The Bluebottle Boys, Chapter 12, Part 1 — Edgbaston, Late March 1962: Radio Luxembourg, Attempt 1

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[Note: In 1962, “Radio Caroline,” Screaming Lord Sutch’s “Radio Sutch” and the rest of British pirate radio were still two years away. The BBC’s de facto ban on rock music meant young people in the UK turned to “border blaster” stations, particularly Radio Luxembourg, for their music. Throughout most of the 1950s an analogous situation existed in the southwestern portion of the United States, where those who lived on the California coast between the Tri-Counties and San Diego, or in the San Joaquin or Imperial valleys, or in Arizona, southern Nevada or western New Mexico, relied, in the same way, on Mexican border blaster stations XEAK 690 and XERB 1090 (the latter home, for most of the 1960s to Bob Smith, aka “Wolfman Jack” or simply “The Wolfman”). By the late 1950s, stations in these vicinities, recognizing the untapped audience that was theirs for the taking, began to adopt rock or R&B formats. XERB kept the faith, but XEAK threw in the towel in 1961, changed its call letters to XTRA, and became the area’s first 24-hour news station. But in the UK, the “Beeb” remained adamant about its rock ban until September 1967, and the start of its “Radio 1.”]

 

“Luxy’s fab, don’t miss it.”

Sunday.”

“Don’t miss it.”

“11:00 pm.”

“It’s always great at 208.”

“On the dial at 1439.”

The way kids at the ABC Minors Club had spoken to Ian and me about it, you’d think we were living in a totalitarian state, talking about a forbidden broadcast from the free world beyond.

And there was a grain of truth in that, if only a grain.

In those days, rock was banned from British radio – not officially, of course, but effectively: It wasn’t allowed on the BBC back then, and private radio stations were not yet allowed on the air, granting a complete monopoly to “the Beeb.” It therefore followed the powers that be (or were – Super Mac and his crew) had intended to do all that they could to block any access the British radio listener had to rock music.

ITV’s Oh Boy and Boy Meets Girls– such as they were – had already had their brief moment in the sun and were well in the rear-view mirror, marginally known to or cared about by anyone my age

But Supermac and his crew had not counted on “Luxy,” as we came to call Radio Luxembourg, which went on the air after dark and included rock music among programs it beamed into England from beyond the Channel.

It could be heard near any coast from Brighton to Blackpool, Liverpool to London, often with the clarity of a local station. But in the West Midlands, 150 miles from the coast and nearly 400 from Luxembourg itself, Luxy’s signal was far more problematic, and often suffered from atmospheric interference, making it hard to tune it in and to keep it from fading out. That night, in my bedroom, Luxy was far more out than in. I lay under the covers, moving the tuning dial between 1430 and 1450 with all the delicacy of a safecracker, but I got little more than white noise for my trouble – static interspersed with an occasional bar-and-a-half of music – for the first quarter hour I tried to tune in.

Then, it flooded my head – the “chick” backup singers, the dance rhythms, the classic Emajor-C# minor-A major-B7 progression found in so much early rock, and tasty, gospel-tinged vocals of a young girl lead singer caught my breath and my pulse pounded desperately – for 37 seconds.

Then it all faded into the ether. Slowly, delicately, one millimeter at a time, I twisted the tuning dial another five minutes, hoping to find that joyful again, but to no avail.  Even then, though, as I shut off my radio in frustration, I knew I’d be back – not next week maybe, but soon. Luxy’s brief siren call had seduced me, caught me, and consigned me to the faithful.

 

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