Silence falls: a reflection on the loss of Saint FM

The day after St Helena’s independent radio station closed down, JOHN TURNER sent this personal reflection on what it meant to the island, and on the contribution made by station founder Mike Olsson and his wife, Bernice.

I just saw Bernice walk up the street.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, stopped her to ask two questions: “Why did it close?” and, “How’s Mike?”

There does seem to be a general air of disbelief that Saint FM is gone forever. Many of the shops are quiet – they all played Saint FM. Now many have silence. Only a few have switched to Radio St Helena.

The real shock will come when everyone goes back to work after block leave. All the offices have a radio on and they’re all tuned to Saint FM.

Or maybe it will be when the ship arrives on 28th and there is no announcement of arrival time, labour take on time, boarding times, cargo handling times, etc.

But will the people rise up in protest at the government’s actions?  I doubt it. That’s not the Saint way.  Saint FM will be missed but its passing won’t lead to rioting in the streets or even open protest.

“That’s how it is” seems to be the attitude.

I personally think Saint FM’s great contribution was its “open access” style.  If you had a programme idea, however off-the-wall, Mike would give you airtime.  Some worked.  Some didn’t.  They were always interesting and never dull.

I remember Alan Nichols playing accordion music. Ray C and co with their classic old-style (and to my mind gut-wrenchingly appalling) Good Ol’ Country Music.  Lucas.  Too many to mention.

I can’t imagine any of them will be allowed on the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation. I predict that SHBC will be exact, correct, professional and incredibly dull.  Just like its newspaper.

Mike, I’m told, woke up early today, as he has for the last nearly eight years.  What he will do with all the extra time I can’t imagine.  I wish him all the best.

Maybe one day someone will try again with independent radio on St Helena. Getting a broadcasting licence won’t be easy – SHG is unlikely to welcome completion for its radio monopoly – but maybe some brave soul will try it.

If so I hope he or she uses Saint FM as the model. It got a lot wrong but it got far more right.  What more can you say about any enterprise?

  • Radio St Helena will close on Christmas Day 2012. It has been reported that a relay of the BBC World Service will be transmitted in its place, with public service announcements, until new state-funded stations launch some time in January 2013.

Editor’s note: This is a personal commentary, and the views expressed about the new media services are the writer’s own. This site would be happy to publish a measured response.

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