Thursday, 31 October 2013

Luxembourg, The Beatles 

& The Egg

I was having a trawl through Ebay the other day, not looking for anything in particular, just the internet version of window shopping I suppose when I came across this image. Suddenly, I was 14 years old again.

I used to have one of these, it's called a Philips 834A and is an oval shape which the dealers call 'Cathedral Style' but all my friends just called 'The Egg'. I inherited it from my Uncle Peter who had gone off to join the Navy. It sat on my bedside cabinet, hooked up to an arial which ran the length of a 25 yard long garden. You needed something like that to listen to Radio Luxembourg. For those of you who are not of a certain age I need to explain something about the state of radio broadcasting in the UK in 1963. 

The whole of Great Britain had three radio stations, all run by the BBC and were as follows

The Light Programme which broadcast popular music (NOT Pop Music), comedy and variety shows and light drama - The Archers was broadcast on the Light Programme.

The Home Service. This is where you would find in-depth news, political debate and drama of a more serious persuasion (DEFINITELY not Pop Music).

The Third Programme. Home to shrieking opera, classical music, highbrow intellectual debate (MOST DEFINITELY not Pop Music) and only broadcast in the evenings.

If you were 14 years old and wanted to listen to Pop Music you listened to Radio Luxembourg. So called because it really was broadcast from the Duchy of Luxembourg, in English and intended for a UK audience and (after 1963) only played Pop Music. To reach the UK it relied on a layer of atmosphere high above the ground called the ionosphere. This will reflect radio waves back down to the ground and allow signals to reach beyond the horizon (this doesn't work for VHF and higher frequency signals) so Radio Luxembourg was broadcast on medium wave, 208 meters. As Sunlight tends to break up this layer, it only really works after dark and even then, the signal can be erratic. One of the more famous characteristics of Radio Luxembourg was the regular fading in and out of its signal, hence the need for a big arial if you wanted good reception.

I had rigged up my radio so I could switch off the main speaker and run it through a set of headphones I had bought from one of the many Government surplus stores which used to line both sides of Tottenham Court Road. I wanted to do this so I could listen late at night without annoying my parents. Unfortunately, the headphones were of the high impedance balanced armature type and I had connected them directly to the low impedance output for the speaker. Don't do this, it's not a good idea as it overloads the transformer. Eventually, the whole thing caught fire but that's a story for another day. 

One evening, the DJs were swapping over for the midnight shift. The one arriving said to the one leaving, "have you heard of the Beatles"?

"Yes" came the reply. (They had recently released a single called "Love me Do").

"Have you heard their new one"?


"Listen to this"

He then started to play 'Please, Please Me'. This was a life changing moment for me as it can only be when you are 14 years old. Everyone who is 14 will have one of these experiences if they are lucky and it can only happen when you are 14. it doesn't matter what generation you are and the song might have come from Elvis, the Beatles or the Sex Pistols, you just know it when you hear it.

Actually, thinking about it, I may have still been 13 but you know what I mean. Rushing to school the next day, I was the one to tell everyone about this fantastic new song.  Remember, everyone would have had to wait till the evening to hear it. No Pop Music during the day from Auntie Beeb.

I wonder how anyone manages to cope if their 14th birthday fails to coincide with a major musical event, I mean, suppose the radio is playing 'Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes'. The trauma must last a lifetime.

I think must have been very lucky to have lived through such an exciting time in the development of music. We went from the earliest Rock and Roll with acts like Elvis, Bill Hailey, Buddy Holly and the like through to the 60s with groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, The Who then onto the 70s with Elton John, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, ending up with Punk Rock bands like the Sex Pistols, all in less than 25 years. I don't think there has ever been such a rapid change in music styles before or since. For the last 25 years we seem to have had nothing but a long succession of manufactured boy bands and teenage girls prancing about in their bra and knickers. Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against teenage girls prancing about in their bra and knickers but that's just because I'm a dirty old man - my inner music critic is screaming "Please Stop"

What did we have 25 years ago - Ah, yes!

Push Pineapple 
Shake a tree......................................................

Next time......
How Radio Caroline changed my life and turned Frinton-on-Sea into Ground Zero for  the rock revolution.

1 comment:

  1. Great memories. Back in the 90's Atlantic 252 on long wave from Ireland tried to replicate the Luxembourg format, but technology and the audience had moved on. I was a DJ and engineer on Radio Caroline right at the end of its' time at sea - in 1989 and 1990. There too technology was on the verge of moving the audience on - now it very successfully broadcasts online. Love the wildlife photos by the way!