"Pirate" Radio in the 1930's

In 1928 Hilversum started to broadcast Sunday concerts which were to last until 1930, this being only the start of what was to be a "pirate" era in some respects. Radio Toulouse commenced broadcasts in English in 1929 and these continued until 1931. In October 1931 IBC, the International Broadcasting Company started transmissions over Radio Normandie which had a 10kW transmitter located at Fecamp on the French coast. These broadcasts were received over all of Southern England. Later power was raised to 20kW and on a wavelength of 269.5m commercial programmes were aimed at a receptive audience. Typical programme hours were Sundays: 7.00am to 11.45am 1.30pm to 7.30pm and 10.00pm to 1.00am. Weekdays: 7.00am to 11.30am 2.00pm to 6.00pm and Midnight to 1.00am. In March 1938 the wavelength changed to 212.6m and later to 274m. Programmes were mainly recorded onto discs in London and featured fifteen minute sponsored slots. Live programmes also went out.

In May 1932 Radio Luxembourg started tests on 1250m and complaints were received of interference with aircraft radio transmissions. In the Spring of 1933 programmes commenced on Sundays only to start with. In January 1934 a change was made to 1304m and later 1293m. By the end of the decade programmes were going out from 8.15am to Midnight Sundays, and for about eight hours, spread over the day, on weekdays.

There were other stations, Poste Parisian an IBC station broadcasting on 312.8m with 60kW mainly on Sundays. Radio Lyons, 215m with 25kW on Sundays from 6.00pm to Midnight and for two hours on weekday evenings. Radio Toulouse, 328.6m, Radio Mediterrane, 235m broadcast from France. In addition other countries tried similar projects, Radio Ljubljana 569.5m, EAQ Madrid on 31.65m, to the Empire, Radio Eireann on 531m were among them. In the mid 1930's only on rare occasions did more than 35% of the population listen to the BBC compared with a Luxembourg audience of 45.7%.

Many of the smaller stations were forced to close through lack of advertising but by 1939 the major stations had some 300 firms on their books. With the outbreak of war the stations closed, except for Radio International which had taken over the 212m transmitter at Fecamp which stayed on the air until 1940 entertaining the British troops for thirteen hours per day. The war over, only Radio Luxembourg recommenced English broadcasts. Many comparisons can be made with the 1960's but one thing is sure, it wasn't the BBC that provided the majority with their radio entertainment.

Gerry Bishop from his book "Offshore Radio" 1975

Any new material is always welcome, just use the Contact page and I will get back to you. To chat about Pirate/Free Radio visit Garry Stevens Forum , or for information about today's land-based radio pirates check out the Radio Necks forum. To read more about Pirate Radio in London read London's Pirate Pioneers by Stephen Hebditch

Mark King,

Last updated August 2017