Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

.......A very early paying client was Spink's of King Street, who were calling for listeners' old gold, which had then increased dramatically in value following Great Britain's abandonment of the Gold Standard in September, 1931. Another was Henly's, who in those days were the number one people for second-hand cars. They had decided to launch a new car of their own, bodywork by Henly's and the engine etc. by Standard, I think. I pushed it on the station during the summer of 1932 - the car was called the SS 1, subsequently known as the Jaguar".

I have already mentioned the formation, in 1928 of Societe d'Etudes Radiophoniques and the concession to this Company in September, 1930 from the Luxembourg Government for the construction of a radio transmitter. In June, 1931, the Company's initial sponsors (Anen, Etienne and the 5 Parisian businessmen) sold the concession to a new Company, Compagnie Luxembourgoise de Rediffusion.

A majority of the Board of 9 Directors were to be of Luxembourg nationality, but most of the new capital, like the old, was French - among the interests behind the venture were the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas, itself closely associated with the Societe Francaise Radioelectrique which owned Radio Paris. The new sponsors were to plan programmes under the direction of a Programme Commission to be appointed by the Luxembourg Government; there were to be some foreign language programmes and advertising was to be allowed "within limits fixed by the Luxembourg Post Office".

The station was to operate on "a wavelength of 210 - 500 metres in accordance with the Prague Convention (of 1929) or on a wavelength to be determined later by International Convention".

The subjects of wavelength allocation, piracy etc. is outside the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that it created substantial problems throughout the 1930s. Whilst Stephen Williams was nursing the fledgling Radio Normandy, the plans announced for the Luxembourg transmitter were causing alarm amongst the BBC hierarchy who asked the Post Office to write to the Luxembourg authorities about its future plans.

The reply was evasive. This, coupled with the French connection, caused greater suspicions to be aroused, and on 29th January, 1932, the BBC responded through Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Carpendale, who was President of the International Broadcasting Union. Carpendale wrote to his Vice-President pointing out that the BBC had not protested about English advertising from Radios Paris, Toulouse and Normandy, as these were French stations and "their employment for non-French purposes was exceptional".

Carpendale argued that Luxembourg was a different matter, as not only was the proposed power of the station vastly in excess of the needs of the Grand Duchy itself, but those who had been granted the concession had said openly "their main object was to broadcast advertising programmes to neighbouring countries, especially those who do not allow advertising in their own national programmes".

The reply to this letter, from the Vice-President, emphasised that the IBU could do little against a Sovereign State but hinted at compromise. In the event, plans went ahead and it was the British Post Office, supported by the Air Ministry, which made the next complaint in May, 1932, when experimental transmissions on 1250 metres were alleged to interfere with British aircraft wireless services. The Post Office said that it would not rent land lines to advertising concerns and the IBU, in June, 1932, unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Luxembourg's "piracy" of a long wave. Despite further exchanges of correspondence and meetings, the relationship between the BBC and C.L.R remained frosty.

In addition, newspaper publishers saw the development of commercial radio as a serious threat, fearing loss of potential advertising revenue. The 'Sunday Referee' was the only paper publishing Radio Normandy's programmes and covering the International Broadcasting Club, and although this policy and its own broadcasts trebled its circulation, severe pressure was put on it to desist, culminating in its expulsion from the Newspaper Proprietors' Association in February, 1933.

A BBC memo dated 7th April, 1933 indicates its decision to ban publication of programme details in World Radio'.

[As an aside, the campaign to boycott Radio Luxembourg lasted for over 50 years, with very few publications prepared to detail its programmes. In view of all this, Stephen's achievements in successfully launching Radio Luxembourg and the subsequent invitation to him to join the BBC can be put into perspective.]

previous page / next page

1:Early life and a first radio set
2:The yacht 'Ceto', Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail
3:An early transmitter in Luxembourg
4:Radio Normandy and a Persian Princess
5:Plans for the Luxembourg transmitter
6:Delegated to the new Radio Luxembourg
7:Williams takes charge
8:Recording audio on film, and the Philips recording system
9:Signing up Christopher Stone
10:Football Pools advertizing, 1930s
11:Advertizing anecdotes and pre-war strategy
12:Radio politics, and WW2 begins
13:Stephen Williams joins ENSA as Broadcasting Officer
14:Messages from soldiers: Two-Way Family Favourites
15:More wartime work for ENSA and the BBC
16:War ends; Williams returns to Radio Luxembourg
17:Back to the BBC
18:The hazards of 'Have A Go!'
19:Twilight years at the BBC
20:Awards and retirement


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