Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

On 15th. January, 1934, Radio Luxembourg changed its wavelength from 1191 to 1304 metres, which the European Broadcasting Conference of May/June, 1933 at Lucerne had allocated to Warsaw (which had not taken it up). The Conference had refused to allocate a long wave to Luxembourg, but all its subsequent protests were brushed aside as the comments of a "private organisation".

During 1933, the BBC had taken its first action to modify programme arrangements to prevent advertisers from foreign stations having a special advantage, lengthening the hours of transmission on Sundays to include the 1230 to 3 p.m. 'slot', but the programme format remained unchanged - Reith was adamant on this.

To give readers a flavour of what the listener to the BBC could expect on Sundays, here is a brief rundown of the National Programme schedule for Sunday, 9th. July., 1933 :

1015 - Weather Forecast for Farmers and Shipping

1025-midday : Oxford Movement Centenary, Religious Service from Canterbury Cathedral

1230 - 1330 : The Northern Studio Orchestra (music by German, Mozart, Respighi, Parry, Grainger etc) 1330 - 1400 : Pianoforte Recital (music by Scarlatti, Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Scriabin, Debussy etc)

1400 - 1515 : The Gershom Parkington Quintet, with Edith Furmedge (Contralto) - music by Quilter, Fibich, Wolf, Sarasate, Raff, Cowen, Tchaikovsky, Grieg etc.

1515 - 1555 : A Recital of Gramophone Records (music by Richard Strauss, Beethoven) 1555 - 1615: For The Children - Joan and Betty's Bible Story

1615 - 1730: The BBC Theatre Orchestra (music by Heuberger, Sullivan, Messager, Rossini etc) 1730 - 1800 : A Violin Recital (music by Bach, Scarlatti, Couperin, Brahms etc)

1800 - 1815 : Readings from the Old Testament

1955 - 2045 : Service from St Martin-in-the-Fields

2045 - 2050 : The Week's Good Cause

2050 - 2100: The News and Weather

2105 - 2230 : The Grand Hotel, Eastboume, Orchestra, with Tom Jones (violin) - music by Sibelius, Messager, Landon Ronald, Coleridge-Taylor, Sullivan etc

2230 : Epilogue.

It was obvious that programmes in a lighter vein on Sunday evenings would attract a receptive audience but Reith was content to leave variety programmes and dance bands to Radios Normandy and Paris. However, this fact alone was hardly likely to guarantee the success of Radio Luxembourg's new sponsored programmes and a great deal of hard work was to be needed by Stephen to increase advertiser coverage, because none of its previous personnel had any idea of how to run an English-sponsored service or had any experience of programme production and broadcasting in general.

At the age of 25, therefore, Stephen Williams assumed total responsibility for tbe exploitation, maintenance and policies of the service of what was then tbe most powerful broadcasting station in the world and, having sworn never to compromise the neutrality of the State or its good name internationally, he was virtually left to his own devices to carry on.

As with Normandy, we were trawling through the ether to see what we could catch. I had had no advance publicity except in the 'Sunday Referee', the only paper which had announced we were going to Luxembourg and, in view of the fact that few people actually knew where the country was or much about its history, I think that these facts in themselves aroused listeners' interest, and my growing postbag reflected this.

I therefore decided to romanticise Luxembourg by talking on the air, whenever there was a gap in the sponsored programmes, portraying the country as a genuine Ruritania in terms of its scenery, customs and people but in no way fictionalizing it. A very progressive democracy in a most fascinating setting and in several ways more advanced in the social care of its inhabitants than the rest of Europe, including ourselves.

It was Luxembourg itself which really 'tickled the fancy' of our listeners and they flocked to listen to our programmes. In fact, within a very few months of our start, I was forced to give up my talks about the Grand Duchy for there was no more time to devote to this purpose - every available minute was carrying somebody's advertising message....

At the beginning, advertising clients indicated to the London office of Radio Publicity (London) Limited, which was the English language concession Company of which Williams was 'Directeur General', their preference for the type of programme they desired. Incidentally, despite what Richard Nichols' book ("The Station of the Stars") says, Stephen Williams was never, at that time, an employee of Radio Luxembourg or of Plugge's International Broadcasting Company Limited, nor was the IBC involved in supplying programmes or successful in obtaining the English language concession (although Plugge tried to represent it as having a contract with Radio Luxembourg).

The programmes themselves were created and scripted in Luxembourg with items from RP(L's) library of gramophone records which Williams had brought over from Radio Paris. As programmes were not then pre-recorded, there was a great deal of work in Luxembourg to prepare all the material for broadcasting, except the sales messages themselves, which were forwarded, already typed, from London.

There were also cue-sheets to be prepared in French for the studio technicians to avoid mistakes in the handling of items titled or labelled in English. These included instructions for the use of a gong between each programme.

For the first four months, all this was undertaken by Stephen Williams with the assistance of one French-speaking secretary. Stephen was known to his wireless audience as "Chief Announcer", for, in those days, listeners were unfamiliar with the concept of "Producer", "Presenter" etc., and, as far as they were concerned, the "Announcer" was the person totally responsible for each programme.

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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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