Owlglass

Till Eulenspiegel is a legend of Middle Low German folklore. He appears in literature from Holland, Bohemia, Denmark, Poland, Italy and Belgium, but only really entered English culture in the late 1800s under the name Owlglass. He wears a jester’s uniform and is often holding the components of his name – an owl and a mirror. He can appear in any place at any time and tends to play tricks on those with ideas above their station, exposing greed, folly and hypocrisy along the way.

*

Georges de Caluwé was born in 1889. In 1922, Caluwé, who by this time lived in Antwerp, began to experiment broadcasting radio on a shortwave frequency. His station, Radio Antwerp, was known colloquially as Radio Little Church, after Caluwé obtained a government license to mount his radio mast on the tower of the local Protestant church. Caluwé would broadcast from a small room he installed for himself under the church bells, and Radio Little Church gained a strong local following.

In May 1940, everything changed. As the Nazis rapidly advanced across Belgium, Caluwé destroyed the station’s entire infrastructure, adamant that none of it would be used by the occupying forces for propaganda purposes. In secret, Caluwé painstakingly reconstructed a transmitter during Belgium’s five-year occupation, planning to resurrect Radio Antwerp at the end of the war.

It proved rather ironic that once Belgium was liberated in 1944, the returning government in exile placed all radio stations under state control. Radio Antwerp was shut down, Caluwé’s license was revoked, and he was so embittered by this whole ordeal that he apparently briefly founded and led his own political party. The Belgian authorities responded by confiscating all of the radio equipment from Caluwé’s Antwerp shop.

On August 2, 1958, a Danish radio station called Radio Mercur grabbed the attention of Georges de Caluwé by doing something no one else had tried before. Radio Mercur had become the first known station in history to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without a license from the government of the country it was broadcasting to. The Danish government operated similarly strict rules to Belgium in regards to radio broadcasting at this time, as did the United Kingdom. In Denmark, Radio Mercur quickly became popularly known as a ‘pirate radio’.

image_02
Georges de Caluwé aboard the Eulenspiegel. Picture from Don’t Do It Magazine.

In 1962, at the none-too-spritely age of 73, Caluwé purchased a former French supply ship called the Crocodile, installed a 10,000 watt radio transmitter and floated it in Antwerp Harbour. His beloved Radio Antwerp navigated the airwaves again, playing classical music, opera, and the popular music of the early Sixties. The show was broadcast mostly in Flemish, and Caluwé himself presented an all-request show at noon. The ship was renamed the Eulenspiegel.

The show proved overwhelmingly popular, and in an attempt to combat Radio Antwerp, the official Flemish radio network had to change its broadcast hours. By the start of December 1962, things had gotten decidedly more serious. The Belgian Parliament announced an anti-pirate law, and plans were underway to board the Eulenspiegel on December 13.

The boarding was postponed due to bad weather. In a twist of fate, Georges de Caluwé died from a heart attack during surgery the same day. On the 15th, in a spectacular piece of pathetic fallacy, a storm rolled in from the North Sea and broke the Eulenspiegel from its moorings, washing it up early the following morning on a beach at Cadzand in the Netherlands. The crew abandoned ship and escaped completely unhurt from the entire ordeal. On December 18, the Belgian government voted through the law prohibiting pirate stations at sea. Radio Antwerp would never broadcast again.

*

The Eulenspiegel remained stranded on the beach at Cadzand, a curious sight for holiday-makers and dog-walkers, until it was blown up by the Dutch authorities in 1971. Pirate radio, particularly of the off-shore variety, became increasingly popular in Europe throughout the Sixties, providing a headache for lawmakers everywhere who tried to restrict its prevalence. Today it is taken for granted that it is possible to listen to a variety of official and unofficial stations broadcasting an eclectic range of music, news and culture.

One of those stations, broadcasting at 91.8 FM in the Flanders region, is called Radio Uylenspiegel. They play music including traditional folk, metal, blues and electro.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s