December 10, 1933: Radio Luxembourg transmits English programmes

Radio Luxembourg was a multilingual commercial broadcaster in Luxembourg.

The English-language service of Radio Luxembourg began on December 10, 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. 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 the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg during 1924, François Anen built a 100-watt transmitter to broadcast military music concerts and plays to listeners in 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. On May 11, 1929, he brought together a group of mainly French entrepreneurs and formed the Luxembourg Society for Radio Studies (La Société Luxembourgeoise d’Etudes Radiophoniques) as a pressure group to force the Luxembourg government to issue them a commercial broadcasting licence.

On December 29, 1929, the government of Luxembourg’s monopoly licence to operate a commercial radio broadcasting franchise 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 June 4, 1933, but the complaints caused Radio Luxembourg to keep shifting its wavelength. On January 1, 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 8.15am until midnight on Sundays, and at various times during the rest of the week.

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.

The BBC and successive British governments continued to oppose the competition, citing Radio Luxembourg’s use of an unauthorised 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.

Programme Highlights on Radio Luxembourg

1933-1939

  • Littlewoods Broadcast, sponsored by the football pools coupon company in Liverpool
  • Vernon’s All-Star Variety Concert, sponsored by the football pools coupon company
  • League of Ovaltineys, sponsored by the makers of Ovaltine

1946-1956

  • Ovaltiney’s Concert Party, sponsored by the makers of Ovaltine
  • Leslie Welch – The Memory Man
  • Top Twenty, introduced by Pete Murray
  • The Adventures of Dan Dare (from July 2, 1951 at 7.15pm), featuring Noel Johnson who played Dick Barton on BBC radio
  • Perry Mason
  • The Story of Doctor Kildare
  • Chance of a Lifetime, a quiz presented by Dick Emery
  • At Two-O-Eight, compared by Pete Murray
  • Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh

1954-1963

  • Butlin’s Beaver Club, with “Uncle” Eric Winstone
  • Take Your Pick, with Michael Miles
  • Double Your Money, with Hughie Green
  • Lucky Couple, with David Jacobs
  • Jamboree, with Alan Freed

1964-1967

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. Following the success of this first offshore station, others soon followed. 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.

  • Pete Brady, Radio London
  • Paul Burnett, Radio 270
  • Dave Cash, Radio London
  • Simon Dee, Radio Caroline and BBC TV
  • Noel Edmonds, BBC
  • Kenny Everett, Radio London
  • Tommy Vance, Radio London and Radio Caroline South
  • Johnnie Walker, Swinging Radio England and Radio Caroline South

1968-1988

  • Neil Fox
  • Peter Powell
  • Mike Read
  • Emperor Rosko, Radio Caroline South
  • Paul Burnett, Radio 270
  • David “Kid” Jensen, BBC Radio 1
  • Stuart Henry, Radio Scotland
  • Keith Fordyce

1988-1992

  • Chris Moyles (Chris Holmes)
  • Mark Page

Radio Luxembourg finally ceased transmitting at midnight on December 30, 1992.

1992 onwards

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. 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.

Sources

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