St Helena Online

Tag: Mike Olsson

New radio group bids to revive Saint FM

Efforts are being made to relaunch Saint FM – as a charity.

Founder Mike Olsson, who closed the station on 21 December 2012, will not be a member of the management committee, but will produce the daily news bulletins and provide technical support.

He had announced that the closure would be permanent. After Christmas, he put the station up for sale.

The island has been without a local radio station since Boxing Day, after the closure of Radio St Helena to make way for new government-funded radio stations that turned out not to be ready to go live.

Veteran Radio St Helena staff are understood to be involved in the Saint FM relaunch.

An application to become a registered charity has been submitted (17 January 2012) and a new broadcasting licence will be needed. It is not clear how long it will take to get clearance to resume transmissions.

The station would continue to broadcast from its previous home in Association Hall, in Jamestown’s Main Street – at least initially.

VINCE THOMPSON broke the news of the relaunch on the station’s Facebook page. He wrote:

It’s Official – Saint FM is coming back.

On Tuesday evening, this week, it was decided to restart Saint FM.

The constant requests from almost everyone which have been made to Saint FM staff every day could no longer be ignored.

The new Saint FM will be organised very differently from the Saint FM we all know.  After seven years in the hot seat, Mike Olsson is taking a back seat.  There will no longer be someone in the studio to answer phone calls from the early hours until bed time.

Donna will continue to work at Saint FM and hopefully Sinead will too, but Mike’s absence will leave a big hole which cannot be filled completely.

The new Saint FM was launched as a charitable organisation on Tuesday evening.  Nineteen people gathered at Association Hall to agree the new charity’s constitution and to elect the officers and committee who will be responsible for the new radio station.

The official name of the new Saint FM is Saint FM Community Charity.  The chairperson of the charity’s management committee is Julie Thomas, Les Baldwin is secretary and Liz Johnson the treasurer.

There are seven other members of the management committee, including experienced broadcasters, Saint FM employees and of course, someone who knows how to keep accounts properly.

Mike Olsson is not on the management committee.  Mike will continue to provide the radio news and will be available to sort out the radio equipment when technical problems arise.

After seven years of working 18–20 hours a day, seven days a week, Mike is now trying to sort out a normal life for himself.

There are two main reasons why Saint FM is being launched as a charity.  First, while the old Saint FM was very popular, had support from many people in all sorts of ways and was very much part of the community, the new Saint FM will have stronger direct links with the people of St Helena through its charitable status.

The main direct link will be through official membership of Saint FM Community Charity.  Membership will have benefits and the management committee is kicking around some ideas of what the benefits will be.  Full details will follow later.

The second reason for applying for registered charitable status is, to put it plainly, all about money.

A radio station in St Helena cannot expect to make money without extra funds coming in from somewhere. For a private sector radio station, most of the money raised is from adverts and announcements. But the income from adverts is often only enough to pay the wages, the rent, the phone bills and the broadband charges.

There is little or nothing left over to put aside to pay for new radio equipment when the old equipment doesn’t work properly.

There is also no money left over to pay for improvements to the service offered by the radio station; this includes an additional member of the full time staff.

Some of the extra money needed to keep the radio station on the air will be raised by asking listeners and supporters to become members of the Saint FM Community Charity.

Becoming a member will mean paying a membership fee. The standard adult membership fee will probably be set at five pounds, with a reduced membership fee of one pound for juniors and people on benefit.

There may also be special corporate and overseas membership status. The computer streaming links with the Falklands, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha need to be re-established and it is not certain yet whether it is still possible to re-connect with all the South Atlantic islands.

As The Independent goes to print, no firm date has yet been set for launching the new Saint FM on air.  Confirmation of registered charitable status and the broadcasting licence are still required.

Mishievous Mike advertises ‘rival’ for sale – and it’s not a joke
Saint FM closure – links

‘We changed the island’ – Mike halts the heartbeat of St Helena

A candle burned in the crowded studio of Saint FM as the last song played out on St Helena’s best-loved radio station.

A few minutes earlier, station founder Mike Olsson told listeners around the world: “I think we changed the island. We have been able to bring more openness and more information to the people.”

He chose to end eight years on air with the old Seekers hit, The Carnival Is Over. When it faded, he switched off the transmitter and the flame was blown out.

For those present, it symbolised “the end of independent radio on St Helena and the plunging of the island into darkness”.

With three new stations due to launch some time in January 2013, albeit with start-up funding from St Helena Government, not everyone on St Helena would agree with the sentiment.

Officials in the Castle are now attempting to make sure the island’s airwaves do not fall completely silent when its only other existing broadcaster, Radio St Helena, closes down at the end of Christmas Day, after exactly 45 years on air.

St Helena Online had been told that the new stations might not go live until late January. The St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation is understood to have had to overcome substantial difficulties to launch them.

However, a government spokesman has now said it was hoped the launch would be “a bit sooner” in January.

He said it was too early to give definitive information, but officials were “working to bridge any radio gap between midnight on 25 December, and SHBC’s start-up.”

Radio St Helena station manager Ralph Peters has told St Helena Online that he may be able rescue a programme of messages from UK Saints, recorded by Johnny Clingham for Saint FM to play on Christmas Day.

Ralph has said he could broadcast the programme on Christmas afternoon if Johnny can get it to him via the internet.

St Helena approves law that top judge warned against

Click the pic to read the full story

A law that could see journalists sent to prison for what they write or broadcast has been given final approval by St Helena’s British governor and its executive council.

It comes a year after Britain’s most senior judge warned that legal or government influence over the media’s work would be a threat to basic freedoms.

The Daily Telegraph said: “It is no coincidence that countries with the highest levels of corruption have the most tightly regulated media.”

It is not possible to represent the views of executive council members on the issue because the media is excluded from its meetings and is not allowed to see copies of agendas, reports or minutes. A comment has been invited.

A St Helena Government spokesman has previously told St Helena Online that no decision would be taken that infringed human rights law – which protects free speech.

Read more: St Helena’s media standards law: a threat to freedom?

Rules laid down for new radio stations – for now

A battle for the airwaves has led St Helena Government to lay down temporary rules on how radio licences should be granted.

It says it would be unfair to make applicants wait for a fully-researched policy to be in place.

Two applications have been received, including one from Saint FM owner Mike Olsson, who wants to set up new stations in competition with the three planned by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation (SHBC).

Neither will have to pay, because no charges were in place when they applied. That will change in future because radio frequencies are valuable assets, in the same way land and buildings are, says SHG.

No further applications will be considered until a permanent policy is in place.

Councillors had already agreed to fund the SHBC stations – for which no launch date has been given.

But then Mike Olsson made an unexpected move to launch new stations under the banner of St Helena Media Productions, the company that owns Saint FM and the St Helena Independent.

His request for a licence was put on hold at the 12 June 2012 executive council meeting.

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.

This year Saint FM began sharing material with its long-standing rival, Radio St Helena, which is due to be closed when the new SHBC services go on air. In late July 2012, though, Radio St Helena began carrying news bulletins compiled by SHBC.

The interim rules, issued by Gina Benjamin, the clerk of councils, say operators will not be able to keep hold of “spare” frequencies.

Councillors had noted that Saint FM was not using all the frequences it had been given, but Mike said they were in his own name and not suitable for island-wide broadcasting.

The government has not disclosed when it is likely to decide whether all the proposed new stations can go on air.

Bulletins go live – before radio switch-on
Media saga takes new twist as Mike plans more radio stations

Saint FM
St Helena Broadcasting Corporation
Radio St Helena – history

Media saga takes new twist as Mike plans more radio stations

Mike Olsson and some of his Saint FM team at Ann's Place restaurant in Jamestown
Mike Olsson (right) with members of the Saint FM team

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.

Lettering on fred globe badge "Saint FM, connecting Saints around the world."Saint FM manager Mike Olsson plans services that would mirror those being set up by his government-funded rival.

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.

Mike Olsson interviews Ashton Yon and Leoni Ellick at Saint FM

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)

The paper that refused to die: St Helena Independent
Sentinel goes live

Saint FM
St Helena Broadcasting Corporation
Radio St Helena – history

‘I survived rat fever. It’s serious’ – Henry’s story

Reports of increasing numbers of rats have caused concern at public meetings on St Helena. They’re a threat to the island’s critically endangered wirebird, but they also pose a serious risk to humans.

SURVIVOR: Henry Thorpe

By the time Henry Thorpe realised he was seriously ill, he could no longer even crawl to the phone to call for medical help.

He’d gone down with rat fever, as it’s known on St Helena, but for three days he thought it was just a passing illness.

“I had diarrhoea and I was vomiting and it wasted the muscles in my legs – but not my arms.

“On about the fourth day I realised it wasn’t a flu, and that’s when I dragged myself to the phone with my hands along the floor. I called them up and said, ‘I think I need to go to hospital.'”

Henry – now a student in the UK – told his story to St Helena Online as complaints began emerging of growing numbers of rats on the island.

He was at high risk of being infected with rat fever – correctly known as leptospirosis – because he kept pigs.

St Helena Government has confirmed that five pest controllers are being laid off and its poisoning routine has been gradually changed because of rising costs, but it says it has not had evidence of increased rat numbers.

Ironically, one of Henry’s jobs when he worked at Thorpe’s, the family business in Jamestown, was to order up supplies of poison for Saints who were reluctant to buy it through the government.

He now knows all too well the dangers of catching leptospirosis – or Weil’s Disease – from the rats that came to the island on sailing ships in the days of the East India Company.

The disease is easily treated in most cases, but only if people realise how ill they are, and seek help.

“It’s a really serious thing. People have died because the symptoms are so flu-like – exactly like flu that doesn’t go away.”

Henry, son of Nick and Gail Thorpe, was lucky. He was a fit young man, and he pulled through.

“They put me on a drip and a penicillin antibiotic thing that I think they also give to people with acne. I thought that was strange.

“I was in hospital for about four days, not being able to use my legs properly, and after that I was on crutches for a bit. I did lose muscle in my arm, but you’re not holding up 80kg so you only notice it in your legs.

“I’ve probably done damage to my liver – I looked a bit jaundiced.”

At the time – about five years ago – Henry was living at his father’s home at Woodlands.

“I’m not sure how I contracted it. It needs to get into your blood. I think I got it from walking round in bare feet or feeding pigs. They throw food around and it attracts rats.

“The spring was dry, so I wasn’t really able to wash my hands properly.”

It is possible for pigs or dogs to infect people with leptospira bacteria, but it is far more commonly spread by rats. Farmers are especially at risk.

While he was still in hospital, Henry gave an interview about his experience to Mike Olsson, who was then editor of the St Helena Herald. It would be some weeks before test results came back from South Africa to confirm that he had rat fever.

He says he was “told off” by a doctor, because the diagnosis was unconfirmed. “He probably thought it was going to cause a panic on the island – and it could have been flu. I felt slightly vindicated when the results did come back.

“It felt like they were hushing it up – ‘There’s no lepto here.’ I think it probably is an issue people should be made aware of.

“I suspect many cases go undiagnosed because people think it is flu, so I don’t know whether they just call it flu and blank everything with antibiotics.

“Perhaps because the cure is so simple, with a drug that targets so many bacteria, people weren’t that interested in what it was.”

Mild leptospirosis causes headaches, chills and muscle pain. The severe form can cause organ failure and internal bleeding. Most people only develop the milder symptoms.

People under five or over 65 are more at risk – as are people who already have a serious condition, such as pneumonia. Experts believe the fatality rate is between 5% and 25% worldwide, but poor records in many countries mean that is only a guess.

Dr Anthea Goode, who worked on St Helena in the 1990s, says medics on the island know the risk. “The real thing is to be aware of it.

“In the UK you might miss it because it’s so rare but on St helena you’re thinking about it all the time. The symptoms people tend to get are red-eye and muscle aches. You can get pneumonia, and bad headaches.”

Dr S J Wooltorton wrote about the disease in his book, A Doctor’s Thoughts On St Helena, published in 1988.

He said rat fever was “relatively common” on the island.

“A high fever with vigorous shaking, severe muscle pains, headache and vomiting herald the onset.

“The bacteria invade all parts of the body, damaging the muscles, kidneys, liver, heart and lungs.

“Blood leaks into the urine from the swollen kidneys, jaundice develops as the liver fails, the heart races to maintain the blood pressure, and any pressure on the muscles of the arms or legs causes considerable pain.

“The obvious warning to us all is to keep rats and mice away from any drinking or swimming water.”

With hindsight, Henry says he should have sought help much sooner. “I think a lot of Saints would go to the doctor earlier. When I go to the doctor I’ve got to be dying.”

Ask his parents, and they’ll say he nearly did die.

  • St Helena Government says the island has had no confirmed cases of leptospirosis in recent years.

Rat claims discounted as pest control staff are laid off

Independent closure claims dismissed as ‘nonsense’ – but new book foresaw what would happen

Allegations that St Helena Government brought about the closure of the island’s only privately-run newspaper have been strongly refuted.

Cover of book "What Do We Mean By Local?"
BROUGHT TO BOOK: Islands chapter said losing adverts would kill the Independent

In a second statement on the affair, the government says its plans to help set up a state-funded rival “did not include any intention to see the Independent newspaper close down and it is nonsense to suggest this.”

But the threat to the St Helena Independent was foreseen in a book published only three days before the paper’s final edition appeared. It said withdrawing advertising – as the government has now done – would almost certainly kill off the Independent.

The government decided to switch its advertising from the Independent to the state-funded Sentinel, which was published for the first time on 29 March 2012. The  Independent put out a farewell issue on March 30.

SHG also decided not to renew a “service” contract with Saint FM, the Independent’s sister radio station – though owner Mike Olsson says this contract did not relate to the newspaper.

In the book, contributor Simon Pipe – editor of this website – referred to a new law that could force the closure of a newspaper.

“In Britain,” it said, “MPs and media commentators have recognised that legal regulation of the Press raises difficult issues. Actually closing down a newspaper would be pretty well unthinkable.

“Not on St Helena. The Media Standards Ordinance 2011 allows the St Helena Government to “terminate production” of any newspaper that is deemed by a Media Commission to have breached editorial codes on harmful, offensive or defamatory content.

“In reality, the power to close down a newspaper is not needed. The government can simply withdraw its advertising, which almost certainly would have the same effect.”

Click here for an extract from Media on Remote Islands book chapter

In an interview on Saint FM, Mike Olsson said that former governor Andrew Gurr had advised him to accept a buy-out offer from the new media organisation “or they are going to run right over you.”

The government’s new statement was issued amid ongoing disquiet over the way in which the new media organisation came into being. It said much of the comment on the issue had been distorted.

It began by praising the Independent’s “contribution to stimulating debate and comment on St Helena.”

It said councillors had approved the setting-up of the new community-owned media service – known as the St Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation.

And it said it “could not continue to pay SHMP (the Independent and Saint FM) a very substantial sum each month to air certain material, under the terms of an arrangement made in 2009.”

The government said it had been paying Mr Olsson’s company an average of £1,690 each month, plus “many thousands of pounds” for advertising. It had also been funding the St Helena Herald, which closed in March 2012, and Radio St Helena, which is expected to be replaced by three new stations in the summer.

“This level of financial exposure could not continue indefinitely,” it said, but “SHG considered that it had a responsibility to ensure that Saints were served by a high quality and independent media, with less Government subsidy.”

The new media organisation aims to become self-supporting “in the short to medium term” – depending on how quickly the island’s economy grows, with an airport expected to bring tourism cash from 2015.

Mike Olsson challenged the government version of events in a statement, and in an interview on Saint FM with presenter Vince Thompson – who had also been a columnist on the Independent.

He said the contract with the government was not a subsidy, but involved a payment for services – including broadcasting to Saints overseas, and being able to broadcast emergency announcements within five minutes at any time of day or night.

He also said that the contract did not relate to the Independent, which survived on income from advertising and sales alone.

He also complained that he had not been allowed to see a report by former official John Styles, outlining his ideas for the new rival, “Like we are not stakeholders in the media at all in St Helena.

“The next thing I saw was Mr John Styles in my living room saying, ‘Can we send in
Cable & Wireless to value your equipment?’ He was shown the door quite quickly.”

A third source has said that Mr Olsson refused to consider “generous” offers to buy him out.

Mr Thompson also questioned the validity of claims that the new media service would be financially “sustainable” if it did not have to repay start-up funding – including the cost of refurbishing its new base in the Castle Gardens.

Full details of the financial arrangement between SHBC and the government have not been released.

But Mr Olsson attacked the government for publishing details of its payments to Saint FM. “What would normally be classified as ‘commercial-in-confidence’ has been dragged out in the public domain,” he said in a statement.

He also referred to a 2007 audit report, which he said established the principle that “as a subsidised organisation you cannot go out and compete with the private sector.”

That was the basis on which The Sentinel’s forerunner, the St Helena Herald, was banned from accepting paid advertising – which made it impossible to generate income it needed on top of its government funding.

  • Simon Pipe contributed a chapter on media on remote islands to an academic book about the state of local journalism. What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, is published by Abramis, price £17.95.


State-funded paper won’t be controlled from The Castle, says founder – as Independent announces closure (updated Tuesday 27 March 2012)

The announcement that the St Helena Independent is to close on Friday, citing government-funded competition – has prompted strong reactions. Read comments here.

So far, however – because of personal pressures – this website has not carried any response from the organisation behind the government-subsidised St Helena Sentinel, which launches on the same day.

However, the St Helena Herald carried an interview with founder John Styles shortly before that paper closed down on 9 March 2012. It’s on page 22, on this link.

In the article, Mr Styles is asked whether the newspaper will be “run by government”. He replies:

Most definitely not. Some commentators have suggested this, citing the fact that a government subsidy will be required (although it is hoped to reduce this over time).

However it is wrong and misleading to suggest that this will result in government control. The new media organisation is owned by the independent voluntary sector. It has a board made up of senior representatives of the voluntary sector and a CEO who is a member of the board. It is totally independent of government.

Our mission is “to enrich people’s lives with media services that inform, entertain and educate”.

And our core values are, “on behalf of the community, to cherish and preserve the media’s independence from the state, its impartiality and professionalism, and its honesty and integrity.”

“I laughed so much I nearly choked” – read John Turner’s reaction to this story on his St Helena blog, Random Thoughts from Offshore