It started broadcasting in 1933, arguably the earliest commercial Radio station broadcasting in the English language, aimed at the entertainment starved listeners of the United Kingdom, who up until that point relied on Auntie Beeb for their radio listening.
Often mistakenly referred to as a ‘Pirate Radio Station’, Radio Luxembourg offered an English speaking commercial service for more than 60 years and it shaped the radio landscape for future commercial broadcasting in the UK.
It really all began in 1924 when a 100 watt transmitter was constructed for the sole purpose of providing Military Music concerts for listeners in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Because of the proximity of the country it made an ideal location to broadcast to other neighbouring nations, in particular the United Kingdom. In 1929 the Luxembourg Society for Radio Studies was formed to persuade the government of Luxembourg to grant them a commercial licence, it was duly approved and at the end of that year the Luxembourg Broadcasting Company was established, identifying itself under the name of Radio Luxembourg.
A few years later programmes aimed at the British Isles began.
These were broadcast on the Long Wave Band which allowed a strong enough signal to be received in the UK. The BBC and British Government were of course hostile to this venture, accusing the broadcaster of being a 'Pirate'.
In 1934 the European Wavelength Plan came into effect, this allocated spectrum to various countries for radio transmission use.
By now a 200 kilowatt transmitter was being used on the frequency of 230 KHz or 1304 metres, and regular programmes began being broadcast in French and English.
Throughout the 1930’s Radio Luxembourg boasted a huge audience in the UK, the programmes mainly comprising of popular dance music and sponsored output.
Here are a few examples of sponsored shows aired in the mid 1930s
12:00 Noon – Musical Voyage – with Bobbie Comber and Reginald Purdell and sponsored by Halls Wine.
12:15 pm – Do-Do Broadcasts – sponsored medication programme "for asthma suffers".
12:30 pm – Golden Hour of Music – the Irish Concert recorded programme
1:00 pm – Zam-Buk Broadcast – the latest dance music sponsored by a medication "for cuts, burns and bruises."
1:30 pm – Littlewoods Broadcast – sponsored by a football pools coupon company in Liverpool
2:00 pm – English service ends until 2:30 pm.
2:30 pm – Vernon's All-Star Variety Concert – gramophone records presented by a football pools company.
5:30 pm – League of Ovaltineys – presented by the makers of Ovaltine.
During the war years, the government of Luxembourg shut down the station. The conquering German army commandeered it as a propaganda tool, broadcasting to the UK, featuring the infamous William Joyce, comically named by the British Public ‘Lord Haw Haw’.
After liberation the Americans took over the station, using it for a similar purpose.
In the 1950’s the commercial English service started again transferring now to the more familiar medium wavelength of 208 meters.
This meant that satisfactory coverage of the UK could only be achieved after dark.
Radio Luxembourg became the night time appointment to listen. Many Programmes originated at this time would later move over to commercial television, Opportunity Knocks was a case in point.
Here’s a typical week schedule of this period:
6:15 pm – Ovaltineys' Concert Party – a version of the popular show that was originally broadcast before World War II over the original Radio Luxembourg long-wave station.
9:15 pm – Leslie Welch – "the famous Memory Man.".
10:45 pm – The Answer Man – "anything you want to know.", (Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays).
11.00 PM – Top Twenty – introduced by Pete Murray.
7:15 pm – The Adventures of Dan Dare, "Pilot of the future" – fifteen minutes serial heard Monday to Friday and featuring the voice of Noel Johnson who also played the part of Dick Barton on BBC radio. This serial began on July 2, 1951 and ran for five years.
9:30 pm – Perry Mason serial heard Monday through Friday.
10:55 pm – Soccer of Leicester – odds announcement.
8:30 pm – The Story of Dr. Kildare – every Wednesday starring Lew Ayres, produced in Hollywood by MGM.
11:00 pm – Back to the Bible – religious broadcast.
8:00 pm – Music From the Ballet.
8:30 pm – Movie Magazine with Wilfrid Thomas.
1:00 pm – Old Fashioned Revival Hour – religion (Charles E. Fuller) Fridays:
8:00 pm – Scottish Requests with Peter Madren.
11:00 pm The Voice of Prophecy – Adventists' Union religious programme.
7:00 pm – Chance of a Lifetime – quiz programme with Dick Emery.
10:00 pm – At Two-O-Eight – dance music with Russ Morgan Orchestra compered by Pete Murray.
11:00 pm – Bringing Christ to the Nations – The Lutheran Hour.
The station employed many British announcers who would later become household names these included:
Pete Murray, Teddy Johnson and Warren Mitchell.
As we moved into the 1960s the station engaged a team of live Disc Jockey’s broadcasting Live from the Luxembourg studios in the Grand Duchy, supplemented with pre-recorded shows produced in the broadcaster’s London studios,
Much of the output during this period were Quiz shows and sponsored religious broadcasts.
Radio Luxembourg's London Studio's:
38 Hertford Street W1, London
38 Hertford Street W1, London
Butlin's Beaver Club
Take Your Pick – with Michael Miles.
This I Believe – the Edward R. Murrow show presented by Sir Basil Bartlett.
Candid Microphone – The radio equivalent of Televisions Candid Camera
Frank and Ernest – religion from Dawn Bible Students Association.
The World Tomorrow – with Herbert W. Armstrong,
Lucky Number – with Keith Fordyce.
The Capitol Show – Mel Thompson presenting Capitol Records new releases.
Double Your Money – Hughie Green.
Rockin' To Dreamland – with Keith Fordyce playing the latest British and American hit records.
The Hour of Decision – with Billy Graham.
Lucky Couple – with David Jacobs recorded on location in the UK.
Italy Sings – presented by the Italian State Tourist Office.
Record Hop – Benny Lee presents the latest Columbia and Parlophone records.
Amateur Football – results of the matches played today.
Alan Freed, the remarkable American disc-jockey whose programmes in the States cause excitement to rise to a fever pitch, presents "Rock 'n' roll".
Tonight – Peter Haigh presents news, music and personalities recorded at the Embassy Club in London.
Philips' Fanfare – records from this label presented by Guy Standeven.
The Presenters that recorded shows at the London Studios were:
Luxembourg needed to compete in this market, so pre-recorded sponsored show were dropped in favour of Live radio presenters, much in the same vein the offshore broadcaster.
The Life of the British pirates was cut short in 1967 when the UK government passed a law called the ‘Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, which made it an offence for any British Citizen to work on, or supply any of theses stations.
Following the demise of the pirates, Luxembourg was once again the only provider of popular music, well at least during the night. The BBC had launched Radio 1, which was a carbon copy of the pirates and offered popular music entertainment during the day.
There were a couple of offshore stations broadcasting off the Dutch coast also that provided some night time competition.
The Colourful Broadcasting Vessel 'The Mebo 2' Home to Radio Northsea International
my early teenage years I was a massive fan of Radio North Sea
International, and have fond memories of tuning between that and
Luxembourg as each signal would fade away and return.
In 1973 the BBC radio Monopoly was broken when the first ILR (Independent local Radio) Station started.
This was London’s News and Talk Station LBC.
Many stations followed in quick succession and the popularity of Luxembourg declined. Although the station continued to broadcast for many years, adding satellite distribution to provide as a high quality stereo option, It finally closed the doors of 208 on 30th December 1992.
Take a look at this BBC '40 minutes' documentary for the full story of the great 208.
BBC Documentary about the English service of Radio Luxembourg up to its final close down of its AM transmissions.