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COMMERCIAL BROADCASTING IN EUROPE - THE EARLY DAYS


 
The following account of the history of commercial broadcasting in Europe covers the really early days. Broadcasting to Britain
from a ship began in June 1928, from the Steam Yacht "Cete", which was run by the Daily Mail newspaper. It toured the coast of
Britain, broadcasting mainly to seaside resorts, and also playing to them over loud-speakers.

The announcer on the Cete was Stephen H.C. Williams (1908-1997), who in 1931 got an announcer's job with the International
Broadcasting Company, based at the new land-based commercial station in northern France, Radio Normandie, at Fécamp. 
He then went to Radio Paris, which was another commercial transmitter aimed at Britain, until this went national in December
1933, at which point he transferred to the new European commercial super-transmitter (250kW) at Luxembourg.

Despite protests from the British Government that the station (on long-wave) was interfering with aircraft communications,
advertising output from Luxembourg increased hand-over-fist during the 1930s, and only ceased in September 1939, when the
Second World War broke out.

There were rivals: Radio Normandie continued to be on the air during the 1930s, and repeated some of the broadcasts from
Luxembourg. There was also Poste Parisien. Then about 1937, Radio Toulouse came on the air, and drew off some of the
advertising from Radio Luxembourg, so a kind of rivalry broke out, with everybody desperate for new ideas. These came in the
form of weekday soap-opera serials, such as "Stella Dellas", which was later (1937) made into a film, with Barbara Stanwyck.
Then everything collapsed in May 1940 when the Germans took over the transmitters and used them for broadcasting propaganda.

In 1945, Luxembourg began to set up again, but had great problems because of British Government currency restrictions on
advertisements from the U.K. It looked as though there was no solution to this, but then in 1950 came the turn-around, when the
station went entirely "pop" and "quiz" and "soap", and changed its English-language wavelength from long to medium, which is
when 208m came in.

In 1955, when commercial television (ITV) started up in Britain, the soaps and the quizzes went to them instead, and Luxembourg
specialised in pop only. Reception, though, in the UK was good only in the evenings, so day-time broadcasting was a gap that the
later pirate stations filled -- at least until about 1967, when the B.B.C. decided to let its "Radio One" (the old "Light Programme")
go over to "pop". The sea-based stations then had to organise themselves differently.

Radio Luxembourg is still on the air, still on 208m, still commercial, but mainly broadcasting only "golden oldies" to Germany. The
English service was transferred briefly to the Astra satellite in the 1990s, but few people listened, so nothing much got sold, and it
was taken off the air.

By kind permission of Dr G. Newton
Director
Centre for Luxembourg Studies
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2 UJ
England