Radio Luxembourg 208

Article by Paul F. Newman with illustration and minor additions by Peter Viney

The Best of Radio Luxembourg: Various (Pye label) Artists Pye Golden Guinea LP 1962.
About half are cover versions, though they are ones Pye released as 45s

Like trying to decipher a Mayday call, tuning into Radio Luxembourg in the glory years of the 45 on your wireless, or under your pillow on a transistor radio, was to battle against a sea of whistles, crackles and foreign stations, while somewhere in the distance an old trouper like Jack Jackson was cracking corny jokes and cramming in a different Decca record a minute.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was much favoured by coach tours declaring “See six countries in three days.” Its radio station started in 1927, then began transmitting to Britain in 1933, and its most popular programme was The Ovaltineys sponsored by the allegedly nourishing and soporific bedtime beverage, Ovaltine.

1934 advert – cigarette sponsored

By 1939, the radio station had five million listeners. The Nazis took it over in May 1940, and it was the main relay station for Lord Haw-Haw’s wartime propaganda broadcasts. The American army captured the station in 1944, and it resumed commercial operations in 1946. It switched from long-wave to medium wave in 1951.

Radio Luxembourg was a reaction to the BBC’s monopoly of the British airwaves. The BBC had been set up by the formidable Lord Reith in 1922 with a mandate for public service broadcasting. Until 1945 this meant just the one station, The Home Service. In 1945 they added The Light Programme for entertainment, and in 1946, The Third Programme for classical music. The Home Service was then dedicated to news, drama and spoken voice. People who listened to the Home Service and Third Programme said “wireless”, People who listened to the Light Programme said “radio”. British broadcasting was hampered by a Musician’s Union agreement restricting needle time (when recordings were played), so very often studio orchestras with ageing singers performed the popular hits of the day.

Radio Luxembourg was broadcast from the Grandy Duchy on 208 metres medium wave, and went on air at dusk (whenever that was; they started later in summer) to take advantage of the greater distance over which radio could be picked up at night. It also meant all their advertising was prime time.

From 1950 onward, they broadcast light entertainment. The quiz shows Take Your Pick with Michael Miles and Double Your Money with Hughie Green both originated on Luxembourg radio, before moving to TV with the introduction of ITV in 1955 / 1956.

Sample radio shows in included several American originals. The Adventures of Dan Dare was sponsored by Horlicks, which is very similar to Ovaltine, milky night time beverages were popular.

Wikipedia gives this list for March 1952. It’s well before our memories. Later, that 7.15 pm. time slot was designed to begin as The Archers finished on BBC Radio. This is pre-TV days for most British people.

Sundays6.15 pmOvaltiney’s Concert Party
9.15 p.m.Leslie Welch: The Famous Memory Man
11 pmThe Top Twenty with Pete Murray
Mondays7.15pmThe Adventures of Dan Dare: Pilot of The Future
9.30 pmPerry Mason
Wednesdays8.30 pmThe Story of Dr Kildare
11 p.m,Back To The Bible (sponsored)
Thursdays8 pmMusic From The Ballet
11 pmOld Fashioned Revival Hour (religious)
Fridays8 pmScottish Requests with Peter Madren
11 p.m.The Voice of Prophecy (religious)
Saturdays7 pmChance of A Lifetime: Quiz with Dick Emery
10 pmAt Two-Oh-Eight – dance music

Slowly the music element began to take over. By 1956 the week included The Capitol Show (Mel Thompson, Tuesdays), Rockin’ to Dreamland (Keith Fordyce, Wednesdays, Decca / London), Record Hop (Friday, Benny Green, Columbia / Parlophone), Philips’ Fanfare (Guy Standeven, Saturday).

The shows were nearly all recorded in London, but the transmissions gave the impression they were live on air from Luxembourg. They were not allowed to transmit directly from London to Luxembourg, but had to rely on tape.

People Are Funny: Pye Radio Luxembourg Show 1954
Decca catalogue advert for its sponsored shows
August 1956

Later, Oriole broke through with its seminal fifteen minute show twice a week in 1962, with its playlist of Oriole-American discs from Tamla-Motown.

Listeners also had to endure Billy Graham, who bought regular airtime. The adverts weren’t a chore, but a novelty for British listeners.

The best-known advert was Horace Batchelor selling subscriptions to his Football Pools tip service, the Infra-Draw Method. He claimed to have won the treble chance 1012 times. Horace was based in the Bristol suburb of Keynsham, which he spelled aloud K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M every time he said it in his stilted and lugubrious tone.

This is an “EMI only” show

By 1963, the general entertainment broadcasting had been swamped by sponsored music shows (plus Billy Graham). It may have been like picking up signals from another planet but there was simply no other place you could hear all the new singles being released each week by the major (and minor) record companies. The power of Radio Luxembourg was proved when Tell Laura I Love Her got to #1 in 1960 despite being banned from BBC air play because of its death theme. Many a schoolbound youth at the time jotted down the weekly Top Twenty in foolscap or quarto feint-ruled notebooks or recorded details of their treasured 45rpm purchases with considerably more dedication than was spent on their maths homework. But some took this musical tabulation to extremes.

(Ed: Paul’s notebooks are an invaluable source on record labels of the era)

Official Book of Record Stars annual. 1962 and 1964

Accepting the challenge to log down details of all this great music before it was lost forever in a sea of static provided a continual impetus to keep a written archive of the Radio Luxembourg output. Between 1960 and 1965 three young amateur scribes were at work nightly producing odd works of art that chronicled almost every pop record played over the airwaves of Britain before the advent of the Pirate Radio ships and BBC’s Radio One, and this incredibly useless information probably exists nowhere else.

New Musical Express, June 1963. All EMI Show
Stateside, HMV, Columbia, Capitol, MGM, Liberty

An interest in the importance of record labels probably stems from this period and would have subliminally affected everyone who listened regularly to Luxembourg. The Radio Luxembourg shows were run by competing record companies and so the deejays always gave the name of the label along with the singer and the song they were playing. It seemed that the major record companies had deliberately chosen bright one-colour labels initially to distinguish their products from each other’s. (Green for Columbia, Red for Parlophone, Dark Blue for Decca, Plum for Pye etc.) If you saw a record being played somewhere but couldn’t read the label while it was spinning, you could easily recognise the colour and hence its maker. And the impression on the young mind listening regularly to Luxembourg in those days was that Decca were the hard-nosed businessmen, EMI the nice guys, with Pye and Phillips standing politely in their shadows.

Honey Hit Parade was one of the leading shows, sponsored by Honey magazine (Fleetway Publications) and introduced by Kent Walton, then a DJ with a pseudo-Canadian accent for the disc jockey work. Kent went on to become a sports announcer, specialising in professional wrestling on ITV. He was also the producer of Virgin Witch (aka Lesbian Twins) in 1972.

Kent Walton’s Honey Hit Parade (LP) Golden Guinea 1962

Pye issued a Honey Hit Parade compilation on mid-price Golden Guinea, which came in at the first birthday in February 1962, at 312 shows (six per week).

Pye’s sleeve note said: HONEY’s dishy editor, Audrey Slaughter, puts it this way … Play the records that everybody wants to hear – lace with you-either-hate-‘em-or-love-‘em type platters – top with the best of the new releases – and you’ve got a success on your hands. And that’s what we’ve always tried to do in deciding the weekly repertoire for Radio Luxembourg’s HONEY shows. Basically the shows are bolstered by the big hits of the day which in their own way provide an attractive showcasing for some of the lesser-known new discs. Often of course we include 100-carat (sic) stinkers and our postcard mail is not in the least backward in pointing this out.

Honey Hit Parade (LP): Various (Decca Group) Artists, Decca Ace of Clubs 1962

By the time the rival Decca compilation LP was released on its Ace of Clubs mid-price label for Christmas 1962, they could boast:

At the time of this album’s release, Radio Luxembourg had beamed out to British pop fans almost 600 programmes in the HONEY HIT PARADE series. More than five thousand discs had been spun by the show’s popular host KENT WALTON, and he reckons this represents something between 380 and 400 miles of grooveway for Fleetway!

For collectors, the Golden Guinea record (which reached #16 in the LP chart) is far more common than the Decca Ace of Clubs disc. Both were mid-price.

1964 is a crucial year. That’s when Pirate Radio began, and whipped the rug out from under Luxembourg’s feet. Its influence declined massively and fast. BBC’s introduction of Radio One in 1967 sealed this.

Each show recorded in these Record Books listed not only the titles, artists and labels of the records being played, but also the disc jockeys playing them. These British deejays were a peculiar bunch in the early 60s. They had all been, or still were, other things like band leaders or singers or bit-part actors, most of them still hoping for the big break that would return them to their true profession. None of them would have been likely to list ‘Disc Jockey’ on their passports.

Long before “stax of trax from your world of wax” and similarly DJ babble was heard in Britain, there was a kind of old style record language which announcers felt obliged to lapse into, even though in public no one ever spoke that way. A record was rarely referred to as a record on Luxembourg but as a “disk” or a “waxing” or a “pressing”. (At least no one back then called it ‘a vinyl.’) Imagine going into a record shop and asking for a pressing. The other side of a record was its “flip-side”, more lastingly its “B-side” but never of course its “back-side”. Flip-side was a common enough expression at the time, there were also cigarettes in flip-top boxes, but “flip” dated quickly.

 For some reason pop records had became analogous with racehorses, with “jockeys” who rode them and “stables” that the singers came from. A song wasn’t written by someone, it was “penned” and some of the best surviving examples of this peculiar language can still be found on the back of old LP and EP sleeves.

Luxembourg’s footprint extended over France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, spawning EPs from Philips / Fontana’s shows in Sweden and Denmark, as well as Pye EPs and Odeon (which was EMI) EPs- all tracks in English. Philips did a French LP too.


Sample pages from the Record Books:

1963: two shows: Philips / Fontana then Decca Group

Besides the many words written in English in the Record Books (the titles of records and names of artists and labels), some of the strangest features were the endless columns of hieroglyphics translatable only to those who did such books themselves. And these little symbols do give an incredible amount of information about the record’s content even today……provided you can turn up the explanatory key.

Monday 13th April 1964: EMI shows Take A Spin & Record Choice

SEE ALSO: Pirate Radio