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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.{a}

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

Radio on St Helena

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

SAMS Radio 1 ⋅ News, features and entertainment

SAMS Radio 2 ⋅ The BBC World Service on FM

SaintFM Community Radio ⋅ News, features and entertainment

Closed stations

SaintFM ⋅ The Heartbeat of St Helena

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

SAMS 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.{b}

Incidentally, if you are told that the source of a story is ‘Radio Bamboo’ don’t bother searching your radio dial for the station. ‘Radio Bamboo’ is a local term for a rumour.

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

The following is an overvierw of ‘how we got to here’. Much more detail is provided in the linked pages (see above).

Below: Early Days‘Hams’ take the leadMoving towards a broadcasting stationOn Air!

Early Days

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.

Old radio

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{1} and The ‘Blue Book’ for 1947 reported There are about 150 radio sets but there is no local radio station nor electricity supply{2}. 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.

‘Hams’ take the lead

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.

‘The Ham of Half Tree Hollow’

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 initially in the 92m band and later on the medium wave band, using equipment he largely put together himself. He would do a show every Sunday afternoon (2pm to 4pm) and another on a Thursday evening (7pm to 9pm). 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.

Incidentally, Billy’s station was not a ‘Pirate’ - he applied for and was issued with a broadcasting licence, the cost of which was offset by the 3d (later 6d) paid for each request.

We do not know when Billy ceased broadcasting; it may have continued right up to the start of broadcasting by Radio St Helena. If you know please contact us.

Moving towards a broadcasting station

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. Here is an announcement from the St Helena News Review of 15th May, 1965:

Cable and Wireless Limited, wish to announce that subject to transmitter availability and as an experiment, they are relaying the B.B.C. World Service during the hours 11am to 2pm and 5:45pm to 8:45pm daily. The broadcast may be heard in the 92 meter band at a frequency of 3235 kc/s. Listeners are invited to send in reports on programme strength and quality stating their address and time and date when programme heard.

Because these transmissions were on a frequency of 3235KHz, which was not available on many imported UK radios, few people could receive the transmissions. 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.

On Air!

Radio St Helena was the island’s first and only broadcast station until the start of SaintFM in late 2004. SaintFM and Radio St Helena continued in parallel until 2012.

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 SAMS Radio 1 launched in February 2013, followed by a re-born SaintFM Community Radio in March 2013. SAMS Radio 2 launched soon afterwards and SAMS 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 4,400 people{3}. This is not economically viable and all three of our current stations receive financial support from the Government of St Helena or other sources.

World Radio Day

SAMS Radio 1

‘Listen Live’
SAMS Radio 1
Link: sams.sh
{4}{5}

Internet Radio

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 worldwide to mark the Day.

SAMS Radio 1 launched on World Radio Day 2013.

For more annual events see our page This Year.

Read More

Article: Letter, 1959

Wirebird cover, December 1959

Letter published in the St Helena Wirebird{8}, December 1959{7}

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.

LOL

Credits:
{a} Hermann Hesse{b} Government of St Helena Media Review, September 2016{7}{c} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.

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Footnotes:
{1} It was transmitted from Ascension Island, so this is not surprising!{2} Electricity started to reach ordinary houses in 1954, initially in Jamestown only - see our page Renewable Energy.{3} The total resident population on 7th February 2021 was 4,439, 4,118 of which were St Helenian and the remainder visitors, temporary workers, etc.{c}{4} Please Note: The owner of this site makes reasonable endeavours to ensure that external links from this site are valid and contain useful information but declines all responsibility for the contents encountered or damage incurred when visiting websites to which you are directed by external links on this website. Visits to other websites are made entirely at your own risk.{5} 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 (our social media feeds are, of course, completely safe and reliable!).{6} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{7} @@RepDis@@{8} The Government newspaper{6}.

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