Brian McMahon of Brand New Retro truns the dial to 208.
“208 is my magic number. It’s a throwback to the early 1970s when I and thousands of other music-starved Irish teenagers listened every night to Radio Luxembourg 208”.
Do you have a favourite three-digit number? How about 101, 123, 747, 808 or 909? Or maybe the old devil in you prefers 666? 208 is my magic number. It’s a throwback to the early 1970s when I and thousands of other music-starved Irish teenagers listened every night to Radio Luxembourg 208. The number still resonates today. If I pass a door with 208 on it, I’ll say ‘fab’ and start singing songs by T. Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music or Sweet. With Totally Dublin about to reach issue #208, I knew what I had to do!
Radio Luxembourg was a legal commercial radio station which began broadcasting across Europe in 1933. Its English spoken evening shows connected with Irish audiences hungry for new and different programmes. The station closed when Germany occupied Luxembourg in 1940 and used it to relay Nazi propaganda by Irish-American William Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw.
In 1951, the station became known as Radio Luxembourg 208 after it switched frequency from longwave (LW) to medium-wave (MW) on 208 metres. The success of the UK pirate station Radio Caroline in the 1960s brought competition and new ideas, which spurred Radio 208 to up the ante, change their programmes and hire more ‘personality’ DJs. Kenny Everett, Noel Edmonds, Emperor Rosko, Tony Prince, Peter Powell, Tommy Vance, Mike Read, Steve Wright and Jimmy Savile all worked for 208 at some point. In 1967, the UK outlawed pirate stations and set up BBC Radio 1 to cater for the vibrant pop scene.
In 1969, 208 embraced the progressive music scene and hired Kid Jensen and John Peel for late night rock shows. Peel worked at 208 between 1971 and 1972 and had the freedom to play whatever he wanted. One of his 1971 shows can be heard today online. The recording features a recognisable laid-back Peel heard through a muddy MW signal. Halfway through the show, Peel reads out a teasing letter from Anne, in Dublin, his “most devoted fan”. Anne wrote that Peel would have more female fans if he provided “an exclusive photo of himself dressed in football gear, so that everyone can see the best legs in showbiz”.
Dave “Kid” Jensen was 208’s youngest DJ, and he championed Thin Lizzy right from the start. Instrumental for their breakthrough, Jensen had followed Lizzy’s progress by reading Pat Egan’s column in New Spotlight magazine. Indeed, the Irish pop magazine hosted a weekly page dedicated to 208. Not forgetting, of course, that Radio 208 had its own teen magazine called Fab 208.
In 1974, 208 DJ Tony Prince, “the Royal Ruler”, visited Dublin and packed the TV Club with hysterical fans. 208 was at its peak. But when the Irish pirates arrived a few years later, the radio landscape changed and 208 began to lose its hold.
However, there was still an Irish twist in the tale. In 1989 CLT (the owners of Radio 208) joined with RTE to form a new long-wave radio station in Co Meath and called it Atlantic 252. But that’s another story for another day. I’ll save it for Totally Dublin #252.
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro
1. 1_logo – 208 logo 1974
2. 2_fab73 – Cover of Fab 208 Annual 1973
3. 3_fab74 – Cover of Fab 208 Annual 1974
4. 4_JP John Peel from Fab 208 1972
5. 5_liz Thin Lizzy from Fab 208 1973
6. 6_schedule 208 programme schedule from New Spotlight 1974