.
Anen became inspired by the activities of Captain Plugge, who was using transmitters licensed in other countries to broadcast English-language radio programmes to Britain and Ireland, where commercial broadcasting had not been licensed by the British or Irish governments. On 11 May 1929, he brought together a group of mainly French entrepreneurs[why?] and formed the Luxembourg Society for Radio Studies (La Société Luxembourgeoise d'Études Radiophoniques) as a pressure group to force the Luxembourg government to issue them a commercial broadcasting licence.
On 19 December 1929, the government of Luxembourg passed a law awarding a monopoly licence to operate a commercial radio broadcasting franchise from the Grand Duchy. On 29 December, this licence was awarded to the Society, which in turn created the Luxembourg Broadcasting Company (Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Radiodiffusion) to be identified on the air as Radio Luxembourg.
In May 1932, Radio Luxembourg began high powered test transmissions aimed directly at Britain and Ireland (which proved, inadvertently, to be the first radio modification of the ionosphere). The reaction of the British government was hostile, as the long-wave band used for these tests radiated a signal far superior to anything previously received from outside the country. The British government accused Radio Luxembourg of "pirating" the various wavelengths it was testing. The station had planned to commence regular broadcasts on 4 June 1933, but the complaints caused Radio Luxembourg to keep shifting its wavelength. On 1 January 1934, a new international agreement, the "Lucerne Convention (European Wavelength Plan)" (which the Luxembourg government refused to sign), came into effect, and shortly afterwards Radio Luxembourg started a regular schedule of English-language radio transmissions from 8:15 am until midnight on Sundays, and at various times during the rest of the week.
Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting in both the French and English languages on a new 200 kW transmitter on 230 kHz (1304 metres) in the long-wave band. The English service was leased to Radio Publicity (London) Ltd in the United Kingdom. In December 1933, they transferred 23-year-old Stephen Williams from directing their English-language programmes transmitted over Radio Paris to become the first manager of the English language service of Radio Luxembourg.
In the years from 1933 to 1939, the English language service of Radio Luxembourg gained a large audience in Britain, Ireland and many other European countries with sponsored programming aired from noon until midnight on Sundays and at various times during the rest of the week. 11% of Britons listened to it during the week, preferring Luxembourg's light music and variety programmes to the BBC. Up to half of Britons did so before 10.15 am on weekdays (the BBC declining to broadcast any earlier than that hour) and especially throughout Sundays, when the corporation stuck rigidly to its "Reithian Sunday" schedule of almost exclusively serious and religious programmes.
The BBC and successive British governments continued to oppose the competition, citing Radio Luxembourg's use of an unauthorized frequency. As the station could not use General Post Office telephone lines to broadcast from London, many English-language programmes were recorded there on one-sided 16-inch discs running at 33 revolutions per minute and flown to Luxembourg. Despite the opposition, by 1938, many British companies advertised on Radio Luxembourg and fellow European broadcaster Radio Normandy. The stations thus exposed millions of Britons and British companies to commercial broadcasting, which contributed to the creation of the commercial ITV during the 1950s.
These were some of the shows heard in 1935 as listed in the 3 May edition of Radio Pictorial:
On 21 September 1939, the Luxembourg government closed the radio station down to protect the neutrality of the country during World War II. The station and its transmitters were taken over by the invading German forces in 1940, and were used for English-language propaganda broadcasts by William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw") and others. When Allied forces took over Luxembourg in September 1944, the station was transferred to US Army control and used for black propaganda purposes for the remainder of the war (see Radio 1212).
When the Allied armed forces vacated the Radio Luxembourg premises at the close of World War II, the English-language service attempted to restart transmissions to the United Kingdom as a full-time commercial radio station using the European long-wave band, once more under the management of Stephen Williams.
During the war, Geoffrey Everitt served his last few months in Luxembourg, and this led to his employment by Stephen Williams on 21 June 1946. Williams soon left the station and Everitt found himself in charge of a small on-air staff of three women and one man. Because of the dearth of advertising available in English, the early morning shows on long wave quickly disappeared and made way for French-language programmes. More contractions followed and this led to cuts in more of the morning, afternoon and evening programming in English.
By the start of the 1950s, sponsorship of the English service had begun to grow once more, and while initially some of the English-language programmes continued via Radio Luxembourg I on long wave, a second but less powerful wavelength was opened up as Radio Luxembourg II on medium wave. The English programmes of Radio Luxembourg moved on July 2, 1951, from long wave to the medium wave frequency of 208 metres (1439 kHz). The controversy over the station's broadcasting frequencies had been resolved with the 1948 Copenhagen plan (which this time the Luxembourg government did sign), which allocated the country two high-power frequencies, one on long wave and the other on medium wave. Eventually all English programming moved to medium wave, with long wave being dedicated to French programmes, while German, Dutch and other languages used medium wave during the daytime.
In 1955, Hal Lewis who was better known at Hawaiian radio station KPOA as J. Akuhead Pupule (and later became the morning DJ at KGMB in Honolulu, Hawaii during 1965), offered to buy the morning time from 6 am to 9 am for his own show on 208, but his offer was rejected. The 208 signal could be received satisfactorily in the United Kingdom only after dark, when it was able to strike the ionosphere and bounce back to the British Isles.
It was this second wavelength that eventually became dedicated to English-language programming after 6 pm under the slogan of "208 - Your station of the stars", referring to the entertainers heard on the station.
These were some of the shows heard in March 1952 as reported in the 208 programme schedule:
Radio Luxembourg also served as a refuge for stars and shows previously heard on the BBC but with whom the BBC had fallen out for one reason or another. Thus, when in 1951 the BBC wanted Vera Lynn, one of its biggest singing stars, to perform more upbeat material than her traditional repertoire, she refused, and signed up to record 42 shows for Luxembourg instead - which, she said, also paid better. Likewise, the comedy series Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, terminated by the BBC after six years, transferred to Radio Luxembourg for a period in 1950-51 before the BBC relented and revived the show.
On 7 April 1956, Billboard magazine reported that "WINS Radio made a deal with Harry Alan Towers of the Towers of London, for deejay Alan Freed to do a special taped 1/2 hour rock and roll record show on Saturday nights over Radio Luxembourg, which is beamed to most of the countries of Free Europe."
Resident announcers in Luxembourg at different times:
Following the merger of the English-language service of Radio Luxembourg I with the new English-language service of Radio Luxembourg II on 208 metres medium wave, the station came to be known as Radio Luxembourg. A British company, Radio Luxembourg (London) Ltd, controlled the programme content and sold the advertising time.
The station sign-on time at dusk varied between summer and winter to allow maximum benefit to be gained from a skywave propagation at night that covered the British Isles, although reception was strongest in northern England. By restricting the service to night-time, the sales representatives were able to sell most of the available airtime both for spot commercials and for sponsored programmes. One spot commercial that became burned into the minds of every Radio Luxembourg listener was for Horace Batchelor's "Infra-Draw Method" of winning money on football pools, turning the previously obscure Somerset town of "Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M" into a household name throughout the country.
Some programmes were live disc-jockey presentations by the team of "resident announcers" from the studios in Luxembourg City, while others were pre-recorded in the company's British studios at 38 Hertford Street, London W1. This was never made clear to listeners, who were allowed to form the incorrect impression that all the presenters were broadcasting from the Grand Duchy or, alternatively, assume that all the programmes were recorded in London.
A strange conspiracy of silence operated throughout this period between sworn enemies Radio Luxembourg and the BBC, each of which never mentioned the existence of the other, although many famous names appeared on both, often almost simultaneously.
During this period, and particularly from about 1960, the station's output came to be more explicitly targeted at the growing teenage market, with increasing emphasis on a pop music format. Drama productions, comedy, variety and sports programming disappeared altogether. By about 1963, almost the station's entire output was based around the playing of music on discs. This must have greatly reduced its production costs. It also reflected the fact that the mainstream evening audience for middle-aged "family entertainment" had by this time largely migrated to television.
These were some of the shows heard in December 1956, as listed in the 208 programme schedule for that month:
The following were some of the resident announcers in Luxembourg during this period:
The following disc-jockeys recorded shows in the London studios at 38 Hertford Street: Peter Aldersley, Sam Costa, Alan Dell, Keith Fordyce, Alan Freeman, David Gell, Tony Hall,Jack Jackson, David Jacobs, Brian Matthew, Don Moss, Pete Murray, Ray Orchard, Jimmy Savile, Shaw Taylor, Jimmy Young, and Muriel Young. Many of these programmes were sponsored by record companies, and in order to include as many records as possible, most programmes played little more than half of each record.
Radio Luxembourg had enjoyed its own commercial radio monopoly of English-language programming heard in the UK but, in March 1964, Radio Caroline began daytime commercial radio transmissions to southern England from a ship anchored less than four miles off the coast (the station later acquired a second ship, and moved the first to the Irish Sea). In Caroline's primary reception areas, her groundwave signal was strong and unaffected during daylight hours by fading and interference. Following the success of this first offshore station, others soon followed, mostly broadcasting from locations off the Essex coast or the Thames Estuary. These transmissions were eventually extended around the clock and featured many different broadcasting formats, though pop music on discs predominated.
As a result of this competition, Radio Luxembourg gradually abandoned pre-recorded sponsored programmes for a more flexible continuity. Its new format featured mainly spot advertising within record programmes presented live by resident disc jockeys in Luxembourg, some of them recruited from the offshore stations.
In August 1967, the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act passed into law, and forced all but the two Caroline stations off the air by eliminating their means of selling commercial advertising in the UK. As well as closing down offshore "pirate radio", the British government instructed the BBC to create its own non-commercial replacement, named Radio 1. Radio 1 commenced transmissions at the end of September 1967. While Luxembourg almost had the UK commercial airwaves to itself, it was still restricted to evening and night hours.
The presenters included the following:
By the middle of 1968, even the two Caroline offshore stations had left the air and, while other attempts were made to restart offshore radio commercial broadcasts aimed at the UK in the early 1970s, Luxembourg did not face commercial competition, only a growing increase in audience share by more BBC services. For a time in the late 1960s Luxembourg advertised itself as "The O.I.S. - the Only Independent Station on the Air". But in 1973, the BBC radio monopoly was finally ended by new legislation introducing Independent Local Radio, funded by the sale of advertising time.
In 1983, Radio Luxembourg marked its fiftieth anniversary as a station, but the British commercial radio stations kept whittling away the 208 audience and advertising, while a brief replay of competition for audiences began to emerge from off the British coastline with new radio ship transmissions.
These were shows heard in 1982 as reported in the Radio Luxembourg Research Report (page 20) of 208 listeners. The Survey was conducted during the last quarter of 1982 by British Market Research Bureau for Radio Luxembourg (London) Ltd. By the time the survey appeared, the programme line-up below had changed in various ways, including the untimely death of Barry Alldis in the middle of the survey:
During the 1980s one of the station's slogans was "Planet earth's biggest commercial radio station".
In 1989, hoping to build a new audience, Luxembourg in English once more returned with a daytime schedule for the first time since the early 1950s, but this time it was aimed at Scandinavian audiences using a 24-hour stereo transponder on the Astra 1A satellite to supplement the 208 analogue night-time service. The end eventually came for 208 at 3 am GMT on 30 December 1991 (the station did return to the analogue 208/1440 for one night a year later when the station finally closed its digital service), with the last record played on AM being Van Morrison's "In the Days Before Rock and Roll" (chosen mainly because of its mention of the radio station), before "At the End of the Day" (one of their closedown songs) was played heading into the top of the hour (even though DJ Jeff Graham had said that they were going to play the original closedown tune, it was in fact the original song, but a later version the station used as the original was not located, "It's Time To Say Goodnight"). The station then went satellite and shortwave (15350 kHz) only, with the first songs played being "When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)" by Deacon Blue and "Always" by Atlantic Starr.
The satellite and shortwave service continued until midnight on 30 December 1992. The closedown night was relayed on various stations, including the old 208 wavelength. The Van Morrison song was the next-to-last record that night, followed by Marion Montgomery's "Maybe the Morning".
The 208 service from that moment on carried an oldies service in German, identifying itself as "RTL Radio - Der Oldiesender".
Presenters in the 90s:
In 1989, Radio Luxembourg's parent company RTL Group teamed up with Raidió Teilifís Éireann to create Atlantic 252, an English-language pop music station on longwave, based in Ireland and with advertising content aimed at a UK audience. Initially this only broadcast until 7 pm and ended with an announcement specifically encouraging listeners to switch to Radio Luxembourg on 1440 kHz medium wave. Atlantic 252 switched to 24-hour broadcasts around the time that Radio Luxembourg shut down its medium wave broadcasts. Atlantic 252 closed down in 2002 and the long wave frequency is now used for RTÉ Radio 1. Presenters common to both Atlantic 252 and Radio Luxembourg include Jeff Graham, Cass Jones and Sandy Beech. The voice of Henry Owens was also heard on promotions for both stations in the early 1990s.
An English-language classic rock digital station from RTL Group called Radio Luxembourg began in 2005. It was briefly available in the UK using DRM (digital broadcasts over shortwave) but the transmitter power was reduced, and by 2008 was not receivable outside Luxembourg itself (essentially, a test transmission). The digital station continues broadcasting over the Internet. Both the station and its website make numerous references to the old 208 service.
RTL Group, Radio Luxembourg's parent company, was an initial minority shareholder in the UK's Channel Five terrestrial analogue television channel, launched in 1997. RTL became the majority shareholder from 2006, when it had been re-branded as "Five". It was one of more than fifty television stations that RTL owned throughout Europe. Unlike RTL's television stations in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, most of which are explicitly branded as RTL, Five did not significantly acknowledge its Luxembourg heritage on-air. RTL sold Five to Richard Desmond on 23 July 2010.
Radio Luxembourg was also broadcast on RTL's various European TV channels after closedown.
The wavelengths and frequencies used by the English service of Radio Luxembourg changed throughout the years, although "208" was by far the longest-lasting and most famous one.
See also: "Radio-Luxembourg, Histoire d'un média privé d'envergure européenne", by David DOMINGUEZ MULLER, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2007.
Radio Luxembourg was one of few channels through which people living in the Eastern Bloc could listen to rock and other contemporary popular music. Under good weather conditions, and especially at night, people as far as eastern Czechoslovakia and Estonia could listen to the station. Eastern Bloc governments did not use jammers to prevent people from listening to Radio Luxembourg, but did do so for Radio Free Europe and, since the stations used harmonic frequencies (1439 kHz for Luxembourg and 719 kHz for Free Europe), the jamming also affected Radio Luxembourg's signal. Even though western popular music was considered undesirable by socialist regimes, legal prosecution was rare, although not unheard of. The music appealed to young people as something forbidden, and listening to it became a social ritual. It also strongly influenced contemporary underground culture and music in Czechoslovakia.
13a. Veronika ?tefe?ková: RTL Group today Extract of bachelor's degree thesis Radio Luxembourg and its importance for auditors in the socialist Czechoslovakia (oral history) - PDF file in English