Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

In November, 1932, Max Staniforth left Radio Normandy for Radio Toulouse, and Tom Ronald joined Williams in Fecamp. By then, he admitted that "my personal interest in Radio Normandy faded when its teething troubles diminished", and, in December, 1932, he severed all his connections with Plugge's International Broadcasting Corporation, loosened his ties with the 'Sunday Referee' and was appointed as General Manager of Radio Publicity (London) Limited which operated in France, his role being to run an English language programme service from Radio Paris, then the principal broadcasting station in France.

Regulations regarding foreigners in France required Williams to have a local status as well as his purely British appointment to Radio Paris and this was achieved by his being appointed as "Directeur Artistique" to the Alhambra Music Hall in Paris. This enabled him to widen the scope of the Radio Paris programmes through contacts with stars such as Lys Gauty, Lucienne Boyer, Josephine Baker, Pola Negri, Ramon Navarro and Jean Sablon.

Considering Williams was under 25 years of age at the time, this was a remarkable achievement, for had he not been notably successful at Normandy and Paris, I suspect that subsequent efforts to secure the concession might have failed.

In a way, the Paris venture was too successful, as we attracted so many British advertisers that French listeners became fed-up with hearing so much English on their number one station. The French Government intervened and told us we would have to go elsewhere.

Fortunately, there was a brand-new station in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg which was just completing its trials, and Radio Publicity'S French Chairman, Jacques Gonat, was a man of great influence (and affluence) and was able to negotiate for the Company the sole concession for English language programmes at Radio Luxembourg, so I found myself delegated to that station to launch and direct its English language activities.

When I took over, I went to see the British Consul, who was a Luxembourger, as I was the first Briton ever to be officially domiciled in the country. The authorities wanted all sorts of things I couldn't supply. They wanted my Police records. I had great difficulty (I had to get the Ambassador in Brussels to intervene) because they wouldn't believe that you don't have a Police record.

He finally convinced them that only if you were a criminal did you have a Police record. At this stage, it should be noted that English-speaking programmes wjth no advertising or sponsorship had been transmitted during the latter part of 1933 - as from 28th. October, on each Sunday from 7 till 11 p.m., featuring record programmes as well as the station's own 30-piece orchestra. As for the presenters, Jean Bruck and Leon Moulin were Luxembourgers, Eva Siewert was German, Annette Cornevin was French, and there was a Scandinavian called Moeller.

.....Luxembourg was by far the most powerful broadcasting station in Europe. With up to 300 kW in its aerial circuit it was 60 times more powerful than Radio Normandy and could cover all Britain and almost the whole of Europe. However, although we got in at the very beginning, the problem of audience listening figures proved to be much greater at Luxembourg than it had been at Normandy or at Paris.

It seems difficult to understand now, but in the early 1930s, hardly anyone knew where Luxembourg was! People said, when I told them I was going there, 'where on earth is that?' and I even checked with the LNER who said they could take you anywhere. They said 'yes, we can book you to Luxembourg but we don't know exactly where it is', and they didn't know if the country belonged to another, or what language was spoken.

I found out very quickly that a sort of slightly 'bastard German' was spoken, that the country was 999 square miles in extent and that the population was around 300,000. Our Radio Paris advertisers all agreed to transfer their programmes to the new station, but unless British listeners could be attracted in sufficient numbers, our clients would soon lose interest and withdraw. The 'Sunday Referee' would support through programme listings and articles but other newspapers were obviously antagonistic.

The date of our first transmission of English-speaking, sponsored, programmes had been fixed to coincide with our last transmission from Radio Paris - Sunday 3rd. December, 1933 - so on that date we joined the two stations together in simultaneously broadcasting the same programmes over them - Radio Paris: 1725 metres, 75 - 100 kW and Radio Luxembourg: 1191 metres, 200 - 250kW.

There were frequent announcements: 'This is Radio Paris and Radio Luxembourg' and, whenever possible, I personally came on the air to say that from next Sunday all our future programmes would come from Radio Luxembourg instead of from Radio Paris and since, at that moment, both stations were transmitting exactly the same thing at different positions on the long-wave dial, listeners could identify Radio Luxembourg's position by moving down the scale until they heard my voice again.

'Have you got it?' I would ask time and again. 'Well, that's where you will find all our programmes from next Sunday onwards, so please do remember the dial reading and mark it if you can'. It worked, and I heard that listeners had quite enjoyed their 'twiddling for Luxembourg'.

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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