The Voice of Europe
|Looking back at Radio Luxembourg 208 (1951-2015)|
|by Philip Champion|
|If there's one radio station that has won a warm spot in the collective memory of European radio listeners, it's no doubt Radio Luxembourg. Focussing on the 208 service, which was opened by Pete Murray on July 2nd 1951 and closed down on 31-12-2015, Philip Champion elucidates the station's history and especially its programmes.|
|1||Right: Radio Luxembourg Promo
The end of an era. When the Marnach transmitter shut down on December 31st 2015, there really came an end to an era — for German listeners especially but for the British and others too. English-speaking listeners may think it ended in the early 1990s but for others the station had yet another two and a half decades to go. What was 208 like during the day until then? What was it like after English programmes ceased?
For this look back at "the great 208" my own memories and notes have been greatly helped by a number of websites: RTL Group, RTL: Radio Luxembourg, RTL208.de, Offringa.nl, Wikipedia, ex-208 staff member Rodney Collins' comments on the Digital Spy's radio forum, Hans Knot's dutch-language articles on the Soundscapes site detailing the 1930s setting up of the station plus its Benelux Service, a history of the German Service 'RTL Radio Luxemburg Chronik' on Radio Journal Online, the Sterling Times, the Swedish Radio Archives, Radio London and various other websites but especially Ydun's Medium Wave Info for showing the recent schedules on 208. I also gained information from watching "History of DJ" Parts 10 and 11 by Tony Prince. Every effort has been made to check dates and events but sometimes sources are contradictory.
|To understand the history of 208 we need to look at what led up to it on the Luxembourg airwaves. To avoid undue repetition I've sometimes referred to Radio Luxembourg as RL or the nicknames used in Britain, Germany and Czechoslovakia: Luxy, Luxis and Laxik.|
|2||Left: Cover of a Radio Luxembourg Special by 208 magazine with Pete Murray at the left
A 1930s innovation: a programme for multiple languages and multiple nations. Radio Luxembourg, backed mainly by five Paris businessmen, started with tests on 1250 metres long wave to Britain and Ireland in May 1932 according to Wikipedia. 'Radio Luxembourg Expérimental' was in French, German and Luxembourgois (a German dialect — with some French words — not easily understood by Germans) and they were a success. However, the British Post Office made allegations of interference to aircraft wireless services. Behind it was CLR — Compagnie Luxembourgoise de Radiodiffusion. It had sought a wavelength to transmit an international programme to a wide audience. The Internationales des Radiodiffussions (IdR now ITU) stated that the Grand Duchy's size did not justify it and was allocated a low power MW frequency for its own internal use. Some of its members like Britain no doubt feared attacks on their State broadcasting monopolies. Studios were in the Villa Lovigny — once a fort built in 1671 — located in the Luxembourg city centre municipal park in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Construction of the transmitter site at Junglinster, 11 miles east of Luxembourg city, began on October 1st 1931 on a hill 360 m above sea level. Here three free-standing 250m high steel framework towers were used for the 1250 metres transmissions. As everything wasn't ready for the official opening a 10 kW transmitter made in Belgium was used for the planned three day official opening with programmes in French, German and English. A German artist, Eva Sievert, specifically chosen for her linguistic skills, said the first words on Radio Luxembourg for that 13:00-13:30 broadcast, "Allo, allo, ici Radio Luxembourg," then "Achtung, achtung, hier Radio Luxemburg," and repeated it in English. Soon the power was 150 kW. At the time it was the most modern and powerful radio station in Europe. French engineers were in charge, just as many of the backers were French. Four cables connected the telegraph office in Luxembourg city with the transmitter station. This ensured reliability but also provided for some programmes to be made in a home country and sent to Luxembourg by cable. In June 1932 the IdR unanimously passed a resolution referring to Luxembourg's "piracy of a long wave." The Luxembourg authorities rejected the objections and stressed that they were not illegal broadcasts. The frequencies were only being temporarily used for experimental transmissions. When broadcasts were more regular the Icelandic Government complained of constant interference to their own LW channel nearby from the power of the Luxembourg transmitter.
|3||Right: Radio Luxembourg Record Stars no. 4
Serving a host of nations. Radio Luxembourg was a pioneer in broadcasting a 'unique' — not syndicated — programme in several languages using the same frequency. There was huge interest in other central and western European countries. Each day was planned to be geared to a country or language: Monday — Italy, Tuesday — Belgium, Wednesday — Luxembourg, Thursday — German (also for Switzerland, Austria, and German-speaking part of eastern Belgium), Friday — Dutch, Saturday — French, Sunday — English. A typical day was planned as 19:00 Opening and light music, 19:45 Weather forecast, 19:50 Orchestral, 20:30 Talk, particularly on music or entertainment, 20:40-23:00 music. It is not known how much this 'day' rotation was followed; I have not come across any detailed reference to an Italian Service on air. In time the schedule was much expanded.
In January 1933 power was increased to 200 kW but it was now on 1185 metres for a number of test broadcasts. More regular tests took place from March 15th on 1191 metres 252 kHz — 56 years before they used it again in partnership with RTE for Atlantic 252. The signal was good in the target countries of Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The English Service officially launched on Sunday June 4th 1933. Programmes were recorded onto grammophone records in London and flown to Brussels then taken by car to Luxembourg. They were announced by the English presenter in that studio but actually played by the Luxembourg engineers. At first there were no advertisements or sponsorship for the English programmes even in late 1933. By October 28th it was on Sundays 19:00-23:00 with a mix of recorded programmes and the station's 30 piece orchestra. The station's success in its own words "astonishes competitors." The British authorities protested vehemently that the wavelength used was not being allocated to Luxembourg at the European Broadcasting Conference in Luzern and claimed it would interfere with British aircraft wireless services. Meanwhile the BBC tried to persuade the main British newspapers not to publish RL's programme schedule. The Swedish Radio Archives state that the allegations of interference had caused Radio Luxembourg to change wavelength four times.
|4||Left: Junglister (photo: Hans Knot)
A good alternative for Radio Paris. Regular English programmes started on December 3rd 1933. Around this time English programmes were broadcast from six French stations: Poste Parisien on 312 metres plus Radios Toulouse, Normandy on 269.5 metres, Lyons on 288, Cote d'Azur on 240 and Paris. Lyons and Paris were evenings only while Normandy often had breaks for French programmes. Stephen Williams of Radio-Publicity which had the concession for English programmes from Radio Paris had been presenting programmes on it since January 1st 1933. He had heard the debut of Britain's first station, 2LO, in 1922 and wanted to be a radio announcer. Aged 20 he got a job in 1928 as announcer on a broadcasting steam yacht "Ceto" sponsored by the "Daily Mail" newspaper which sailed round the British coast transmitting music on records and advertisements. When first it sailed from Dundee the choppy seas caused problems for the signal so as it went round the east, south and west coasts it broadcast using four loudspeakers heard at least two miles away. (Was he the first offshore radio DJ?) In 1932 he joined the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) and was sent to their Radio Normandy service broadcasting to the south of England.
The next year Williams moved to the rival Radio-Publicity which started broadcasting from the more powerful Radio Paris. With Radio Paris though due to become a State radio station, the new Radio Luxembourg was a good alternative. On Sunday December 3rd his programme went out on both Radio Paris on 1725 metres LW with 75-100 kW and Luxembourg on 1191 metres with 200 kW to inform listeners that the programmes were transfering the next Sunday. Stephen Williams frequently asked listeners to tune to the new channel as they could hear the same output on both but from the 10th it transferred permanently to Radio Luxembourg. The 25 year old also became manager of the English operation there. In the early days he aroused listener interest in the station's location and, therefore the station, by portraying a romantic but factual picture of its scenery, customs and people. He did this in the breaks between sponsored programmes but had to stop after a few months as there was so much advertising to include. IBC was handling the advertising.
|5||Right: Junglister (photo: Hans Knot)
Expanding the audience and the programmes. The Sterling Times website says that at the end of 1933 each evening there was a broadcast to one of Britain, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium or The Netherlands. A team of announcers catered for their own languages. Less frequently there were broadcasts in Italian, Swiss (German?), Czechoslovakia and Poland in the evenings. The formula was simple: little talking and lots of good music.
English programmes were created and scripted in Luxembourg with the records Williams had brought along from Radio Paris. Sales messages were sent out, typed up, from London. Among all the jobs Williams had to arrange was one for cue sheets in French for the studio engineers to ensure there were no mistakes; for example, using the gong between each programme. While for the BBC Sunday was a big day Luxembourg had to compete. As well as playing lots of music, particularly the fashionable dance band music, they played two very popular singers of the time: George Formby and Gracie Fields.
|On January 15th 1934 the whole station moved to 1304 metres 230 kHz. The European Broadcasting Conference in Luzern had allocated this the previous July to the Polish radio in Warsaw but they never used it. The EBU had refused RL's requests for a LW frequency for its international programmes and dismissed its comments as those of a "private organisation." Power was 200 kW. This was unprecedented for the 1930s. The IdR regarded this as illegal but they had no legal jurisdiction. In 1936 tests were made on 1236 metres. Later the station changed to 1282 metres 234 kHz. Only in 1980 were the masts lowered to 215m for what was now the French Service. Now these are spare as LW transmissions have come from the Beidweiler transmitter a little way to the north east with its three 290 m high masts since 1972.|
|The Sterling Times website shows that broadcasting hours grew. In 1933 the station was on 40 hours a week, in 1935 it rose to 87 and in 1936 it was 104. An April 1936 schedule showed it was on weekdays 07:45-24:00. Obviously, it targetted certain languages at different times though anyone could listen to the music. At 08:00 and 20:30 for example there were news bulletins in French and German.|
|6||Left: Radio Luxembourg Offices and studio in Hertford Street London (Photo: Archive Radio Luxembourg)
Successes of the English Service. The English Service seemed to be the real money-maker. In one year in the 1930s its profit was about 1 million. A sensation was caused in September 1934 when Williams recruited 52-year-old Christopher Stone to join him in the Grand Duchy. The London editor of "The Gramophone" Stone had become Britain's first disc-jockey at the age of 44 on July 7th 1927. (Another reference states that Stone's uncle, Compton McKenzie, did a record programme in 1924.) He approached the BBC with the idea for a record programme. This was turned down but he managed to convince them. Though he wore a dinner jacket and tie when presenting his relaxed, conversational style was in sharp contrast to the very formal BBC presentation. RL allowed him more freedom than the BBC did and this was one of the reasons for his success here. His programmes became very popular; after his first programme 6,000 letters came in. Though RL was an initial success Williams had seen the need to attract a real radio person to maintain and increase the momentum. Also, it seems RL would pay Stone more — 5,000 — than the BBC! Stone's defection to Radio Luxembourg led to the BBC blacklisting him, though he was back in 1941 when more serious matters concerned everyone.
There were plenty of national advertisers like Shredded Wheat, Palmolive and Rowntree's Fruit Gums. One of the first advertising jingles was heard; it was the Betox March for Betox cubes. Programmes were often of 15 minutes. During the week the English Service was on at various times including mornings before 10:15 when the BBC opened up.
|7||Right: Closed radio studio's during World War II
The Luxembourg Listener. August 17th 1934 was the first Friday of regular weekday English broadcasting. By late 1934 it was on every day with Mondays to Saturdays being more the afternoons and evenings. It was especially popular on Sundays from 12:00-24:00 at one time and also 08:15-24:00 with its light music especially the popular big bands of the day and entertainment. The alternative was the very serious 'Reith' type Sunday of the BBC. The BBC Board even considered jamming RL though they realised their rival's engineers could soon change frequency. An advertising survey in 1935 found that 1 out of 2 listeners questioned listening regularly to Radio Luxembourg on Sunday and 1 in 9 tuned in on weekdays. Another survey in 1938 found that a million households tuned in on Sundays 13:00-14:00. By the mid/late 1930s with five million radio sets in Britain (probably one per household) RL had four million listeners. The BBC could manage just two million — and that was at peak time and after they had introduced some more popular programmes as a result of the competition. A 1991 BBC TV News feature on the English Service closing commented that "Luxembourg brought light and warmth to drab pre-war Britain." From May 1938 to September 1939 RL flew programme tapes, records and people twice a week in an Olley Air Service De Havilland Dragon aeroplane from Croydon to Esch-sur Alzette. This was the Grand Duchy's second city in the south west of the country and about 10 miles from the capital. The plane had the name 'The Luxembourg Listener' painted on the cockpit side.
At most other times the station would be in French or German. News for the French and German Services was provided by the French news agency HAVAS. The 49.26 metre shortwave outlet was added from June 7th 1938; its 8 kW was a lot then and meant it could be received regularly in all parts of the world. For a short while on Friday evenings just before the war a Dutch programme started. In early September 1939 Radio Luxembourg stopped all transmissions at the request of the Luxembourg Government so as not to jeopardise the country's neutrality — though the Germans still invaded — and took over the radio station.
|8||Left: Christopher Stone (1934)
Gradually rebuilding the station in the post-war world. After the war long wave resumed on November 12th 1945 in French with the words,"Bonjour le Monde, ici Radio Luxembourg." (Hello, World etc). The Villa Louvigny was in a poor state with furnishings and equipment smashed or looted. It was vital to the Luxembourg economy to get the radio station back on the air. The market for radio advertising in this immediate post-war period was very thin, especially in war-weary Britain. It would take some time for the English Service to regain its popularity and importance.
English programmes returned on July 1st 1946 with Stephen Williams back as Director of English Programmes. Wavelength was 1293 metres. He was able to get programmes going properly as he retrieved some 50 crates of records and other equipment which he had left stored in the city in another person's keeping, away from the Nazi invaders. Due to the dearth of advertising available in England the English early morning shows were quickly dropped in favour of French programming. Later there were more cuts in morning, afternoon and evening programmes in favour of the French. On May 1st 1948 a Dutch Service was resumed. Between 1948 and 1950 Geoffrey Everitt and Teddy Johnson ran the English Service between them as there was so little advertising to support it. By July 1950 Sunday broadcasts in English went out 14:30-19:00 when "continental language" then resumed 21:30-00:30. A number of programmes were recorded and lasted 15 or 30 minutes such as Edmundo Ros, Gracie Fields, or "Off the Record" (Roy Plomley). These could be linked by the announcer in Luxembourg though they had some of their own programmes like "Time for Teddy" (Teddy Johnson) 16:15-16:30.
One innovation of the English Service came in autumn 1948 with start of the "Top 20" show — to be a Luxembourg institution for decades to come. The chart was an American idea. It was Geoffrey Everitt — a DJ from 1945 then General Manager over the next 25 years — who decided to air it. The first presenter was Teddy Johnson who, incidentally, was also the first DJ to get a regular daily show. Some doubted if the Top 20 would be a success. Why would people want to listen to the same records they had heard all week? The chart was for some time based on sheet music not record sales. This meant that each week different versions of a current record by different singers could be played. It was the song which counted, not the singer. Until 1951 English programmes also went out weekday afternoons.
|9||Right: Jo Leemans
The Great 208. Having been regarded for years as a 'pirate' by other European governments who tried to get it closed down — of course their State broadcasters gave their listeners what they thought was good for them, not what they actually wanted — Radio Luxembourg was finally given the right to a high powered LW and a high powered MW service. This was because its government had been allocated these under the 1948 Copenhagen European Broadcasting Conference. Now they could concentrate one language onto LW and use MW for the others. LW power was increased to 250 kW in 1951. A new MW transmission site was built at Junglinster for a wavelength of 208 metres frequency 1439 kHz. Such a high frequency would suit CLR as the ground wave could travel either side of the border to Belgium and the western parts of Germany — though not as far as a low frequency groundwave. However, the skywave for a higher frequency would allow distant reception such as for Britain from sunset to sunrise whereas a low frequency's skywave would not last so long. It was to be used for Dutch, Luxembourgois and English programmes — no mention yet of German though that country was rebuilding itself. Power on the omni-directional antenna was 150 Kw. The inauguration of the new transmitter was attended by Grand Duchesse Charlotte and Prince Félix. The use of a MW transmitter was said to contributed to a spectacular development of CLR's radio business.
By the 1950s sponsorship of the English Service began to grow again. While some programmes were carried on LW others went out on the new 208 service which was opened by Pete Murray on July 2nd 1951. For a while those on LW were called 'Luxembourg I' while the others on MW were on 'Luxembourg II.' Pete said that during the 1950s Luxy let him use his own personality with more freedom than the BBC allowed. After all while all English programming went to 208. A number of shows were recorded in the 38 Hertford Street, London offices and studios. The peak listening for 208 was probably in 1955. A familiar sound in many homes was (Gong) "This is your Station of the Stars, Radio Luxembourg."
|From Sunday December 5th 1953 without prior publicity a Benelux Service with programmes in Dutch started. A 1954 schedule gives four programmes from 08:30-14:00. They were of two hours, 30 minutes, an hour then two hours at the end. They also later went out from 06:30 (Sundays 07:00)-14:00. Most were sponsored. Some of the presenters were already known as singers like the Belgian Louis Neefs, actors/actresses or TV hosts. They tended to be in their 20s, 30s or early 40s. In fact, Jo Leemans was known as the Flemish Doris Day in the 1950s. Programmes at first were recorded on disc in Brussels and the reels sent to Luxembourg. Later, in 1959 the RTT (Belgian Post Office) allowed a land-line and so shows were done live from Brussels. Some were also presented live from Hilversum in the Netherlands between 09:00-12:00 announcing it was from Amsterdam. The 208 daytime signal was good in the southern Netherlands but also the well-populated Randstad area covering Rotterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Amsterdam. The years 1953 to 1965 were said to be the golden years of the Benelux Service.|
|In 1954 CLR was renamed CLT ('Telediffusion' now being the third word) when it started construction of a TV transmitter and studios.|
|10||Left: The Emperor Rosko
Increased power. The MW transmitter moved to a new site in Marnach in the north-east of the country, high up in the mountains 30 miles from the studios and two miles from the German border. Even in the 1970s and 1980s DJ's opening up the English Service would talk of the powerful transmitters in Marnach. This was built to improve the reach of 208 into the British Isles and to allow better daytime reception in West Germany, especially the Rhine/Ruhr area which was West Germany's most populated region. The day antenna consisted of three 105 m masts in the shape of an isosceles triangle. The night time antenna was a 60 m high mast plus a 65 m high reflector tower. When the site first went into service in December 1955 two 100 kW transmitters in parallel were used. The directional antenna could point N/NE to Germany daytimes and W/NW at 324° to Britain at night. Power went up to 350 kW in 1956 when one 150 kW MW transmitter was moved from Junglinster to Marnach to provide better reception in England and Scotland.
Pete Murray who was at Luxembourg for six years said that the move to 208 made him stay. "The move to Medium Wave resulted in us getting a tremendous amount of mail from listeners and it greatly increased our advertising revenue. And for the first time, DJ's became stars." Broadcasting hours were an hour earlier (in UK time) for the winter as opposed to the summer to get the maximum benefit from the skywave signal covering the British Isles, with reception strongest in northern England. By restricting transmissions to evenings and nights sales reps were able to sell most of the available airtime for spot commercials and sponsored programmes. The early evening advertising rate was reduced in the summer due to the poor daylight signal. An idea of 208's influence was that around 1955 several records banned by the BBC for religious reasons became hits — and they were only played on RL. A notable event was when Paul Anka's "Diana" was the first record to reach No.1 in Britain before doing so in the U.S.A.. One of the reasons was that the 208 DJ's played records they liked rather than what had already been hits abroad. Luxembourg was always the first place for British listeners to hear American records.
|With the new transmission facility a big change could happen: the start of the German Service. On July 15th 1957 33 year old Peter Perleberg (real name Pierre Nilles) announced that from that day on 'RTL Radio Luxemburg' a light music request programme would air daily 2-4 pm. There were just 60 records at the start. Such was the very positive response that by November it was extended to 2-6 pm. The target area was covered by state radio WDR which of course could not carry commercials for businesses wanting to advertise. Its programmes were said to be stuffy and boring. Music tended to be schlager or regional dance orchestras. Luxembourg started out as a housewives' choice station — giving people what they wanted: German records, French chansons, English and American records and Italian songs. The informal speech of the presenters plus their personal and laid back style was unchartered territory in German radio. The Service rapidly became popular and was known as 'Luxis' just as in Britain we referred to 'Luxy.'|
|11||Right: Barry Aldiss
The three 208 Services. There were now three Services filling the 208 schedule. What were they like? The day started with the Benelux Service. A Sunday schedule reproduced by Hans Knot shows lots of 10 or 15 minute long shows. One of the longest was a lunchtime half hour by Stan Haag, later to join Radio Veronica, and who was very popular with his 'talk to the listener' presented style. There was a mix of young and more mature male and female DJ's, unlike the more male-dominated UK. Once a week Stan travelled from his Hilversum home to Brussels to record his seven hours per week. Hans Knot wrote that 208 offered an exciting alternative to the sluggish Hilversum programmes. No doubt the Belgian (Flemish) State broadcasts were no better. The range of popular presenters played pop music as well as Dutch-language light pop. In fact, for many Dutch at the time 208 was really the only opportunity to enjoy American pop. The Benelux Service also featured quizzes and competitions; one competition was pre-recorded at diverse locations around Belgium. On Sunday mornings though airtime was sold to Johan Maasbach and the Seventh Day Adventists for their religious programmes.
Next was the German Service. Just 13 days after opening it had its first female DJ: Elisabeth. Over the years there would be quite a number more. She was the secretary for the English Service who was asked to make a few announcements on the German afternoon show and the audience loved it. When she was off ill another secretary, Annemarie, filled in just temporarily and she was so popular she stayed too. They were the first of a number of female DJ's on Luxis. The 12,000 listeners to the four hour afternoon show became 12 million in three years. The Service expanded from being a houswives' choice to airing the first German language chart show at 17:00 on Easter Sunday April 6th 1958. This revolutionary show was "Die Hitparade" with Chief Announcer 37 year old Camillo. This was incredibly well supported with an initial 4,000 letters leading to a peak of 60,000. Even into the 1960s this was the show talked about at school the next day. It was the first weekly sales chart as until 1967 the German trade music charts just came out fortnightly. He also spoke to motorists, a sector completely ignored by the public broadcasters. By the 1960s it would have invented game shows for German audiences and by the mid 60s was calling itself 'RTL.' It was soon called the 'hitmaker' and was a trendsetter in music. In 1965 CBS in Frankfurt sponsored two weekly 15 minute show to air their Tamla Motown label records.
|12||Left: Alan Freeman
A general entertainment channel. There had been some changes to the English Service but it still had an air of informality, unlike the BBC. It widened its range of popular programming in direct competition to the BBC Light Programme. Being seen as a friendly station from the very beginning it attracted listeners. This was helped by the preponderance of big names who appeared regularly on the air — more regularly than on other stations — plus the long list of celebrity actors and singers who guested on its programmes. Back in the early to mid 1950s it had been a general entertainment station with pop, easy listening, jazz, panel shows like "Twenty Questions", novelty ones like "The Answer Man" on three evenings a week (he answered any question), quiz shows, recordings of live variety acts, comedy and serials.
There were shows like "Opportunity Knocks", "Double Your Money" and "Take Your Pick" but these and others soon migrated to TV when ITV started in 1955. Listeners could tune in each weekday to 15 minute serials of "Dan Dare — Pilot of the Future" at 1915, "Perry Mason" at 21:30 or on Wednesdays 20:30 listen to "Dr. Kildare" starring Lew Ayres and produced by MGM in Hollywood. There was even "Music from the Ballet" Thursdays 20:00-20:30 followed for the next half hour with "Movie Magazine" by Wilfrid Thomas. In between these recorded programmes the DJ's acted more as continuity announcers and sometimes presented a record programme. There were still recordings made of singers like Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson (yes, the former DJ), Alma Cogan, Frankie Vaughan, Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Adam Faith and The Roulettes and Mark Wynter. In fact an Anne Shelton show from 1961 featured Ronnie Aldrich and his orchestra plus pop duo the Brook Brothers known then for their hit "Warpaint". Luxy issued a press release in 1957 saying that their audiences had kept up since iTV started — but a lot of their advertisers switched to ITV. As some shows too went off to ITV there was more emphasis on getting programmes sponsored by record companies — something the station would be known for (or notorious for!) for years.
|One surprise when researching this article was to find that Keith Fordyce introduced the "Power Play" in 1957. This new release which they thought would do well was played hourly each day until a new one the following week. He and other Luxembourg-resident DJ's Barry Aldiss and Don Moss played it. This was a decade ahead of Radio Veronica's "Alarmschijf" and the reintroduction of 208's own "Powerplay." A schedule from October 1957 shows that Luxy was on 19:00-24:00 but extended to 00:30 on Saturday night.|
|By 1959 the English 208 was geared towards a more youthful audience. For youngsters of the mid/late 1950s and 1960s the BBC was for their parents. Radio Luxembourg was where you could hear pop music each evening. For some it had the feeling of (teenage) rebellion. Mary Wingert put her memories on the website of Radio London. She got her first transistor radio around 1961. "Luxy aired an assortment of charts with names like Transatlantic Tops, Pop Pools Top Twenty, England's Top Three, America's Top Three and America's Decca Group Top Ten. It was hard to keep up!" A transistor radio was the gadget to have — tuned into Luxy. "Once a trannie had been acquired, it was obligatory for my friend and me to wander around in the evenings, radio on the arm. We were only young kids, but thought we were the bees' knees with our trannies (sometimes one each) turned up to full volume."|
|Improved reception for all 208 services came with the Marnach transmitter power increase to 600 kW on January 1st 1960. On Wednesdays from July 5th 1961 Lou van Burg from the Benelux service ran the after midnight 'Internationales' show where he announced in German, French and English with a number of other male and female DJ's appearing on it. He chose records by Dutch, British, German, Swiss and Scandinavian singers or groups. In the autumn of 1962 DJ Camillo from the German Service presented it. It went out on 208, 49.26m SW and VHF. An October 1961 schedule shows the English Service was on nightly 19:00-03:00. By 1963 208 and 49.26m in English were joined by "our German listeners" on 97 VHF at 21:00.|
|13||Right: Bob Stewart
Did the record companies really have a stranglehold on the English Service? A common view is that all 208's programmes were sponsored by the big record companies. A look at the schedules for a Thursday to Saturday in January 1961 shows this is only partly true. Out of 54 programmes the totals were: record companies 24 (just 44%), newspapers 1, petrol 2, pools 1, soft drinks/tea 2, cosmetics 1, personal healthcare 6, religious 5 and not sponsored 12 (22%).
One of the better known 208 DJ's was Barry Aldiss. This Australian broadcast on RL from 1957-66 for his first stint. He was the "Top Twenty" host from 1959-66. He started with the No. 1 as that is what the sponsor wanted. With needing to play 20 records, include sponsor's advertisements and DJ announcements in between this meant that just the first two minutes of a record were played. Yet it was very popular. Barry himself had a good, rather energetic delivery in all his shows; he was at home announcing the 60s hits. He became Chief Announcer. His mother used to listen in Australia via short wave when conditions allowed. A tape of a 1965 "Top Twenty" showed Barry using rhymes, as some American DJ's did: "It's great to have had your company, Whether at home or on the highway, Thanks for tuning my way." Another was "The same time next week, we'll take a peek, At pops a-plenty, In Top Twenty." He left to go freelance in London, becoming a newsreader and sometime DJ with the BBC for Radios 1 and 2 and later having a popular Sunday breakfast show on Radio 2. He returned to the Grand Duchy in 1975. One report says that he was asked to do so to help revitalise 208 which was on the slide. Though then in his 40s his good delivery fitted in well with the younger DJ's and the music. Barry was particularly popular in Scandinavia where he did appearances for 208 in the mid 1960s. He was at Luxy until he died suddenly in 1982, aged just 52.
|By about 1963 virtually all programmes were record-based which cost less to produce. Companies which had only their own records played in their 15 or 30 slot were EMI (Columbia, Parlophone and HMV), "D-E-C-C-A" (including RCA Victor), London-American (sometimes with Decca), Capitol, Philips (with Fontana, CBS and Mercury), Pye and for a short while new independent label Oriole. Some DJ's presented shows just for these record companies: EMI (David Jacobs, ) Decca (Pete Murray), London-American (Tony Hall), Capitol (Ray Orchard). While some seem to criticise this, as well as general listening you could tune in for the shows sponsored by the record label of your favourite singer or group. If he/she/they had a new record out there was a good chance you would hear it. An exception would be the "Radio Bingo Show" about 20:45-21:00 with just maybe one record. Of course everyone will remember the frequent commercial for Horace Bachelor's Infradraw' method of winning the pools from 'K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M , Keynsham, Bristol.'|
|There were also religious shows paid for by American churches like "The World Tomorrow" with Herbert W. Armstrong, the father of Garner Ted, "Radio Bible Class" and "Back to the Bible". A schedule for 1966 shows these airing 18:00-18:30. 208 had lost its middle aged general audience with the transfer of shows to ITV and by c1961 was a pop music station geared to more younger people. A Dutch listener wrote that the English Service allowed Dutch people to enjoy programmes and music not provided by the Dutch State broadcasters. The BBC seemed to have ended its blacklist of presenters and singers who dared to broadcast on Radio Luxembourg. By the early and mid 1960s you hear hear a number of DJ's on both the London-recorded shows of 208 and the BBC Light Programme; Pete Murray, Jack Jackson, Don Moss, Sam Costa, David Jacobs, Alan Freeman, Denny Piercey, Alan Dell, David Gell and Simon Dee. Until the British offshore stations Luxembourg had a monopoly of pop music radio in the evenings and at night.|
|A 208 rate card from 1965 shows that a 15 minute segment could be bought between 50-115 depending on the time. The highest rate was between 22:00-22:30 then 21:00-22:00 and 22:30-23:00. The rate after 23:00 of 70 up to 23:30 then 50 thereafter went up to 80 for Sundays with the "Top Twenty." However, in the mid 1960s competition was coming from the offshore stations for several years though 208 still retained a good audience. The 'pirates' though were now seen as the rebels in radio, not Luxy. One listener recounted recently that Luxy seemed "rather old hat, the DJ's a bit staid and old-fashioned."|
|14||Left: Camillo Felgen
Changes in the mid and late 1960s Changes were afoot. On Sunday January 25th 1965 the Benelux Service was drastically reduced to a daily hour at 18:00 plus an extra 30 minutes on Sundays at 07:30. Maybe listeners had been lost to Radios Caroline South, London and Veronica. The beneficiary was the German Service which had no competition from any other German commercial radio service. From September 1965 it was on from 06:15 while in 1967 208 was in German 06:15-09:00 and 12:00-19:30 CET. Power on 208 now doubled to 1200 kW.
Though most of the offshore competition for the English Service had gone in 1967 and the new BBC Radio 1 was effectively just a daytime service a welcome, long overdue change came in April 1968. "Colourful Radio Luxembourg" generally dropped the sponsorship of short programmes by record companies. Mainly hour long shows were broadcast, some live from London, others live from the Grand Duchy. I still think some were sponsored, probably those from London. The old jingles sung by male and female singers had been fine for the late 1950s and early 1960s but by the mid 60s "This is Radio Luxembourg the great 208 the ring a ding swinging station of the stars" was sounding dated — as was the gong. A new jingle package came in with some voiced by Duncan Johnson. They sounded different from offshore radio jingles but Luxy was not offshore and had had its own identity for decades.
An hourly news service came in, usually excellently read by Paul Kay. Luxembourg was slower than the BBC to modernise but did a good job when it did. A typical schedule from memory would be: 19:30 Paul Burnett, 20:30 Pete Brady/Jimmy Young/Tony Blackburn (each doing one week in three from London), 21:30 Tony Murphy, 22:30 Pete Murray, 23:30 Alan Freeman, 00:40 "Late Night Final" (Roger Day or Paul Kaye), 14:55-15:00 News round up with Paul Kay. Saturdays had David Jacobs at 22:30. Sundays started at 19:00 with Sam Costa though by August it was Roger Day live from Luxembourg, Jimmy Savile was on at 22:00, "Top Twenty" (Paul Burnett) at 23:00 then 00:00 "Late Night Final." In time the news was read by the DJ's with a 'twinkly' music bed before and after each item from 'Action Central Newsroom 208.' With its jingles, news and more modern sound it was definitely worth listening to — and a decent substitute now that the Caroline ships had gone.
|Change had been in the air at RTL for a few years. As well as the Dutch and English changes a new managing director for the French Service had rebranded the LW station in 1966. Going for a younger audience he ended the old programming with its drama serials and the like.|
|By 1969 all English shows were from Luxembourg with the team of DJ's going up from four to five. Alan Keen, ex Radio London, became General Manager of the English Service in 1969. Three days before he was due to start he picked up a copy of "Melody Maker" to find that top of their 'Out of fashion' list was Radio Luxembourg! He resolved to get it into their 'In fashion' list in a short time. He realised the most important assets were the DJ's in Luxembourg. He visited them which they really appreciated. One thing they had never been given was publicity so he arranged visits by them with the 208 Summer Roadshow for live appearances in venues in Britain and even Scandinavia. Eighteen months later Editor Ray Coleman of "Melody Maker" told him 208 was No. 1 of 'The most popular stations in fashion.' Keen realised the future lay in live shows from Luxembourg and spot advertising. He stopped the record company sponsored shows as they were "rubbish" and so lacked appeal to listeners. The "Powerplay" was reintroduced, played each hour after the news, just as Radio Veronica in November starting airing its hourly "Alarmschijf." The Powerplay was regarded in the music business as important as getting on the Radio 1 playlist.|
|In time the DJ's were no longer ones on the BBC but came from the pirates or were non-BBC. At one point 90 minute long shows came in though later went back to two hourly. There was a short spell around early 1972 when 208 wouldn't give a schedule as it would be a surprise to find out who was on and when. They soon reverted to a proper DJ schedule. At times they would have a show from outside the Duchy like Rosko, Kenny Everett, John Peel or Johnnie Walker but this was usually a weekend hour long show. The chart was now a Top 30. Tony Prince said that the Luxembourg-based DJ's felt a a sense of great service to teenagers; they were aware that playing music was important in teenagers' lives. The station now played oldies fairly regularly as well as current ones; opening the evening at 1915 on April 18th 1976 Chris Carey was straight into (jingle 'Golden Greats') the Four Tops and "Reach Out, I'll Be There." The station was now called 'Big L.' Rodney Collins said that from 1964 to 1982 BBC Audience Research through Gallup showed that 208 always beat other music stations in the evening.|
|15||Right: Don Moss|
More power from the transmitters. Power on 208 continued to be increased. In 1965 transmitter power was raised to 600 kW. When in 1968 it was doubled to 1,200 kW with two Telefunken transmitters combined it became the world's most powerful privately-owned medium wave transmitter then. In the daytime a 600 kW day aerial was used on 208. At 18:00 BST/19:00 CET both day and night aerials were connected in parallel to give the 1,200 kW. At 03:00 BST the night aerial was switched off so that 600 kW was available for the German Service to sign on at 03:50 BST/04:50 CET. At night 208 was heard in the whole of Europe. The following year a 60m tall ground-fed antenna (reflector) was built to give a stronger skywave and better coverage. During the 1970s the antenna system was changed with the building of two new masts to give a set of five 105m tall guyed masts. This did not improve reception as intended so the station reverted to the three mast system. In 1976 a 60m mast for night transmissions was given a 65 metre free-standing reflector mast to increase power to the British Isles. In 2009 it was heard in Tenerife, 2,000 miles away!
|16||Left: Don Wardell
German Service's increasing fortunes. The German Service continued to do well. In 1971 it had 16.5 million listeners. As with all the Services the widespread availability of transistor radios from the 1960s had helped listenership. With the DJ's' friendly, informal approach it was, as the posters said "refreshingly different." The public broadcasters were staid with no connection made with the listeners. By contrast, fans flocked to visit Studio IV, some getting autographs from the DJ's like Frank and even being put on the air. Looking back several decades later one listener wrote that the channels of today (2008) simply lacked the moments of surprise and the spontaneity of the presenters. Some years later DJ Camillo wrote that they could take initiatives, tinker with things and develop new things.
While the German Service was audible in winter with darkness between 1971-74 I used to listen to it at odd times during the day via short wave as an alternative to RNI. While the Dutch pirates gave good daytime signals in the North East they did not do so in Worcestershire when I was at college so it was onto the shortwave as Radio 1 was, apart from the Top 20 on Sunday teatime, still 'beyond the pale'. Shows were generally two hours long. The DJ's went by Christian names, whether their own or not; no doubt this added to the friendly feel of the station. Examples are Frank. Oliver or Karin. Some lasted a number of years on 208. Camillo was on 1958-68, Monika did 20 years from 1963 while Helga (with a very nice voice and apparently very popular) did thirty years 1964-94! Just like Bob Stewart of the English Service being well remembered by generations of listeners she is remembered by many for her programmes on the German Service. Hannibal from RNI joined in August 1970 on a four week trial but stayed 3½ years as Ullrich. The music was German-language, European and American pop. He said there was a requirement not to play more than 20% English titles on Luxi though on RNI's German Service it had been up to the DJ.
|On Sundays at 14:00 they played "Die Nationale Hitparade" then at 15:00 by "Die Internationale Hitparade." They also aired an "LP Parade." The weekday lunchtime show gave cash prizes. News was at three minutes to the hour with dedicated newsreaders. The first intro I heard just seemed like a soft-brush drum sound creeping out of the music till the newsreader spoke. Later it was replaced by the slightly more strident 'dong-a-dong-a-dong' etc one. While the station had plenty of voiceovers and lively promos it lacked one surprising thing — jingles. The sound seemed so out of character for the time and therefore so different from the English and Benelux Services. From 1979 they brought in newsflashes to interrupt programmes. This made it one of the fastest information media in Europe. The German Service's editor had the attitude, ' Why just put on horror stories around the world, even a smile can be good news.'|
|17||Right: Felix Meurders (Photo: Hans Knot)
The line-up of the German Service>. An idea of the line up can be gained from this 1969 weekday schedule: 0615 "Der fröhliche Wecker" (The cheerful alarm clock) — Jörg, 08:00 "Ich hab Musik so gern", (I like music so much) — Helga, 08:30 Einkaufsbummel (Shopping spree) — Helga, Wed 08:00-09:00 "Das Hausfrauen Magazin (Housewives' magazine), 09:00 "Doppel axel" (Double axle), 12:00 "Luxemburger Funkkantine" (Luxembourg radio canteen) — Frank and Achim, 14:00 "Autofahrer unterwegs" (Motorists underway) — Wolfgang, 15:00 "Disckommode" (Disc dresser) — Haidy, 16:00 "Frohe Fahrt" (Merry ride) — Achim, 17:00 "Unsere Freunde, die Tiere" (Our friends, the animals) — Monika, 18:00 Hörergruß-Lotterie (Listeners greetings lottery) — Brigitte, 1855 Nachrichten (News), 19:00 Heute im Club (Today the Club) — presumably SW and FM only, 19:30 English Service. By the 1980s The German Service went out 05:00-01:00 CET on SW and FM with 208 on until 19:00.
The outlook of the German Service reflected Luxi's approach of music and entertainment. In 1971 Station Director Helmut Stoldt said it radiated warmth. For some years the station had talked of its "vier frölichen Wellen" — four cheerful Waves — Medium Wave, Short Wave and VHF Channels 6 and 33. Stoldt referred to it as 'Radio Bild' , after 'Bild', Germany's biggest selling tabloid. There were 5.1 million listeners a day, 16.5 million over the week. The average listeners were upmarket skilled workers aged 25-45 with two children. The news was slanted rather more to human interest and well known personalities than politics. Among teenagers two out of three listened to Luxis. The most popular show "Der Luxemburger Funkkanteen" weekdays 12:00-14:00 had various features in each half hour to catch interest. This, like a number of German Service shows, were co-hosted, often by a male and a female. In one particular record with rude words these were edited out so that a housewife listening in the kitchen with her chiildren would not be offended. A lot of the creative ideas came from DJ/Programme Director Frank. Luxi was not politically active; it had been agreed with the Grand Duchy's government that the station was not to interfere with the affairs of the Federal Republic (West Germany.) All its programmes came from the small 15 sq. m Studio IV on the second floor in the Villa Louvigny. Each week it received 45,000 letters and cards.
|18||Left: Poster for Hitparade mit Fank Elstner"
Mempories of German listeners. German listeners' memories from this period from the radioforen.de forum tell us more. Many remembered the DJ's individually, seeing them as real personalities and "true professionnals", fun, "in a good mood" unlike other broadcasters, exciting and interesting. One person who met Rolf after a broadcast found him exactly the same personality off air as on the radio. Their informal approach was something unknown to German listeners unless they had been lucky enough to listen to the offshore stations or BFBS Berlin. The station was characterised by quizzes and competitions which brought it closer to the listeners. Another listener wrote,"It was alive, it was authentic, it was different from anything that has gone before. It was just entertainment radio in the style of his time. And exactly such a thing today I miss."
Another recounted that it "entertained with a lot of wit, spontaneity and repartee." One person added that if reception on medium wave was too bad you still had the option of switching to short wave 6090. During the 1970s Programme Director Frank Elstner started bringing in the 'RTL' name so that announcements ran. "Hier ist RTL, Radio Luxemburg ..." At that time they started a sales chart "Der Grossen Acht" at 14:00 based on telephone returns from a limited number of record shops. These 'great 8' were actually two lists: the top eight German records and the top eight by international acts. The DJ started with No. 8 in the German list then No. 8 in the International list, alternating until both No. 1s were played. However, sometimes listeners heard two versions of the same song: the international one then the German version. This happened particularly with the No. 1s. Examples are "In The Summertime" (1970), "Tornero"/"Wait for Me" in 1975 or "Tu t'en Vas / If You Go" in 1977. During 1978 this show aired Monday through Saturday so that usually the same records like "Rivers of Babylon" and the Smurf Song were played at the same time each day. In 1979 it reverted to Saturdays only. Sundays had a "Sonntag Melodie" (Sunday Melody) of easy listening music with Frank. The "Hitparade" on Sunday afternoons was a family institution. "Also, there was also music on RTL for everyone from Bay City Rollers, Smokie, Sweet etc. to Peter Alexander (German schlager singer) and Mireille Mathieu." A German listener inspired by the station to become a broadcaster wrote that it "was private radio without the now common formatting."
|The "gigantic success", as that radio professional called it, of Radio Luxembourg led to the creation of Europawelle Saar from the public broadcaster in that German state plus the third channel later set up in all the West German states like SWF3. Later it led to the creation of private commercial radio stations in Germany.|
|19||Right: Lou van Burg
The last years of the Benelux Service and new shows on the English 208. What was the Benelux Service like? By 1969 the Benelux service was on for 90 minutes except Sundays at 18:00 CET. Three fast-talking, rather high-energy Dutch DJ's ran it, one on each night. They were Felix Meurders, Peter Koelewijn and Pépé. Each Friday evening Peter presented the station's Top 25 — it seemed odd a chart not ending in '0' but fitted the 90 minutes allowed. In January 1969 a 208 schedule showed this Dutch/Flemish Service on Sundays 07:30-14:00. Later though Sundays was just 18:00-19:00. Around this time the Radio Luxembourg Drive-In Show (promos heard on air) was one of the most popular in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. By 1971 Pépé had been replaced by the more relaxed Romeo. Just as the English Service had a Powerplay, so the Benelux Service had their own. With its shorter airtime this was played once every evening. In winter especially this Service was a good early evening listen. In 1972 Romeo left to be replaced by a double act of two Belgian/Flemish DJ's who had their own disco roadshow and had broadcast on the official BRT: Mike Verdrengh and Jackie Dewaele. Their "Mike en Zaki Show International" went out Wednesdays and Saturdays. Their presentation wasn't frantic either. For a short while circa 1973/4 two of the station's DJ's were on most days: one at 18:00 and the other at 19:00 After a while Zaki left so Mike did the shows on his own. The chart moved to Sundays as a Top 20.
From August 1972 tuning in to 208 at 19:30 or 19:00 Sundays brought a strange sound: the sound of car horns and male and female presenters talking in Italian for 15 minutes. This was "Qui Italia" (This is Italy) produced for Italian expats in north and central Europe by Italy's State broadcaster RAI which hired time on 208. It was very popular with its target audience and was even heard all over Italy itself. This meant English programmes started at 1945 summer/1845 winter. It was still going by the early 1980s but was followed by a German religious programme so that English shows now began at 20:00/19:00 winter. In the mid to late 1970s the only place in the UK to hear pop music in the evening was 208.
|In late 1978 '208' was changed from 1439 to 1440 kHz as all European radio stations shifted down 1 kHz. The late 1970s brought more changes to English programmes, all coming from Studio 5. The Top 30 went out on Tuesdays, just as Radio 1 listed their new chart positions earlier that day. While still pop the English Service had specialist shows. Stuart Henry opened up Sunday evenings with "New Wave Bands" at a time when punk/new wave was prominent. From around winter 1978 under Tony Prince's leadership the sound was geared more towards the fashionable disco sound for a while. Under his time as Programme Director DJ's played the Powerplay — a new release which would be a hit — then records from these lists: A (Top 10), B (a strong sound) and C (a new release). Instead of finishing at 03:00 UK time in the summer for a period the English Service went on until 04:00 or 0345. At this time Bob Stewart did the voice-over for what was now the 'Disco Radio Powerplay". On a mid Friday evening Tony played the Disco Import Top 10. The jingle package used "The Rhythm of Nightlife in Great Britain" was similar to the 93KHJ package "The rhythm of Southern California" made by San Diego firm Tuesday Productions. Rodney Collins wrote that Mr Schultz and his engineering team needed to do checks on the equipment before the German Service started. Record retailer and listener 'beacon' later remembered that the DJ's were clearly enjoying themselves.|
|20||Left: Keith Fordyce
Contraction on the Dutch Service. On the Dutch Service there was more contraction. It was now just half an hour from 19:00 except Sundays with Mike. It was geared towards penfriends with 'international correspondence' read usually in English mid-show after part of a record which went, "I'm waiting for a letter she has promised me to write, so please Mr Postman I can't wait another night." Later this was replaced by a line from Charlie Dore's song: 'Pilot of the airwaves, here is my request.' He opened the programme with greetings in a number of languages including Yugoslovian ones. There was still a selection of European records and a Powerplay. The show ended with the last words of "Goodbye" by Mary Hopkin ("Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye my love, goodbye"). This show was still popular. Rodney Collins wrote that it regularly got audiences of 50,000 in the UK with the strong winter signal and Luxembourg's UK office was able to get some of the daily newspapers to include its schedule as 'RTL International.' The Top 20 on Sundays was done by Frans van der Drift then Peter van Dam. By the early 1980s this had all gone. The last of the Benelux Service was replaced by more German. On weekdays you could hear "Superclub" with Oliver 18:00-19:00 where he played the latest hits geared towards younger listeners — certainly no schlager — plus items of general interest to young people and home-made jingles often done by groups which visited his show. The German Service was now 'RTL 208' and broadcast on 1440 kHz 05:00-19:00 CET along with FM and short wave at those times and until 01:00. David Christian on the English Service since 1969 did his first German show in 1975. From 1979 he had a regular (German) hour on Fridays at 14:00 on 208 plus a Monday evening and Saturday night show who went out of FM only.
|21||Right: Mike Verdrengh and Jackie Dewaele, a.k.a. Mike and Zaki
A chart each night on the English Service. By 1982 the English Service had a chart each night, sometimes two, starting at 21:00. On Mondays and Fridays there was the "Disco Top 30" with Tony Prince. Sundays and Tuesdays had the "Top 30" singles. Monday featured the "Airplay Chart". Tuesdays had the "Top 30 Albums" at 23:00, the American charts went out on Wednesdays at 21:00 followed by the "Easy Listening" chart at 23:00 while Thursdays had the "Top 30 Futurist." On Saturday at 21:00 they played the "Rock" chart at 21:00 followed by Bob Stewart at 23:00 with the sponsored "Top 20 Country Chart" hour. This successful attempt to provide interesting programming included a 15 minute "208 Editorial" some evenings at 1845 and a "No. 1s" show Thursdays 19:00-21:00 with Bob Stewart and another DJ. By 1982 it was using the American practice of giving the frequency which was increasingly being used on British and Irish (pirate) stations. So the DJ's spoke of "Radio Luxembourg 1440" as well as "208". The news incorporated the parent company's name as Bob Stewart's voiceover announced,"RTL 208 News Headlines, compiled in London." The English Service was announcing "Radio Luxembourg is Planet Earth's biggest commercial radio station."
The news service introduced in 1968 continued but was later sponsored by the "Daily Mirror" whose name was prominent in each bulletin. Research after the mid 1970s by Gallup showed that this was quite unpopular so 208 launched its own news service again with UPI and the Press Association. At one point some late night bulletins were stopped but reinstated after research showed people wanted them even in those early hours. Rodney Collins (behind the scenes at 208 1974-88) wrote that they often ran the news at 59 minutes past so that if anyone tuned in on the hour they would hear music rather than speech.
A number of firms produced jingles for Luxy, including Alfasound in th UK. The American company Tuesday Production did the "Station of the 80s" set. Jingles, like music, are a matter of personal taste, but to me this set is the most memorable, being crisp, catchy and very up beat — fit for a modern station.
|22||Left: Monika Georges
Declining fortunes for the English 208 reversed then decline sets in again. An idea of the English Services's fortunes can be gained from a digitalspy post Rodney Collins wrote. It had been in profit from the 1930s though 1979/80 were poor years. The RTL bosses in the 1970s and 1980s still had great respect for it. Also, research showed it had lots of listeners in The Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia. The Managing Director from 1979-83, Patrick Cox, was well known to the RTL Board as he had previously worked for RTL in Paris. He managed to obtain more investment for the English Service which led to an increase in both audience and advertising revenue. From 1981-83 it was in profit again. UK audiences were strong in the winter months but suffered in the summer with a poor early evening signal. The BBC and ILR stations like Capital Radio were happy to co-exist with Luxembourg. Their listeners could go to 208 in the evening when they had more specialist shows but would retune to them in the morning if they heard a foreign language show. The BBC and ILR could concentrate on building up big daytime audiences. A record retailer posting recently as 'beacon' from the early 1980s said that 208 was important in influencing what people bought. The station was aware of its wide audience, in the 1980s opening each evening with "Broadcasting to Great Britain and Europe ..."
Cox's replacement, Maurice Vass, came from ILR — having been MD at Devon Air Radio and Centre Sound. Collins said they couldn't get him to accept that 208 was different from ILR. The audience figures dropped from 1983 as he cut costs and hired DJ's more in the ILR mould rather than those with distinctive voices and styles. Perhaps that was the " disillusionment with station management" that as the RTL Group's website says caused Benny Brown to leave in 1985. However, one internet post says that there were some good DJ's in the mid/late 1980s like Jessie Brandon, Gary King, Tim Smith and David Lee Stone. Record retailer 'beacon' reckoned that it had been the mix of DJ styles which made the station work. He added "the themed shows gave the station identity and structure." Collins wrote that in the mid 1980s 208 was attracting 300,000 UK listeners in half an hour. Of course there would be other factors in the decline. More ILR stations were opening up. ILR rules were relaxed, requiring less emphasis on speech. Stations could split frequencies through the 1980s and early 1990s so that minority-interest evening programming was put on the medium wave outlet with more pop on the FM till late on. The younger audiences of the time preferred FM stereo quality to the fading which previous generations had been content to put up with. Radio 1 not only extended its programmes — though these were more rock than pop — and had FM transmitters nationwide. Collins wrote that as audiences fell, less money came in so Vass cut costs more.
|Over the years the English Service had various records played at closedown time. In Stephen Williams' time it was "At the End of the Day" then "It's Time to Say Goodnight." Years later Marion Montgomery's "Maybe the Morning" was played with Bob Stewart wishing a very good night.|
|Luxy had done very well in income during the 1950s and 1960s, the early to mid 1970s then the early 1980s. The slide through the 1970s resumed after 1983 and continued into the 1990s. There were still sponsored shows aimed at a young audience. In summer 1990 Tony Morrell hosted "Clock House Avanti" Tuesdays 21:30-22:00 as part of his show up to midnight. With phone-in competitions it promoted the clothes range of the sponsor. Jingles now said "Luxembourg leads the way." At least the station had a land line — denied by the Home Office for many years. One voiceover from Bob Stewart said "RTL International" while a jingle still said "Radio Luxembourg." It was still his voiceover for the 'Powerplay'. For over two decades Bob had been 'the voice' of Luxy. In line with changing trends it brought in a new Saturday night format with 'dance music' for the whole evening's transmission.|
|23||Right: Stuart Henry
The closing of the English Service. Radio Luxembourg decided to open a satellite service with the then odd idea that people would listen to radio via TV. This ran for a year or so. By summer 1991 it had been decided to close the English Service on 208 on December 31st. Mike Hollis produced a two hour show to mark this end of an era. Tony Prince said, "Something very special is over." Some say that the early 1960s beat boom would not have happened without 208. Pop musicians like Keith Richard said they were influenced by what they heard of 208. The beat boom began c1962/63 — the British pirate ships didn't come until 1964. Stephen Williams, the very first English announcer, was heard again. He said that it was the station of the stars, now it would be the station in the stars — on satellite. He also said that all those years ago he envisaged building up a station that would sound something like the current BBC Radio 4. He could never have forseen that playing records with inconsequential chat could have been such a great success. But he was wrong — that's what people wanted.
The English DJ's were not idle. For some time they had appeared in afternoons on the local Luxembourg Service "RTL Community." (In fact, the idea of being on other Services was not new. I remember reading about the English DJ's hosting an English language show on the French Service on Long Wave in April 1973 from 00:00-03:00 then listening to Bob Stewart on it.) They were to build up a new audience in Scandinavia with an all-day English Service 'RTL International' on the Astra 1A satellite with the evening shows going out also on 208. It was aimed at homes served by cable companies plus homes with their own satellite dishes. As the jingles said "The best music 24 hours a day" and "Music at the speed of light — the Greatest Hits by satellite! Radio Luxembourg." Cable carriage costs were said to be very high though. "Satellite Times" magazine's survey placed it as the most popular station with 53% of the votes.
This lasted just a year. The final closure of the English Service on December 31st 1992 was carried on 208 too instead of the normal German show. The station's General Manager John Catlett gave a fitting closing tribute," 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." The last words came from Senior DJ Mike Hollis," 10½ years ago I didn't dream I could be here to carry out the final words on the closedown of the world's biggest and most famous commercial radio station. I'm both honoured and sad to say a fond farewell and goodbye after over 59 years of broadcasting. So on behalf of the present Luxy team and all the past presenters and staff — this is Mike Hollis saying 'Thank you' and may Radio Luxembourg live on forever in your fondest memories." Then he played the usual closedown record: Marion Montgomery "Maybe the Morning." Seconds later the news came on read by a German female. In a recent interview on WCR FM Mike Hollis said that if RL had targetted multi-national advertisers like Kodak, British Airways or KFC it could have been a success as there were listeners all over Europe.
|Radio Luxembourg's first announcer, Stephen Williams and the first Briton to say, "This is Radio Luxembourg," was awarded the Order of Merit of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on May 7th 1992 — one of the few foreigners to receive it.|
|24||Left: Benny Brown
Top Twenty. Let's look at the long-running chart show. A lot of this information comes from Dave Taylor and others' contribution to the Popscene website. Luxy called it the world's first chart radio show. It was based on the sheet music sales compiled by the Music Publishers Association. The first No.1 was "Galway Bay" by Bing Crosby. From January 1960 208 used the "New Musical Express" chart. After July 1965 they used a special version of the NME chart compiled on Friday. In August 1971 it became the Top 30 moving to Tuesdays. During the 1970s it became a prediction chart, trying to forecast what would be in the Radio 1 actual sales chart the next week. During the 1980s it was called the Original Top 20. DJ's hosting the chart were: 1948 Teddy Johnson, Spring 1950 Roger Moffat (He started off with Nos.1, 2 & 3 & then played 14 other tracks from the chart, but not in any particular order), 1950 Pete Murray, 1955 Keith Fordyce, 1960 Alan Dell, 1960 David Gell, 1961 Barry Alldis (David Gell stand in), 1966 Don Wardell, 1967 Paul Burnett (Bob Stewart stand in), 1974 David Christian (Tony Prince stand in), 1975 Peter Powell, 1976 Bob Stewart, 1982 Tony Prince, 1983 Dave Eastwood, 1984 Benny Brown, 1985 Jonathan King, 1986 Tim Smith, 1987 Peter Anthony, 1987 Shaun Tilley (The show went to Monday nights at 20:00 and went back to a Top 20 in October 1987 and from 1st December 1990, back to Sundays at 21:00), October-December 1992 Tony Adams.
|25||Right: Dave Christian (Photo: Hans Knot)
The only source of rock and beat. Some people think 208's English programmes were one of the factors undermining Communism in eastern Europe. Despite the directional antennae beaming the signal the other way it was listened to in East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia as listeners' letters showed. The pop music they heard triggered a desire for change and liberty among young people behind the Iron Curtain. In 2010 Luxembourg's Ambassador to Poland was struck by how many of the political, economic and cultural elite had been listeners to the English Service in their youth. It was incredibly popular. It opened their ears to the free world, letting them dream of a colourful world unlike that of grey, oppressive Communism. In fact David/Kid Jensen was recognised by a Polish man 40 years later purely by his voice.
It was a similar story in Czechoslovakia. The Luxembourg Embassy set up a website for people to give their memories of how 'Laxik' affected their lives. The politician Jaroslav Kunera wrote that many were searching for new information. In politics it was Radio Free Europe (RFE) which was jammed, for music it was Laxik. A number of singers listened to the records and taped them to sing along to later or else played from memory like The Shadows instrumentals. They listened to pop or great soul singers like Otis Redding. The singer Petra Janda said that 208 substituted "what our official culture denied to us. They played this boring ... swing music. And RL played different, modern music influenced by the coming Rock and Roll. My whole generation listen to RL on a daily basis and talked about what was played and when and some even took notes in their notebooks." Another comment was that in the late 1950s and 60s Laxik was No. 1 with its music whereas there was too much talking on other stations which was boring.
|Producer Vladimir Mertlik wrote that 208 represented a link with "a world over there — a world which I wanted to belong to." Tony Prince was especially popular around 1970 as he often gave greetings on air to his Czech listeners. One listener said that RL had a natural spontaneity unlike Czechoslovak radio or Austria's State radio Ö3. Another recounted that the 208 DJ's really liked their job and were enjoying it immensely, unlike the way Czechoslovak Radio music programmes were presented. The authorities tolerated Laxik and never jammed it though some thought they did. This could have been a harmonic of RFE on 719 kHz — on 1438. From 1948 the Communist rulers promoted folk music to unite the world. RL was the only source of rock and beat music plus information on new trends in the 1950s and 1960s — this was otherwise inaccessible especially in the 1950s. As part of her thesis for Brno University in 2012 Veronica Stefekova looked at RL's effect on attitudes. She concluded that Laxik helped ordinary listeners survive the Socialist State reality. It helped professional and amateur musicians in their musical development. It increased young peoples' interest in music and learning English. The 'forbidden fruit' aspect contributed to its popularity. Czechoslovak soldiers in their barracks listened almost exclusively to Laxik, according to the Czech "Military Review", much to their officers' despair. The review stated. "This station is the most sophistocated form of psychological warfare of the West." !!!|
|It wasn't always easy being a listener in a Communist country. In East Germany listening to foreign stations was forbidden. Those who did could expect at least insults. One person who wrote about Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s received a visit from State Security. Under the hardline Ulbricht regime (1950-71) an example was made in 1959 of five youths who were each given five years jail for listening to such stations including Radio Luxembourg. Many East Germans secretely listened to 'Luxis'. Schoolchildren would talk about "die Hitparade" the next day with close school friends. The following Honecker regime tolerated listening to RTL. By 1988 a young East German lady was able to phone-in her vote to "Rock Wars" with Shaun Tilley and Jessie Brandon and go out live on air — two years before the Communist state crumbled.|
|In other Communist lands there were listeners. Some comments on youtube clips of 208 jingles and programmes show this. It was heard in Estonia in the 1980s when it was "really 'hot' in Estonia then." It was listened too in Russia. ' Bella B' started listening in 1971: "... That was the main source of fresh music." Another Russian wrote that he tuned in around 1965 on a military receiver while on military service with the Soviet army!|
|26||Left: John Catlett (Photo: Chris Edwards)
208 left for the German Service. From now the third Service to use 208 had all the airtime. On early Sunday evenings they continued German religious broadcasts on 208 only. In 1990 it was still No. 1 in Germany of the private stations and No. 8 overall. On September 30th it marked its 33 years with the longest singles chart in history lasting 18 years and with a number of DJ's who were leaving; Frank, Dieter, Thomas, Max and Viktor. From October 1st it had called itself 'RTL Radio' with new programming and more music aimed at a younger audience of 25-45 year olds. Jingles were from America. Shows were three hours long. The music, selected by computer to fit the target audience was now 'Die besten Hits' with 40% new music and classic hits from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with 20% being German-language titles. However, an hour on Sundays at 08:00 was reserved for schlager music and on 208 only, not FM. Talk would be information, not drivel. Through the peak weekday programming there would be talk about the quality of life, trends, hot topics, comedy and humour. This change caused the previous DJ's and almost all the editorial staff to leave. Of the familiar names only Helga and Jochen were left. German listeners until the beginning of the 1970s had wanted German songs but then later there was a demand for songs in English.
From 1990-94 the German Service was less reliant on 208 or short wave. Its programmes were now heard part or most of the time on 15 private FM stations with programming produced for a while from Stuttgart. The German radio scene had changed too. DJ Jochen wrote that in the 1970s and 1980s RL competed with 13 or 14 public broadcasters. Now there were 270 stations, costing Luxis both listeners and advertising revenue. In 1991 RL moved from Villa Louvigny after almost six decades to the new Kirchberg studios in a purpose-built new building on the north east of the city.
|27||Right: Mike Hollis
German format change. Two years later came a new format and a re-title to 'RTL Radio Der Oldiesender' in November 1992. This was to combine music from the good old days with 1990s life. The format was fun, music and bringing back the memories from the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. A chart show "Oldies der Woche" (Oldies Week) was aired Sundays 12:00-14:00 where female DJ Uschi Nerke played the best hits from Britain and America 1963-73. This also went out on three FM stations: Reutlingen 104.8, Marine Radio Radio (101.8 and 105.3)and RTL Radio Hochrhein while other FM stations relayed the A/C format. By now there were jingles with a female voice singing "RTL Radio." The format change seemed to revive the audience. In Baden-Wurtenberg state a survey showed this rose from 109,000 in 1992 to 306,000 in 1993. RTL was again market leader. However, former English Service Programme Controller Jeff Graham is quoted on woner-uk (on an internet forum) as saying that when RTL became CLT the managers were from a banking background not radio or TV. CLT then decided to charge each Service for transmission running costs.
The German Service wanted to extend the Oldiesender into the evening after the English had closed down. Now though, they had the full costs of a 1.3 Mw transmitter to pay for. So the 24 hours a day service was reduced to 18 hours after six months to 06:00-24:00 then six months later shortened to 06:00-22:00 on 208. Veteran DJ Jochen did a four hour daily show. In 1995 the Luxembourg government awared him the Chevalier de l'Ordre de Mérite du Grand Duchy de Luxembourg medal. Shows were quite long like 05:30 Programme Director Holger Richter, 10:00 Julia who took over from Jochen on his retirement, 14:00-18:00 Martina. From April 1996 the station ID was 'RTL Radio Die Grössten Oldies.' A "Die Grössten Oldies" promo by two German DJ's said that they played pop (clip of ABBA record), soul (The Supremes), disco (George McRae) and Rock and Roll (Bill Haley.) From 1998 it was decided that the oldies had to be at least 15 years old — which now allowed records up to 1983. It stabilised its audience despite increasing competition with more than 100,000 listeners per hour average. In the late 1990s part of the 208 airtime was hired to Radio Nederland Wereldomroep — the Dutch world service.
|28||Left: Peter van Dam
Hiring out more airtime. The sounds on 208 changed on January 1st 2001 when airtime was hired to Mega Radio. This was an attempt to create a national pop/dance station aimed at 14-24 year olds. it went out 06:00 (Sundays 07:30 because of religious programmes) — 19:00. They had also hired airtime on other radio station's transmitters since 1997. By March 2003 they had financial problems and had not built up sufficient listeners and so closed on April 4th at 01:00. It was back to RTL on 208. Already from January 2002 airtime was hired to China Radio International from 2000. At first this seemed to be in English. From September 5th 2005 it rebranded itself as 'RTL Radio — Die Besten Hits alle Zeiten' — almost a German copy of Radio 10 Gold in the Netherlands with their slogan "De Grootste Hits aller tijden."
With listening to RTL on medium wave declining, even more airtime was hired out. Religious broadcasts in German could be heard at 19:30 and 19:45 CET. I seem to remember some time back one in Norwegian. KBS World Radio, the external service of South Korea's public broadcaster, was heard daily from 17:30-18:00 BST/18:30-19:00 CET from early 2008. China Radio International (CRI) hired even more airtime, this time dropping English and French in favour of German, as part of its policy of getting 'China friendly' airtime in a number of European countries and the USA. Eventually this became a block of five hours in the morning on 208 plus another three late evening. By late 2009 German religious programmes were aired 05:00-06:00 on full power then the interval signal broadcast until the German Service opening time. A change in the music came from July 1st 2015 when the best hits station was relaunched as 'RTL-Deutschlands Hit-Radio' with the best new hits and the greatest hits targetting 25-55 year olds as the studios were moved from Luxembourg to Berlin. However, by December 2015 there was an RTL "Happy Hour" of easy-listening music 21:00-22:00 CET announced as on 1440 with CRI continuing afterwards.
|By October 2014 208 aired an interval signal from 0455 then 'RTL Radio Die Besten Hits alle Zeiten' from 05:00-07:00 CET and 12:00-19:00. Between 07:00-12:00 and 19:00-24:00 it was CRI in German after which it closed for the night. Religious programmes went out 04:30-05:00 and 18:30-19:00. From April 2015 208 was switched off 13:00-17:00 during the music programming. There used to be a lot of religious programmes, one since 1958, but these were down to two.|
|29||Right: Peter Powell
Closing Marnach. Originally there were pressure to close the Marnach 208 station in 2011. There had been substantial housing development to within several hundred metres of the masts. Concern and complaints were coming in about the harmful effects of electromagnetic interference. Since 2002 a local residents association of Marnach village (pop. 581) had been trying to get the masts closed down. They claimed that lamps, hearing aids, electric hobs, faxes and garage doors wouldn't work properly. In 2006 the Luxembourg government's Inspectors of Labour and Mines studied such problems and confirmed the many antennas were responsible. Two M.P.s asked questions in the Luxembourg Parliament. As several internet posts suggested: (1) Why move to such an area? (2) No doubt these residents carry round a switched-on mobile phone on their person! (3) There are probably lots of electro-magnetic waves from their laptops etc. Power had been reduced; 208 was now said to be 300 kW daytimes.
The site was granted a two year extension to 2009 then it was extended to 2011 and again to 2014. By July 2014 the UK mast and its reflector were closed down — with the former dismantled by March 6th 2015 — as the complaints seemed to refer to the UK transmitter. The UK masts had not been used after September 2013 when CRI took its English and French programmes off in favour of German only. It was agreed between the Luxembourg Government and CLT to close Marnach at the end of 2014. CLT's transmission subsidiary Broadcasting Centre Europe took the Government to court to prolong the operational facility. It was said that CRI was keen to prolong its contract for hiring airtime. The court ruled that "the field strength limit of 3 V/m, specified in an EU directive the Government refered to, applies to electric equipment in general but not to transmission facilities where the radiation of an electromagnetic field is not an unwanted side effect but the very purpose," as a local newspaper reported. So in September 2014 Marnach transmissions were given a year's reprieve to close along with the German medium wave transmitters at the end of 2015 and with the Government agreeing to buy the land at the market value.
|The programming by October 2015 on 208 was now: 03:55 CET Interval signal, 04:00 RTL-Deutschlands Hit-Radio' except Sun 06:00-06:30 Missionswerk Freundesdienst (religious), 07:00 China Radio International (CRI), 12:00 RTL etc, 12:10 off air, 16:55 RTL etc, Wed 17:25-17:30 Lutherische Stunde (religious), 18:30 Missionswerk Freundesdienst, 19:00 CRI, (by December) 21:00 "Happy Hour", 22:00 CRI, 24:00 Luxembourg National Anthem, 00:01 off air.|
|30||Left: Shaun Tilley
The final day. On its final day, December 31st 2015, 208 had a English presence again at 00:00 BST/01:00 CET with a repeat of Mike Hollis' two hour history of Radio Luxembourg first broadcast at the 1991 closedown. It was repeated at 13:00 CET as 208 was kept on through the day. That afternoon RTL's normal Top Vierzig (40) of 2015 was broadcast. Nearly half the records were in German, the rest English. News was at 12 minutes to the hour read by a female while a male followed it at 9 minutes to with the weather. The station ID on the hour mentioned the FM frequencies and online — but not medium wave. The DJ was animated, there were promos and commercials — but no jingles. Non-stop music started the evening with the "Neues Jahr Party" which was cut into at 18:30 BST with German religious show "Radio Freudes-Dienst" with Joseph Sneed who called it the end of an era. CRI followed at 19:00. One report says the last hour was in English. The Luxembourg Waltz which was usually played at the end of transmissions was played for the final time to end transmissions on 208 at 22:59 BST/23:59 CET. So ended 64 years of 208 and 60 years of the Marnach transmitting station.
The masts were dismantled on February 11th 2016. A feature on the 16th on RTL's Luxembourg TV showed the anchors for the antenna cables being cut with an oxy-acetylene torch then all three masts falling to the ground. Next engineer Nico Scheer showed the big, empty transmitter hall then in another room the twin silent large AEG generators. Benny Brown, interviewed at Sunshine 100.7, said that RL "was a superb place, the people were great. I couldn't have been any more happy than to work at 208." Speaking about the demolition of the masts, he said it was an emotional moment. "Those transmitters were my voice and those of many others." He added that Radio Luxembourg was a cult. It had listeners all over Continental Europe as well as the target areas of Great Britain and Scandinavia. It was a cult — you could only listen in the evenings.
|31||Right: Tony Prince (1969)
A number of DJ's. I have counted 85 DJ's/announcers listed as broadcasting from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for the English Service. The first 17 were on Long Wave but the 18th, Pete Murray, was on both. Two 208 DJ's returned years later. Barry Aldiss was on from 1957-66 then returned in 1976 until his passing in 1982. Keith Fordyce was on from the age of 27 in 1955 to the 1960s when for a few years he did taped shows from London but returned aged 54 in 1982 after Barry's passing for 6 months, still sounding very good on air and among somewhat younger DJ's. Some lasted a number of years. I've counted 52 actual DJ's (not variety show hosts) who made programmes in London. Some of these had been based first in the Grand Duchy then moved to London: Pete Murray, David Gell and Keith Fordyce while Paul Hollingdale moved the other way.
A noticeable feature is how long some DJ's stayed with RL. David Jacobs was on 20 years, all from London. Pete Murray did six years in Luxembourg then another 12 from London. Out in Luxembourg long stayers were Mark Wesley (10 years), Stuart Henry (13), Barry Aldiss with 9½ and 6 years, Tony Prince (16) and Bob Stewart with a record at 22 years. Bob was regarded as a safe pair of hands. Collins says that from 1975-83 Bob drew the biggest night-time audience figures. If he filled in for another DJ he would always hold their audience figures.
Perhaps the best comment comes from Luxembourg club DJ Chris Baird (known to the 208 DJ's) at one of their reunions, "Radio Luxembourg was the Voice of Europe."
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