August 7, 2008

John North – Blast From the Past

By Mike Amos

At the forefront of popular music in 1960s? Europe, Radio Luxembourg DJs were the celebs of their time. They reunite in Luxembourg City

ON 208 metres medium wave and on every night of the week, Radio Luxembourg broadcast to an estimated 78 million listeners across northern Europe at a time when the BBC thought pop was still dandelion and burdock.

The very older generation may remember the Ovaltineys and maybe even Dick Barton, secret agent.

Manymore will recall Horace Batchelor and his Infra-red pools system infallibly based at Keynsham ? that?s K-e-y-n? ? near Bristol.

Cliff Richard, it?s apocryphally claimed, said that as a teenager he didn?t even realise Luxembourg was a country. ?I just thought it was two DJs in a room somewhere. ? Back in Sixties? Shildon, heads simultaneously in the clouds and beneath the bed clothes, we?d listen surreptitiously to Jimmy Savile?s Teen and Twenty Disc Club on newfangled transistor radios barely the size of a housebrick.

Earlier presenters had included Hughie Green, somnolently sponsored by Horlicks, and David Jacobs, backed by Bournvita. It became so popular that they even offered an award ? [pounds]208, perhaps inevitably ? for the leading goal scorer in the Northern League.

As improbable as it was that Europe?s most successful commercial radio station should broadcast from one of its smallest countries, it may be little less likely that last weekend?s rapturous reunion ? a Canute turning back the airwaves ? was organised by a marketing company from Pity Me, near Durham.

?The Luxembourg authorities simply fail to realise how much memories of Radio Luxembourg constitute one of their biggest tourism assets, ? says Stan Abbott of Gravity Consulting.

?They need to attract empty nesters, reasonably comfortable people with happy memories of those days. Luxembourg is a lovely, landlocked, charming little place. It?s about a lot more than big banks and EU administration. ? The station began in 1933, claimed the first-ever top 20 show in 1948, was the one before Radio One, was holed if not sunk by the ship-based pirates and finally scuppered in 1992.

?It brought about the whole concept of personality DJs, ? says Tony Prince, the self-styled Royal Ruler.

?There was nothing for teenagers at the time and a lot of what the BBC did was just so dry. ? The reunion, in Luxembourg City, attracted 17 former DJs including Emperor Rosko ? real name Michael Joseph Pasternak ? Timmy Mallett, Paul Burnett (now 64 and still broadcasting in Hull), Mike Read and the Canadian Dave ?Kid? Jensen, once youthful but now celebrating 40 years with his feet beneath the turntable.

As DJs might, several of them looked like they?d been around a bit.

Others, of course, might simply be turning in the grave.

Sir Jimmy Savile, now 81, sent a recorded greeting.

Pete Murray, a year older and once supposedly sacked by the BBC for urging his listeners to vote Conservative, had hoped to be there but couldn?t make it.

Stan Abbott, old enough to remember the flaky reception but not who was member No 11321 of the Teen and Twenty Disc Club ? doesn?t everyone know that? ? recalls with the dimness of Luxembourg?s Sunday night signal his brother?s first transistor radio.

?I was in awe of it. Before that you had to carry your audio equipment around in a wheelbarrow. I also remember his first bendy 78, but I?ve no idea what it was. ? Interviewed by Luxembourg television, he was surprised to see that he, too, was described as a former disc jockey. ?I was rehearsingmy jingles all the way home, ? he says.

The weekend, sponsored by the London-based Visa Company, proved a similarly big hit, broadcast to 22 radio stations back in Britain.

?It wasn?t really a commercial operation, we didn?t make any money, but we did gave a great weekend, really raise the profile of Luxembourg and generate [pounds]1m worth of coverage, ? says Stan, for whom it?s been a pretty busy summer.

It was he who spotted the possibilities of 12 Manchester City football fans stranded on the Shetlands on route to amatch in the Faroe Islands and managed to get them there as stowage on a banana boat (or something like that).

Faroe story or otherwise, we appear to have run out of space.

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