Do you remember the static? The crackles? The first fuzzy bars of music could be heard as the evening closed in, the light retreated, and the waves wandered in. The first strains of music from Radio Luxembourg reached the British Isles and the evening began. Sometimes under the bedcovers so your parents didn’t know you were still awake. That was me, with a tiny transistor radio, long after I was meant to be asleep.
Radio Luxembourg — on the medium wavelength of 208 metres — only began its broadcasts at night. The absence of the sun improves the reflective qualities of the ionosphere, enabling the radio waves to travel further than they can during daylight hours. This made the listening experience doubly clandestine: not only under the covers but in the dark, listening to the station fade in and out.
They were like secret late-night friends, the DJs of the Duchy of Luxembourg. They played Kodachrome, Saturday Night’s Alright, The Cat’s in the Cradle. It was on those airwaves that I first heard The Doors: Riders on the Storm. They played The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
They also weren’t sanctioned by the British Government, which made them even more attractive. Radio Luxembourg wasn’t a pirate station like Radio Caroline, broadcasting from ships outside British coastal waters, but they were firmly outside the tight net of British rules and regulations. Based, as its name suggests, in Luxembourg, the station used a powerful transmitter to zap its programmes across the Channel in the dark. This gave it a virtual monopoly on commercial radio in a UK market that was heavily regulated and limited, for many years, to the BBC.
Radio Luxembourg became the most successful commercial radio station ever, reaching 78 million listeners a week during its prime.
Not bad for a little station originally set up in 1923 by a couple of radio enthusiasts broadcasting from their attic.
The glory days of the “station of the stars” didn’t last.
In 1973, the BBC radio monopoly finally ended when new legislation introduced Independent Local Radio, funded by the sale of advertising. London’s news and talk station LBC arrived first, then many stations followed in quick succession. The popularity of Luxembourg declined. For a start, you didn’t have to wait until was dark to listen to LBC.
Although the station continued to broadcast for many years, it finally closed the doors on 30 December 1992.
You can listen to the final words here:
I sometimes thought they were broadcasting to just me. It felt very special. If they were still broadcasting, maybe I still would. But it’s gone and will never come back.