A move by Mike Olsson to launch new radio stations on St Helena, alongside Saint FM, has caused concern for councillors.
A request from St Helena Media Productions for more slots on the airwaves was put on hold at the 12 June executive council meeting.
Councillors had already voted to fund three stations being set up by the new “community owned” St Helena Broadcasting Corporation.
If all stations go on air, the island could have six or seven radio stations serving a population that currently stands at just 4,000 people.
In another twist, Saint FM has begun working in partnership with its long-standing rival, Radio St Helena, which is due to be closed in the summer to make way for the new SHBC services.
One would have more speech – similar to Radio St Helena – and the other would be used to re-broadcast an overseas service.
The SHBC has already launched a newspaper, The Sentinel, in competition with Saint FM’s sister publication, the St Helena Independent.
It plans a music station, a speech station and a third channel re-broadcasting the BBC World Service.
Although the SHBC is currently funded from The Castle, the hope is that it will become financially independent once the island’s airport opens in 2015, giving a lift to the island economy.
The request for space on the airwaves was expected to go before executive council in May. Then councillors decided to put it on hold.
Governor Mark Capes’s report of the Exco meeting said: “Noting that FM frequencies were a valuable resource, councillors considered that they would need some expert advice before they could reach a decision.”
Mike Olsson told St Helena Online: “What we want to do is keep Saint FM as it is.
“Maybe we would even shorten down the talk content but use it to promote a second channel with more talk content, more classical music, more specialist music.
“You can’t do those things if you have only one channel.
“The mainstay of it would be longer talk programmes, call-in shows and that kind of content, because Saint FM has to be mainstream, which some people don’t like.
“The third channel, we thought the BBC would not agree to us using them but there are other ones we could use – we could use Sky – to give more international contact.”
Mike Olsson has not declared whether he would, in effect, be giving Radio St Helena a new lease of life beyond August 2012.
The government-funded station has been been broadcasting for nearly 45 years.
Former Radio St Helena manager Tony Leo now broadcasts a weekly programme on Saint FM, and the two stations have begun sharing some material – including a recording of this week’s public meeting on education.
“We and Radio St Helena are working together and this is the way it should have worked in the first place,” said Mike.
Mike Olsson told St Helena Online he had been assured there were no technical reasons not to allocate FM frequencies to St Helena Media Productions, which owns Saint FM and the St Helena Independent.
Councillors also noted that Saint FM already held spare licences, but Mr Olsson said they were in his own name and not suitable for island-wide broadcasting.”Two frequences is not enough to set up a new channel,” he said.
One frequency could not be picked up by Saint drivers with American radio recievers in their cars, he said.
The SHBC had offered to buy out Saint FM, but the offer was rejected.
Contrary to what ExCo was advised, there are plenty of frequencies available if they are used intelligently. London manages to have nearly 40 FM stations – we can certainly manage six!
- John Turner, St Helena
(John has a degree in radio transmission)