Radio on St Helena

A surprisingly large number of stations

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 three current stations and several amateur operators St Helena’s radio waves are truly buzzing

Radio on St Helena

Below: Broadcast StationsAmateursBrief history of radio on St HelenaWorld Radio DayRead More

Broadcast Stations

St Helena currently has three active broadcast stations, all on FM. We also have three closed stations. Each station has a separate page on Saint Helena Island Info:

Radio on St Helena

Active stations

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

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

SaintFM Community Radio • News, features and entertainment

Closed stations

SaintFM (2004-2012) • The Heartbeat of St Helena

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

S.A.M.S. Pure Gold • Continuous music

A vibrant local media is important to the Island for a number of reasons that span all areas of Island life. Media must seek to promote the Island, hold statutory bodies to account and involve and inform the whole Island as well as people round the world. For many on the Island radio is a vital medium to stay in touch.{a}

Please note: there are many sources on the Internet purporting to give news and information about St Helena. Some of these are not reliable and you should use them with caution{1}.


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

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’ for 1932 states The Empire Short-wave Broadcasting Service is received well in the island{2} and The ‘Blue Book’ for 1947 reported There are about 150 radio sets but there is no local radio station nor electricity supply{3}. By the time of The ‘Blue Book’ for 1948 there were estimated to be 200 receivers.

There were, of course, military radio stations on St Helena during World War 1 and World War 2, but these only communicated with shipping. The Diplomatic Wireless Station started operating on St Helena in 1965 but this did not make any broadcasts receivable by local people. There was also at that time a weather radio station located on St Helena and it was on the air under the British callsign GHH, operating with a 1 kW Racal transmitter and an inverted V antenna system. Jamestown Meteo was in use for the teletype transmission of weather information to England on two shortwave channels, 6824KHz and 9044KHz. The reception of station GHH was reported occasionally in Europe and in North America, but again it had no impact on local people.

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 medium or long wave (and in English), 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 public 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
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 3d (later 6d) 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. We understand his ‘station’ was named ‘Radio Bamboo’.

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 3d 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 3d in the envelope. Muma knew then that I had taken the money out and spent it. Another sweet lashin.

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 May 1965 the island’s telecommunications provider, Cable & Wireless, 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 SaintFM (2004-2012) in late 2004. SaintFM and Radio St Helena continued in parallel until 2012.

Radio, 90.5MHz

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.

SaintFM 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 SaintFM Community Radio in March 2013. S.A.M.S. Radio 2 launched soon afterwards and S.A.M.S. Pure Gold followed in 2016 (and closed in April 2017).

At the time of writing St Helena has three active broadcast stations, serving a population of around 4,500 people{4}. 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.

World Radio Day

S.A.M.S. Radio 1

World Radio Day, proclaimed on 3rd November 2011 by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference, is observed annually on 13th February to celebrate radio as a medium. The date is the anniversary of the creation of United Nations Radio (UN Radio), on 13th February 1946. In recent years events were held in more than 80 countries around the world to mark the Day.

S.A.M.S. Radio 1 launched on World Radio Day 2013.

Read More

Article: Letter, 1959

Wirebird cover, December 1959

Letter published in the St Helena Wirebird{7}, December 1959{6}

Dear Sir,

I would like, through the medium of the ‘Wirebird’, to tell you how interesting it was for me to visit the BBC’s Overseas Services at Bush House, London, the other day. Thanks to the kind offices of Mr. C. Lawson-Reece, it was possible for me to visit the studios and to see the General Overseas Service in action.

While I was there I also met Miss Ines Brown, who organises the Overseas Request Programmes. She told me how very pleased she was to know how popular ‘Listeners’ Choice’ was among St Helenians. I’m sure you will all be glad to hear that she welcomes your letters, and hopes that people on die Island will realize that it is not always easy to play all your requests. There are many considerations, including the balance of the programme, to be taken into account. Miss Brown explained to me that the programme you can hear on Wednesdays is also heard by listeners in West Africa, South America, the Falklands Islands, Canada and the United States. With such a wide coverage, she must ensure that the records chosen for ‘Listeners’ Choice’ will interest and entertain the many thousands of people who tune in to the General Overseas Service at this time. So you can imagine how careful Miss Brown has to be about selecting request records to satisfy such a large and varied audience. The tunes chosen for birthdays - especially for mothers’ and fathers’ birthdays - are apt to be limited to a few over-played items and it would be a real help if listeners would occasionally leave the choice open to the announcer. They would thus avoid disappointment and the constant repetition of certain tunes which make poor listening for the majority. In the case of birthdays and other anniversaries, I can assure you that Miss Brown is doing her utmost to fit in your requests, numerous though they be, on or near to the dates asked for.

I must say that I came away from the BBC with a feeling of admiration for the way it is always ready to help its listeners in remote parts of the world. For instance, I not only learnt about how ‘Listeners’ Choice’ caters for isolated islands in the Atlantic, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but also that there were regular regional broadcasts, to West Africa, the West Indies, the Falkland Islands and even a programme to members of a British research party in the Antarctic. I wonder if the day is not too far distant when the people of St Helena and Ascension will have a link with London through a special programme directed to them alone. I am sure the BBC’s many listeners on the Islands would greatly appreciate such a service.

With all good wishes.

Yours sincerely,
James N. Johnson.

Those listening on St Helena would, at this time, have been listening on Shortwave. Local re-broadcasting of the BBC World Service did not begin until the launch of Radio St Helena in 1967.

{a} Government of St Helena Media Review, September 2016{6}

⋅ Click the highlighted marker (if any) to return to where you were before.

{1} Our social media feeds are, of course, completely safe and reliable!{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} According to the 2016 Census, the total resident population on 7th February 2016 was 4,534, 4,122 of which were St Helenian and the remainder visitors, temporary workers, etc.{5} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{6} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{7} The Government newspaper{5}.

⋅ Click the highlighted marker (if any) to return to where you were before.