Play: Radio Luxembourg 208 Great Britain
208 — that was the number of radio, back then.
And as the spring daylight faded behind the bedroom curtains, the hour would finally come for the first hesitantly crackly sounds to arrive across a cooling atmosphere.
With a single earphone invisibly in place, and my tiny transistor hidden deep beneath the covers, I could be happily in bed at bedtime and yet secretly lie wide awake through an entire chart show still to come.
Nightfall was moving slowly northwestwards across another summer evening. And Planet Earth’s biggest commercial radio station was playing with 1.3 million watts of power, bringing rock music to my ear from half a continent away.
I didn’t know then that Radio Luxembourg had been broadcasting across Europe since the 1920s.
Fifty years on, Luxy was a pioneer of international commercial radio. The most powerful transmitter in the world pumped music every night from the heart of Europe into millions of teenagers’ bedrooms across the Channel.
Broadcasting on 208 metres medium wave, English language programming didn’t start until 7 pm European time (8 pm in the UK) because the radio waves could only reach their audience in the stiller atmosphere after dark.
Play: Top of the hour on Radio Luxembourg
Luxy claimed to be Britain’s only national commercial radio station, with devoted listeners from Kent to Caithness, yet living in the Midlands at a hundred and fifty miles from the coast and almost four hundred miles distant from Luxembourg, the signal suffered from atmospheric interference and would often fade in and out for seconds and sometimes minutes at a time.
Tuning to the station was a delicately frustrating operation which required endless patience and almost constant readjustment.
And yet, still we listened to Luxembourg, as British youth had already done for many years before.
There had been no dedicated pop music stations within the UK until a series of pirate commercial radio ships began broadcasting throughout the day from offshore waters in the early sixties.
Remarkably they fell respectfully silent in the evening and early morning hours, leaving the airwaves and commercial revenues clear for 208.
Play: Radio Luxembourg — The rhythm of nightlife in Great Britain
The wide popularity of the pirate radio stations hastened the government’s determination to shut them down, but soon after the closure of Radio Caroline came the launch in 1967 of BBC Radio 1, which blasted a non-stop volley of pop across the country all day long. Throughout the time when I was at school.
But for some unfathomable reason, Radio 1’s evening schedule always featured much more esoteric music, most of which I had never heard of. For a young teenager following the mainstream charts, it was time for Radio Luxembourg. They had all the best DJs, anyway, and better chart shows, too.
Only on Sunday night would my sister and I revert to Radio 1 for the “official” UK chart. With my first primitive cassette recorder at the ready, we waited patiently to press ‘record’ as the chart counted down towards the songs we liked to hear.
The microphone was set up optimistically on the living room floor to reel our favourite song onto a new C-60. But those recordings were always hopeless, limited by the technology and inevitably interrupted by domestic life.
We’d wait two hours for a new Number 1 to play, before the phone or doorbell would somehow insist on ringing half way through.
And then the dog would likely bark as well — which made for interesting playback later on.
Listening to Radio Luxembourg fulfilled different dreams entirely. With static and commercials to contend with, there was no hope of a good recording (and remember, I was supposed to be asleep, anyway).
But the station’s playlist was tight enough that we still heard all our favourite records through as many illicit listening hours as we could stay awake to hear.
The station stayed with me as I grew. As soon as I could drive, Luxy found its way onto the radio in the car. Often I’d listen late at night as I drove back from parties or a girlfriend’s house.
Later on, at university, I spent more evenings listening to the juke box in the beer cellar and to my record player when I made it home again.
But I must have listened to Radio Luxembourg whilst studying late at night as well, since I can still remember all the jingles even now.
Play: Radio Luxembourg — Station of the Eighties
The Station of the Eighties seemed unassailable then, but the revolution in music radio that Luxy had spun would soon play its final tracks towards a close.
Advertising revenues fell steadily as competition from television and local radio grew and by the time I returned from a few years abroad in the early nineties, 208’s fuzzy signal had shuffled off the atmosphere for good.
Exciting new FM commercial broadcasters such as London’s Capital Radio and a new AM station offshore Ireland, Atlantic 252, proved fatal competition.
A doomed foray into satellite broadcasting followed for Luxy, but eventually failed to find a new niche beyond the dial.
The Luxembourg group still lives on today as the Pan-European television broadcaster RTL, which quietly owns Britain’s Channel 5 TV.
And these days the radio legend is back. A new Radio Luxembourg is broadcasting online with a classic rock playlist, for anyone nostalgic enough to try an early bedtime.
Yet really I’ll never need to, since Luxembourg’s beam extended far beyond one station.
Almost anyone who was ever anyone in radio learned their trade with Luxy — Tony Blackburn, ‘Kid’ Jensen and Alan Freeman… And Chris Moyles and Neil Fox are still on air today.
In that way, the legacy of Radio Luxembourg still lives on across the airwaves, and not only through the memories of another era in music. Luxy defined everything about the way that music and the charts are presented, and provided so many of the voices that still present them, too.
And now I’ll leave Luxy legend Bob Stewart to sign off from the heart of Europe, in his own inimitable and transatlantically continental style:
We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed the music you’ve heard…
… And a good night and good morning, wherever you may be.
Play: Radio Luxembourg — Nightly shutdown by Bob Stewart
Radio Luxembourg links:
The Story of Radio Luxembourg
The unofficial 208 picture gallery
The world’s most famous radio station
Radio Luxembourg jingles of the 1980s
Radio Luxembourg online today
Radio Luxembourg – Your Station of the Stars
This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Informative, evocative, totally compelling.
As a fellow devotee of radio, I’d of course heard of Radio Luxembourg but never actually heard any of its broadcasts. The audio clips you included were a treat — the first one, especially, immediately brought to mind Boss Radio and its characteristic jingle pattern. And lo and behold, when I looked for something to explain Boss Radio better than I can, I discovered a British connection:
Here’s the oddest thing. In an age when the world is brought to our living rooms on TV and live streams onto our computer screens, there is nothing more riveting than a short wave radio bringing in the crackling signal from a land far away. So big deal that I can watch PM’s Question Time each week; it doesn’t hold a candle to hearing Big Ben chime on Auntie via short wave.
Wonderful stuff, roads. Thank you for this post.
Thanks, Ella, and I’m very glad you enjoyed this post.
There are a few longer recordings here and there on the web and for those who’d like to relive the sounds of the period here are a few links gleaned from the sources above.
My favourite Luxembourg DJ was Bob Stewart, whose marvellous transatlantic voice defined the sound of Radio Luxembourg for many years. A little-known fact is that Bob was actually from Liverpool, but when Luxy was looking for an American DJ he volunteered to impersonate one — and from that single moment both he and the station never looked back.
Here’s a sound of Bob Stewart, followed by some Bob Stewart and Jodie Scott from the satellite era (1992). I’ve also picked out this short clip of (really) American DJ Benny Brown from 1981, and another from a much more British Rob Jones.
Meanwhile, this abridged version of the Mike Hollis show in 1990 has just enough static to give a real feeling of the listening experience which the station always provided in the UK.
And finally, here’s a very short snippet from Stuart Henry (my sister loved him best of all) who carried on broadcasting on the station for many years despite his declining health with MS. Sadly Stuart died in 1996.
Golly, that brought back memories … of huddling under the bedclothes with a small transistor radio, keeping one ear on the stairs.
Inspired 208th post!
Good to hear from you, Wombats, and I’m pleased you found some happy memories here.
As Ella says, it seems that a little static can add atmosphere to a radio station — within limits. I wonder where you were listening from, and what the reception was like for you.
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Listening to those disc jockeys, jingles, adverts and music really reminds me what good radio production and entertainment truly was.
Luxembourg led the way and was always uplifting to listen to.
Other stations learnt a lot from luxy! Will they ever overtake it? Unless there’s a lot of changes to stations, music and people then we’ll just carry on missing the Luxy stuff that was played as well as the talented and interesting sounds of the professional disc jockeys then.
Thank you, Donald, and a very warm welcome. You’re absolutely right that other stations learned a huge amount from Luxy — which offered a different style of output and an uncomplicated but fresh and uncomplicated flavour. And, late in the evening, if you fancied some music, you knew exactly where to find it — hidden away amongst all that atmospheric static…
Keep enjoying your radio, and many thanks again.
When television was in its infancy, Mum, Dad, my sister and I used to listen to 208 every night between 7.00 P.M.and shutdown when either Dick Haymes or Steve Lawrence sang “That’s My Prayer At The End Of The Day”. I am unable to find either version on YouTube. The cover by Daniel O’Donnell is good, but a poor substitute for the Real Thing!
Hi Alan. “At the end of the Day” was sung by Steve Conway, followed by the Luxy national anthem. I have recreated the segue and regularly listen to it for nostalgic reasons. If you’d like a copy, I’ll email it.
Back in the early 70s Portugal lived under a dictatorship… and a couple of guys here were listening to 208…. it was our musical and cultural reference.
We are deeply grateful to your work
I used to listen to the station back in the 50’s for the TOP TEN as it was then, I have tried to find these old charts but no luck. I remember when the top ten became the TOP TWENTY as teenagers we would all say what we thought would be N0 1 next week, in those days it was not hard to do.
Thank you for many hours of enjoyment
I listened to this station at night in the 70’s , small transistor radio. In Paris. I loved it! My connection to the English language and top 40 rock and roll : )
Every night, in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Day after at school, chats about what we had heard on Top 50 or Tuesday’s requests (might be another day, my memory fails me sometimes) or Smash discs etc. It’s our teenage for ever. Was on 208 or 49,26 m, depending on the weather in France. We miss Radio Luxembourg forever.