The Copenhagen Plan 

4 August 2014 tbs.pm/5293

The radio spectrum in Europe has been overcrowded since the first days of radio. Each country had a slightly different system for licensing radio stations, commercial or state, and each wanted to reach its entire population with as few transmitters as possible. Some, like Luxembourg, sought to reach far beyond the borders of their tiny Grand Duchy and offer entertainment to the UK, France and Germany. Some, like France, wanted state radio in their own country but were happy to broadcast commercial radio at neighbours. In the east, the communist countries wanted to restrict what their populations heard from outside but spread the word about Marxism-Leninism to the west. In the west, the capitalist countries cared little for what their own citizens decided to listen to as there was little they could do about it anyway, but sought to encourage the people in the east to pull at the reins of the dictators.

All of this meant that by the time World War II had ended, the wavelengths were crowded and mutual interference between foreign stations distant and near was a problem for everybody. The broadcasting organisations and the ministers and civil servants responsible for radio in each European country gathered in Copenhagen to try to thin things out and solve the problem.

It only partially worked, as these things only partially ever do. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, stuck pretty rigidly to what they were given. Meanwhile Luxembourg was given frequencies (and power outputs) commensurate with its tiny size, so promptly ignored them. Germany, only reconstituted as an independent entity (well, two, split between systems) in 1949 wasn’t invited at all and got what it was given, soon running out of space and finding itself forced to trample on distant stations or leave large swathes of the country unserviced.

The changes in 1950 happened at a time when it was still common to print the names of the stations, or the BBC regions, on the radio dial rather than give wavelengths or frequencies. These dials were rendered instantly out of date by Copenhagen – but most were pre-war and already out of date anyway, the BBC showing a late 1930s dial as an aid to tuning because that is what most people had in a time of austerity export drives and low consumer spending.

The Third Programme comes off worst in these changes, dumped down at 194m for some people, a place later better given to Independent Local Radio. The network had few listeners, but they were the great and good. The BBC took a gamble that they wouldn’t complain too loudly while it planned a network of “Ultra Short Wave” (VHF-FM) transmitters to start in 5 years time – the Third’s audience being the most likely to embrace the new technology anyway.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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6 responses to this article

Alfred Braithewaite 7 August 2014 at 7:55 pm

“Some, like France, wanted state radio in their own country but were happy to broadcast commercial radio at neighbours.”

Frogive me my ignorance, but which commercial radio stations were these?

From 1945 onwards up until 1950, the time period considered in this article. Radiodiffusion Française (RDF) and its successor in 1949, Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) ihad a monodpoly on public broadcasting in France.

The commercial Francophone radio station services in existence at this time were Radio Monte Carlo which was transmitted from from Monte Carlo, and Radio Luxembourg which was transmitted from Luxembourg. Europe 1 in Saarland did not start broadcasting until 1955.

It was not until 1974 that France permitted a commercial radio transmitter on its territory and that was a special exception made for Radio Monte Carlo to transmit from Romoules, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

Transmission of commercial radio stations in France was not legalized until 1981 by the administration of pseudo-socialist President François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand.

Russ J Graham 8 August 2014 at 5:16 pm

I can’t speak for the author, but I took the reference as being to Société financière de radiodiffusion (SOFIRA), which the French state used to invest in radio stations like RMC and later Europe 1, broadcasting commercial services around the periphery of France.

keith martin 15 February 2015 at 2:52 pm

I remember well the very clever way that Europe Number 1 first drew attention to itself when it first started broadcasting, was to transmit its slightly stronger signal on a very close frequency along side Radio 1293 metres Luxembourg. The heterodyne whistle was piercing! It did the trick though by telling its audience where it would move to – to the other side of Droitwich. Europe No 1, during its early months, there were programmes in English which were broadcast between 6am and midday! Many years later, when a new LongWave station was being planed, keith martin pushed for something similar. Atlantic 252 LW should transmit alongside Droitwich for the first couple of months. The alarming protests from the BBC would give Atlantic 252 millions of Pounds worth of publicity. Sad to say, they did not take my advice! RTE were afraid they would rock the boat – which reminds me of similar problems Radio Caroline had during the 1960s. Id better stop. mmm?

Graham Silcock 12 November 2015 at 7:08 pm

Interesting. I suppose it is obvious but radio is rapidly changing, some might say dying in the sense that it was once known.
Since much of the above is about long wave radio it is sobering to note that the whole of Scandinavia, Germany and Russia is now silent. I see that France is planning to close down Allouis and the BBC, we are told would like to close Droitwich down.
The radio of the future looks like a parish pump affair based on local services from just a few miles away. The only thing ‘wireless’ about it will soon be the distribution of the internet signal within your house. Everything is going to be high tech and under the strictest control. Think of the chain of thousands of people who will be so easily able to pull the plug on it. The receivers to pick up real ‘wild’ radio from strange places will soon be gone.
It is a situation that would all have gladdened the hearts of such as Hitler and Stalin. They will have plenty of successors. Democracy will be the chief casualty.

Steve Binnie 12 March 2016 at 4:44 pm

“Everything is going to be high tech and under the strictest control. Think of the chain of thousands of people who will be so easily able to pull the plug on it.”

I fear your first sentence contradicts the second.

“The receivers to pick up real ‘wild’ radio from strange places will soon be gone.”

On the contrary, distribution of radio via the internet makes it far easier to receive radio stations from all over the globe, including places from where an actual radio signal would be impossible to receive.

Nigel Stapley 24 July 2016 at 10:03 am

“Germany […] wasn’t invited at all and got what it was given, soon running out of space and finding itself forced to trample on distant stations or leave large swathes of the country unserviced.”

Would I be right in thinking that West Germany partly solved this by sticking with shortwave transmissions (mostly in the 49m band) for domestic services far longer than any other Western state? They were still there into the late 70s, hence the shortwave tuning effects on Kraftwerk’s legendary Autobahn from 1974.

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