RTL History: Mathias Felten (1907-1992)

04.09.2014, Luxembourg, RTL Group

The “History” column honours a person who is inextricably linked to the history of RTL Group. Today: Luxembourger Mathias Felten, who played a key role in the early days of Radio Luxembourg over the course of half century and laid the foundations of the company’s development.

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It was on 1 October 1931 that the young engineer and graduate of the Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble joined the recently created CLR in the role of technician. He quickly applied himself to the task at hand and, together with François Anen, made it possible to broadcast experimental programmes from the offices of N°53, avenue Monterey inLuxembourg City centre, where a small 150 watt transmitter had been installed. As the person in charge of the station’s transmitter, Felten closely followed the progress of the installations works at Junglinster which were completed at the end of 1932. During the same period, he fitted out the two Villa Louvigny studios from which Radio Luxembourg first took to the airwaves on 15 March 1933. Mathias Felten consequently played a key role in the early days of Radio Luxembourg, bringing the station’s broadcasts to a growing audience. Even so, Felten was not confined to the studios of the Grand Duchy, covering the Tour de France with Jean Masson for the first time in 1936 from the new Radio Luxembourg broadcasting van.

Mathias Felten in his office in 1948.

When war broke out, programme broadcasting ceased and staff was dismissed. But Mathias Felten remained loyal to his post, looking after the installations alongside engineer Ferdinand Scholtes Felten, requisitioned bythe Nazi occupiers n, left his post in June 1940 after the Germans commandeered the transmitter, but nevertheless, Felten kept an eye on CLR property throughout the war with the help of his informers.

Mathias Felten passing the baton, in 1985 to Pierre Werner (on the right), new President of CLT’s Board of Directors.

Following the end of the Nazi occupation, Mathias Felten, who had been reconnoitring the land since 9 September 1944, helped the liberators take possession of the Junglinster transmitter alongside Jacques Arouet, an American intelligence officer and descendant of Voltaire, as well as of Morry Pierce, CBS technician. However, the main transmitter tube had been destroyed by the Nazis and no replacement was available outside of Germany. Fortunately, Mathias Felten had had the foresight to predict such a situation might arise, and had previously set aside and secretly buried a replacement. Thanks to a stock of tubes hidden in a post office (PTT) (building in Diekirch, it was also possible to get the post up and running again in only four days. Once again, thanks to Mathias Felten, Radio Luxembourg’s installations were silent no more. For the remarkable assistance he gave to the American army, and more specifically the Psychological Warfare Division, Mathias Felten received the “Medal of Freedom” in 1948, awarded by the American government.

Mathias Felten

Having become Chief Engineer and Technical Director, Felten presided over the recommencement of commercial programmes during November 1945, for the smooth running of Radio Luxembourg. In 1953, he was promoted to General Deputy Director and in 1956 General Director. Felten took on the weighty task of preparing the launch of Télé Luxembourg in 1955 without, neglecting radio matters, having a new long wave radio antenna be built prior to the completion of that of future competitor, Europe No.1.

It was on his initiative that Radio Luxembourg’s German language schedule was launched on Medium Wave 208 m in 1957, despite the fact that he had brought up the idea as early as 1948. Faced with the reluctance of agency I&P’s French branch Managing Director, who did not think such an operation was commercially viable, as well as his refusal to participate in the creation of an agency for German language programmes, Mathias Felten threatened to create his own German agency. Consent was finally granted for the setting up of a provisional I&P office in Germany, which went on, as we know, to be a success. Mathias Felten was once again right to put his foot down! It is also worth noting that Felten was a friend of Auguste Trémont, whom he asked to create the famous winged lion trophy, awarded between 1959 and 1995 by the German Programmes Department.

Between 1975 and 1985 Mathias Felten chaired the CLT’s board of directors. Felten who was considered an effective and vigilant President became thereafter Honorary President.

Mathias Felten, who without question shaped RTL Group’s foundation, passed away on 27 October 1992. His son, Jules Felten, also had an impressive career at CLT, which he joined in 1973 as Secretary General, subsequently working as General Deputy Director up until 1995.

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