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Radio station closure puts Christmas messages in doubt

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Christmas messages from overseas may go unheard by people on St Helena because of the closure of the island’s only independent radio station, it is feared.

Johnny Clingham has recorded 50 personal messages from Saints in the UK, for a programme that was due to be broadcast on Saint FM on Christmas Day.

He was part-way through editing the programme when he learned that the station was to close on Friday, 21 December 2012.

Listening to personal greetings on the radio has been an emotive part of Christmas on St Helena for many years.

At one stage, Radio St Helena linked up with the Falkland Islands Broadcasting to share messages between family members who were separated for months or years at a time.

Johnny, who runs the St Helena and Ascension Island Community website, told St Helena Online he was still hoping to get the recordings to the island. They were also due to be heard on Ascension Island, where many Saints work.

He said: “I collected personal Christmas messages from three different St Helena gatherings round the south of England, in Reading, Cirencester and Swindon, where most of St Helenian community lives.

“This history is that this was previously done by Owen George of the St Helena Association and other organisers, who took personal messages from the UK. It would get air-mailed to Ascension in time for the nearest sailing to Christmas.

“Now I can upload the programme via the internet and Saint FM can download it.

“I did one from the St Helena Reading Sports which was very successful, hence the reason to continue with Christmas messages.

“At the moment I have about 50 recorded messages, along with a wedge of emails to be read for family and friends.

“The problem now is that it cannot be broadcast via Saint FM because of the station closure. The programme is 50% done and there is nowhere to send it.

“It’s taken me about six hours of recording, and I’ve spent three nights until about one in the morning collating it all together.

“I have also got a company to put together two professionally-made jingles for the radio station to be broadcast. That will all go by the wayside now.”

Radio St Helena has been asked if it would be willing to broadcast the messages instead. The government-funded station is due to close at midnight on Christmas Day after 45 years on air, in order to make way for three new stations.

They too will set up with state funding.

Johnny, who now lives in Wiltshire but hopes to return to St Helena one day, said the messages were a valued Christmas tradition. “I think they mean quite a lot to the local people on the island,” he said. “It’s a big highlight.

“Over the years more and more people have left the island, and it brings them a little closer to their family. They look forward to the messages we deliver more than the Queen’s Speech.”

Unlike Saint FM, Radio St Helena is not relayed on Ascension Island or the internet, meaning switching radio stations would still leave many people unable to hear the messages.

Mike Olsson of Saint FM has expressed his regret at being unable to broadcast the messages on Christmas Day.

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