On the 24th May 1956, the first Eurovision Song Contest took place in Lugano, Switzerland. It has since grown to be one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world.
The idea for the contest came from Marcel Bezençon, chairman of the European Broadcasting Union, at a meeting of the in Monaco in 1955. Founded in 1950, the EBU was looking for a way to bring the countries of Europe together after the devastation of the Second World War. However, of the 23 member countries at the time only seven countries participated in the first Eurovision competition, with just three more broadcasting the show.
Highlighting just how far communication technology has come, it’s worth noting that the first Eurovision Song Contest took place over a year before Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, was put into orbit. The first competitions were relayed across Europe using a terrestrial microwave network that linked the countries of Europe together like an invisible spider’s web.
Although the contest is now as much about geopolitics as music, the geography of Eurovision is fascinating. Countries do not have to be within the continent of Europe to be eligible to enter, nor do they need to be members of the European Union. Eligibility is actually based on the European Broadcasting Area which – even more confusingly – covers an area extending into North Africa and the Middle East. This helps to explain the regular appearance of Israel, and also Morocco’s entry in 1980 that finished second-to-last with only 7 points.