Continental television stations 

23 December 2020


Book cover

From ‘Radio and Television Broadcasting on the European Continent’ by Burton Paulu, published in 1967 by University of Minnesota Press

All European countries except Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Vatican City have regular television services. But since all of these receive programs from their neighbors it can be said that the entire European continent has television. In 1964 there were 2,321 television transmitters in Western Europe (including the United Kingdom), an increase of 518 over the previous year, while Eastern Europe had 1,169, of which 291 were new. That gave Europe a total of 3,490 television transmitters in 1964 compared to about 700 in the United States.

The United Kingdom was the first country to begin a regular television service. It went on the air on November 2, 1936, but signed off on September 1, 1939, for World War II. There also were prewar operations in France, Germany, and the USSR. On June 7, 1946, Great Britain was the first European country to resume broadcasting. Because the transmitters and receivers already existed the British decided to continue their 405-line system, although in retrospect it might have been better if they had waited until they could convert to the 625-line system that was to emerge as the European standard. But in order to maintain their leadership, and also to stimulate their electronics industry, they decided to resume service at the earliest possible date. By the middle 1950s most countries had at least one television service. In early 1967, three countries had three television services: the United Kingdom (two BBC, one ITA); USSR (the third channel in Leningrad and Moscow only); and West Germany (the third on forty-one transmitters serving portions of five or six Länder). There were two services in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. All the remaining countries had one network only, including the entire Eastern area excepting the Soviet Union. In one sense, Switzerland has three networks, broadcasting in German, French, and Italian, but since each covers the section of the country using that language they should be regarded as three regional services which occasionally are combined into one national network.


Map of Europe

Continental Europe in Spring 1967. Red: Communist dictatorships; Blue: Democracies aligned with the USA; Green: neutral democracies; Purple: fascist dictatorships. Map source: Maix and Alphathon, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0 [Modified]


A typical European television service will have a combination of high-power transmitters, each covering a large population center, with low-power stations or repeaters, known also as transposers, for concentrations of population which because of location or terrain do not have good reception from the main transmitters. In 1966, for example, Belgium had three stations for its French-language programs, two for its Dutch, plus five satellite transmitters for the former and two for the latter service. Italy at the end of 1965 used 32 high-power transmitters and 637 repeaters for its first television network, and 32 transmitters and 87 repeaters for its second. Like all European countries, however, it had only a few studio centers. As mentioned before, there were elaborate installations in Rome, Milan, Turin, and Naples.

Symbol of Soviet TV

The Soviet Union, like the other Eastern countries, lags behind the West in television development. Moscow and Leningrad have three channels each, and much of the USSR west of the Urals can receive two services; but in the eastern portions of the country there is only one service if any at all. Programs from the first Moscow channel are fed to 500 transmitters serving 120 cities which are all interconnected by cables or microwave relay. There are origination facilities for 120 of these transmitters. In the eastern part of the Soviet Union, where no stations are linked for five simultaneous broadcasting, programs usually are exchanged by film or videotape recording. The third, educational channels in Moscow and Leningrad are not interconnected nor will be the other third channels as they come into service in various large cities.

Most television transmitters within a country are linked by micro-wave and sometimes by cable, as are the systems of adjacent countries. It was inevitable, therefore, that Europe like the United States would develop continental networks as soon as technical developments permitted. Western Europe set up Eurovision in 1954 and Eastern Europe has had Intervision since 1960. The two exchange programs regularly.

BBC-RTF link-up

The European Television Community, known as Eurovision, is one of the proudest achievements of the European Broadcasting Union. The first international television relay connected Calais and London in August 1950, though the problems of standards conversion was not involved since only the BBC carried the programs. By 1952, however, the French and British had succeeded in converting signals from one standard to the other and in July of that year eighteen programs originated in Paris were sent to London for simultaneous broadcast in both countries. Services on the continent were very anxious to televise the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in June 1953, so the Coronation broadcasts were carried by twelve transmitters in France, the Netherlands, and Western Germany.

European Broadcasting Union

In addition, during the weeks immediately before and after the Coronation, twenty other BBC programs were broadcast in those countries. Even before the inauguration of regular live network connections, however, there were exchanges of films among European broadcasting organizations, along with some cooperative production of programs. There also were exchanges of short filmed items for insertion into longer programs.

Live Eurovision began officially on June 6, 1954, with experimental transmissions over a temporary network linking Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. A temporary technical center at Lille, France, supervised the experiment and signals were converted to the 405-, 625-, and 819-line standards as required. Enthusiastic public and press response to these programs led to the establishment of a permanent coordination center in Brussels at the end of 1955.

Thereafter, the technical facilities for Eurovision gradually expanded until they now include all the countries of Western Europe, plus Yugoslavia. During the first months the shortage of television circuits made it impossible to relay a program through a country unless the transmitters of that country either carried the program themselves or dispensed with network service while it was on the air. As an example, Italy for a time could not get a program from Denmark unless both Switzerland and Germany carried it. But by the end of 1955 there were enough duplicate circuits to eliminate this problem. By 1962 the EBU had acquired permanent audio circuits connecting the principal participants, but vision circuits still have to be ordered separately for each occasion, and for several daily transmissions considerable advance scheduling is involved. For example, currently there are regular daily hookups during which members feed each other film and video tape recordings for use in news broadcasts.


Office building

1962 image of the building at Uccle, Brussels, occupied by the Technical Centre of the European Broadcasting Union. This building, which was constructed in 1937 for the International Broadcasting Union (I.B.U), is situated in a residential district on the outskirts of Brussels. In 1961, an additional storey was added in order to cope with the expansion of the Technical Centre’s activities, in particular those relating to Eurovision.


Eurovision’s technical statistics now are very impressive. As of January 1, 1965, twenty-one television services in sixteen European countries took part. The total length of vision circuits exceeded 100,000 kilometers (62,100 miles), consisting of about 12,000 kilometers (7,452 miles) of cable and 90,000 kilometers (55,890 miles) of microwave relay. The total network included over 2,382 television transmitters serving more than 45,000,000 receivers, representing a maximum audience of about 200,000,000 people. Standards converters are in widespread use, being located in most countries. Supplementing Eurovision are many exchanges among neighbors, particularly among countries with the same or similar languages, such as the French-language community (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, and western Switzerland); the Dutch-language area (Belgium and the Netherlands); the German-language group (Germany, Austria, and northern Switzerland); and the Scandinavian countries (Nordvision).


The EBU’s facility in La Dôle (Switzerland) near the Franco-Swiss frontier, which converted 819-line television signals to the 625-line standard and vice-versa, pictured in the early 1960s



In Eastern Europe, too, television exchanges began on an ad hoc and bilateral basis. Early in 1956 some stations in East Germany and Czechoslovakia broadcast part of the Eurovision coverage of the Olympic hockey matches relayed from Italy, and in 1957 interconnections also were extended to Poland. In January 1960 the OIRT Administrative Council decided to create Intervision, and formal inauguration came on September 5, 1960, with participation by Hungary, East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. When links became available the Soviet Union joined in 1962.

By 1966 Intervision had thirteen members including all the Communist countries except Albania, which had only experimental television, and Yugoslavia, which received Eurovision programs as an EBU member and took some Intervision programs as well, though it was not formally an Intervision member. Finland belonged to both Eurovision and Intervision. Negotiations between OIRT and EBU for program exchange began in February 1960, and there now are connections between Eurovision and Intervision on the frontiers of the two Germanys, as well as at the Austrian-Czechoslovak and Austrian-Hungarian borders. With East as West there also are frequent exchanges among neighboring countries, although until tape recorders are more widely available in the East European countries the use of material on a delayed basis will be complicated for them.



The development of European television studios followed the pattern previously observed in the United States. Originally programs were produced in poorly equipped studios, often improvised from radio studios, theaters, and auditoriums. In Prague the advent of state socialism made available an old grain exchange as one studio center. In 1966 Czech television had three studios in Prague and five elsewhere, the Prague staff being housed in fifty-three different buildings, although there were plans dating from 1957 for an elaborate new building with extensive facilities for both radio and television. Western countries, too, often improvise studios. Belgium, for example, crowded television production into its prewar Broadcasting House in Brussels, with some overflow facilities, while building a large-scale production center in the suburb of Schaarbeck. Although this will take twelve years to complete, by 1967, three new studios for each of the French and Dutch services are scheduled for use.

Hamburg has a studio especially designed for the production of news programs for the first German television network. Poland is among the Eastern countries with big plans, although facilities are very crowded at present. Blueprints were begun, however, in 1960, and it is hoped that the new broadcasting center — the largest capital construction ever undertaken in that country — will be completed by 1970. The building will include fifteen studios, five for television and ten for radio.

Ostankino Tower

The Moscow Ostankino Tower, photographed in 2019. Image source: Alexander Patrikeev, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Moscow also struggles along with temporary accommodations but is building a television center on the outskirts of the city which Soviet spokesmen predict will outdo all other television centers, together with a tower 1,722 feet high. Specifications for television studios are apt to be outmoded as soon as they are drawn up, but the new European studios equal in size and equipment those found anywhere else in the world. There now are many impressive television centers throughout Western Europe, notably in the United Kingdom (both BBC and ITA), France, Ireland, Italy, West Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

Most Western studio centers have video tape recorders, usually American-made Ampex or RCA. Other equipment is largely European, such as Siemens, Telefunken, and Fernseh from Germany; Marconi, Pye, and EMI from Great Britain; Philips from the Netherlands; Thomson-Houston from France; and Brown Boveri from Switzerland. Japanese equipment also is beginning to appear. Eastern countries use much Western equipment: For example, the USSR has Marconi and Pye, as well as equipment of its own.

Because the United States for security reasons refuses to sell video tape recorders to East European countries and persuaded Japan also to withhold equipment, the Eastern countries had relatively few video tape recorders even as late as 1967, and not all of these were of compatible design. The first experimental video tape recorders in the Soviet Union were tested in 1961. East Germany first reported developments in 1964, and by 1967 had five video tape recorders of its own manufacture. The number of video tape recorders in Eastern Europe is growing, however, and in time that part of the continent will be well supplied. But in the meanwhile, the exchange of programs among Eastern countries as well as between East and West is complicated, since tapes from a limited number of incompatible video tape recorders must be supplemented with film recordings made by the older and less effective kinescope method.


Ampex AVR3

Ampex AVR3 video recorder in 1975. Image source: Belgavox, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0


For such special events as the Olympic Games, members of the European Broadcasting Union pool their resources with impressive results. Thus, during the Winter Olympic Games held in January and February of 1964 at Innsbruck, 59 events were transmitted for television and 93 for radio, to 32 radio and 29 television services. The technical staff totaled 485 persons, of whom 104 worked on radio, 242 on television, 98 on film, and 41 on related activities, and 112 motor vehicles were involved, including 15 remote outside broadcast units. This extensive installation was necessary to provide the intricate picture and sound pickups required for the many events, as well as for commentaries and interviews in all the languages involved. EBU committees of legal experts, engineers, and production personnel went to Mexico City in 1966 to lay plans for the 1968 Olympic Games. From their discussions came proposals for a pooled pickup to serve some 47 countries, including OIRT members. Satellite transmissions will be supplemented by the air shipment of tapes, and there will be direct radio circuits to all parts of Europe.

You Say

1 response to this article

Ronald Bird 24 December 2020 at 2:53 am

In early 1967, … There were two services in Austria, Belgium …

It is strange and inconsistent that the author Burton Paulu draws the distinction that in Switzerland there were not three national networks but three regional services, but when mentioning Belgium does not draw the distinction between the two networks being different regional language services broadcast by a national organisation. The Dutch service (BRT) was transmitted in Vlaanderen and the French service (RTB) was transmitted in Wallonie with overlap coverage of the Brussels capital region.

Unlike in Switzerland where the services very occasionally combined to form a national network, this would never, to the best of my knowledge, ever happened in Belgium (unless of course, by coincidence, taking the same feed of some live event).

A second Dutch service and a second French service did not start until 1977. This was after the national broadcasting organisation was split into two separate organisations: BRT (not changing to BRTN until 1991) and RTBF. (N = nederlandstalige, F = française meaning francophone not the French state).

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