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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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