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Radio on St Helena

A surprisingly large number of stations

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Wireless would be of no more service to man than as an escape from himself and his true aims,
and a means of surrounding himself with an ever closer mesh of distractions and useless activities.

Hermann Hesse

With four current stations and several amateur operators the St Helena radio waves are truly buzzing.

This page is in indexes: Island Activity, Island History, Island Detail

Radio on St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]

Below: Broadcast StationsAmateursA brief history of radio on St Helena

Broadcast Stations

St Helena currently has four active broadcast stations, all on FM. Each station has a separate page on Saint Helena Island Info:

Current stations

S.A.M.S. Radio 1 • News, features and entertainment

S.A.M.S. Radio 2 • The BBC World Service on FM

Saint FM Community Radio • News, features and entertainment

Former stations

Saint FM (2004-2012) • The original heartbeat of St Helena

Radio St Helena • The voice of the island for 45 years

S.A.M.S. Pure Gold • Continuous music

Amateurs

St Helena has a small but dedicated band of radio amateurs (‘hams’). They too have their own page.

A brief history of radio on St Helena

Old radio [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]

The Government of St Helena first took an interest in radio with the Ordinance #7 of 1912 which “authorised the Governor in Council to make regulations governing the use of wireless telegraphy in the territorial waters of the Colony”, but this did not precede any moves towards broadcasting on St Helena. When early ‘wireless’ sets became available some were soon imported to St Helena. The ‘Blue Book’{1} for 1932 states “The Empire Short-wave Broadcasting Service is received well in the island{2} and the ‘Blue Book’{1} for 1947 reported “There are about 150 radio sets but there is no local radio station nor electricity supply{3}.

Although Amateur Radio stations operated on St Helena from 1952, before Radio St Helena was introduced the only option for a normal radio listener on St Helena was the BBC World Service on Shortwave or the few stations in Southern Africa that were receivable on mediem or long wave, mostly at night. The Government of St Helena showed no interest in starting a local radio service until attempts were made by amateurs at local radio broadcasting.

The first known broadcast took place on 23rd July 1958 when Percy Teale obtained a temporary license and made a one-time broadcast of a public meeting in the Cinema Hall in Jamestown. Soon afterwards, Mr. A. J. Davies assembled a radio transmitter from electronic parts that were imported from England by Percy Teale and he too made a few radio broadcasts. Another notable broadcast was made by Mr. Freese from the Arts Club in Jamestown on 3rd January 1960.

Billy Stevens, ZD7SD, in 1969 [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]
Billy Stevens, ZD7SD, in 1969

Soon afterwards, Mr. William (‘Billy’) Stevens (The ‘Ham of Half Tree Hollow’) went on the air with scheduled musical programming. He used to broadcast to the island from the Three Tanks area, broadcasting on the medium wave band. He would do a show every Sunday morning, and people would go along to his house and give him three pence (later sixpence) for a request. The set-up was incredibly basic: Billy would speak into his microphone, and then when the announcement was over he would lower the mike down to an old mono record player, which was operated by his son. The (UK) St Helena Association also recorded a programme called ‘Keeping in touch’, the purpose being to record Christmas messages from members in the UK and to send them to Billy Stevens for broadcast.

In his memoirs, published in Speaking Saint Anthony Hopkins writes:

Sometimes after Sunday School Muma would ask Charlie to give us a lift up to Mr Billy Stevens to give him a letter to play a request on his radio and then we would have to walk back to town. I soon discovered that there was three pence in the envelope so I thought, because it was so hot, I would take the money out of the envelope to buy ice lollies on the way home. That Sunday afternoon Muma would be listening to the radio. Familiar songs like ‘How much is that doggie in the window’, ‘Little White Duck’ played for little Gloria, or ‘March of Ben Masons’. ‘Mind your own business then you won’t be minding mine’ played for some nosey old woman, but Muma’s request was never played. She was so disappointed, lots of questions were asked, and ‘did you give the man the envelope’? ‘Yes’, I said. ‘You never drop the money out there?’ ‘No’, I said. By this time I had worked out what the money was for. Muma was in a rage and said she would see Mr. Stevens tomorrow in town and ask why he didn’t play her song. He told her that she had forgotten to put the three pence in the envelope. Muma knew then that I had taken the money out and spent it. Another sweet lashin.

In May 1965 the island’s telecommunications provider, Cable & Wireless{4}, started relaying the BBC World Service through local transmitters located in their headquarters at The Briars. Programmes were daily from 11:00h to 14:00h and from 17:45h to 20:45h. Sadly these transmissions were on a frequency of 3235KHz in the 90m Shortwave band, which was not available on many imported UK radios. This service continued only until the end of 1965.

Together, these transmissions clearly demonstrated that there was a demand for locally-broadcast radio on St Helena. Our first station was Radio St Helena, which launched on 25th December 1967.

Radio St Helena was the island’s only broadcast station until the start of Saint FM (2004-2012) in late 2004. Saint FM and Radio St Helena continued in parallel until 2012.

Radio, 90.5MHz [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]

The Government of St Helena issued the following announcement on 7th July 2011:

SHG is planning to set up a new, community owned company, to provide improved media services on St Helena. This not-for-profit company will provide three radio stations, all on the FM Band, and a newspaper. The first radio station will focus on popular and country music with news summaries; the second station will maintain the Radio St Helena brand; and the third station will be dedicated to the BBC World Service.

The new Company will be fully independent of Government and the current St Helena News Media Services organisation will be wound up.

Saint FM was invited to join the new media company but its owner declined and responded by closing the station down on 21st December 2012. And, as planned, Radio St Helena also closed on 25th December 2012 - the 45th anniversary of its launch. This left St Helena with no broadcast radio stations until S.A.M.S. Radio 1 launched in February 2013, followed by a re-born Saint FM Community Radio in March 2013. S.A.M.S. Radio 2 launched soon afterwards and S.A.M.S. Pure Gold in 2016 (it closed in April 2017).

At the time of writing{5} St Helena has three active broadcast stations, serving a population of fewer than 5,000 people. This is not economically viable and all three of our current stations are partly or wholly subsidised by the Government of St Helena or other sources.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]

Laugh at funny radio humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Radio on St Helena]


Footnotes:

{1} Formally the ‘Colonial Annual Report’ - a document setting out the island’s income, expenditure and other administrative matters for the year. Signed by the Governor or acting Governor usually in April-June of the year following.

{2} It was transmitted from Ascension Island, so this is not surprising!

{3} Electricity started to reach ordinary houses in 1953, initially in Jamestown only.

{4} Now Sure South Atlantic Limited.

{5} .



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