St Helena Online

Tag: Radio St Helena

Saint FM recalls fire at sea, 40 years ago

The story of a near-disaster aboard a ship bound for St Helena has been retold in a 40th anniversary radio programme – by the presenter who covered it at the time.

Tony Leo revisited interviews he recorded with survivors of the 1973 fire aboard the Good Hope Castle, as well as talking to people who remembered their involvement. His colleague Ralph Peters spent hours searching out archive recordings.

The 40-minute programme was broadcast at lunchtime on 29 June 2013 – four decades to the day after the fire broke out, just as passengers had been sitting down to dinner.

Discussions will now taking place about how to make the programme available for download.

Eighty four passengers and crew took to the ship’s lifeboats as the fire on the Union Castle ship spread out of control. Noxious fumes meant the radio officer could not send a distress message, so the vessel’s position was unknown to other shipping.

But the ship’s failure to arrive in James Bay had already caused consternation in Jamestown, where Rodney Buckley played a small part in events.

“I was senior shipping clerk at the time,” he said, “but don’t remember too much except communicating with the London office and Ascension that vessel way overdue and no contact. Good Hope and the Southampton Castle were never late.”

The people in the drifting lifeboats were lucky: they were spotted from another ship and taken back to Ascension Island.

The fire broke out soon after the Good Hope Castle left Ascension on its run down the Atlantic from the UK to the Cape, on 29 June 2013. The fire eventually burned out and the ship was towed to Europe for repairs.

A number of St Helenians were on board the vessel when it caught fire – many of them expecting to sleep on deck.

Tony Leo covered the story for the five-year-old Radio St Helena when they finally reached home – and his interviews have survived, thanks to the archive that was carefully maintained over the station’s 45-year life.

It ceased broadcasting on Christmas Day 2012, and the archive – mostly old reel-to-reel tapes – was transferred to the museum in Jamestown.

The special programme was suggested after St Helena Online ran a feature on the fire, prompted by the return to the island of Jonathan Mercer, one of the junior officers who spent anxious hours in the lifeboats.

He came back as Master of the cruise ship Amsterdam in April 2013.

Tony Leo is also planning to stage a fund-raising marathon broadcast, starting at 7am island time on Saturday 6 July 2013, staying on air as long as he can.

Click here to hear a live broadcast stream from the new Saint FM Community Radio website ( The station begins charging to listen online from today (29 June) in order to help meet the high cost of streaming on the internet.

SEE ALSO: We took to the lifeboats off Ascension – a captain’s story

A present to all readers: the sounds of a St Helena Christmas

Radio St Helena was due to go off air at midnight on Christmas Day after 45 years on air. Hopes that the station’s final hours would be streamed on the internet have not been fulfilled.

In the meantime, St Helena Online offers a flavour of the season, as broadcast by the station in 1996. 

Christmas in Jamestown: the shops are filled with people, the Gettogethers Orchestra is playing the old favourites from the back of a lorry, and a couple of merry souls are singing along.

It may not bring home the spirit of a St Helena Christmas quite as well as Saint FM would have done it, but for a few minutes, St Helena Online’s latest audio posting might transport listeners back to Jamestown.

The recording is from a Radio St Helena programme broadcast in 1996 and can be heard here.

It has been published as the station approached its final few hours on air after 45 years of serving the island. Until the arrival of Saint FM, it could have been regarded as the most remote radio station in the world.

It had been hoped the station’s last six hours on air would be relayed on the internet by the SHBC, which has been working on setting up its own stations in January. In the end, that did not happen.

The internet relay had been suggested by Robert Kipp, one of a band of enthusiasts around the world who were hoping to pick up the closing programmes via shortwave radio. Read his report here.

Ralph Peters, the station manager, prepared a special programme celebrating the part that Radio St Helena has played in island life over four decades.

Tony Leo, the original manager, was asked to go on air at midnight to perform the formal closedown of the station.

Christmas in Jamestown, 1996 – first broadcast on Radio St Helena

Saint FM closure: links

St Helena Government press release on the closure of Radio St Helena
SHBC test transmissions

‘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.

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

Bulletins go live – before radio switch-on

News bulletins from St Helena’s newest media organisation are now going out on the airwaves – before it has even launched its first radio station.

The St Helena Broadcasting Corporation has been publishing audio bulletins on its website since April, but now it has arranged for them to be transmitted on Radio St Helena – the station its services will eventually replace.

In recent weeks, Radio St Helena has been sharing material with its former rival, the independently-owned Saint FM.

The SHBC bulletins go out at 5pm, 8pm, 10pm and again at 7am, local time (Greenwich Mean Time).

SHBC is a “community-owned” company, set up and funded by St Helena Government with the aim of becoming financially self-sufficient as the island’s economy grows. It also publishes The Sentinel newspaper.

Media saga takes new twist as Mike plans more radio stations

SHBC webcasts

Derek adds role of Coroner to a varied career

Derek Richards has taken the oaths of office as St Helena’s new coroner – after a career that has taken in a variety of jobs.

He has worked on Ascension, been a news reader at Radio St Helena, and run the island fire service, training in disaster management and investigations. He then moved to be head of the Public Works department at The Castle before leaving to do consultancy work – which led to a role as General Manager of Services at Solomon and Company.

In his spare time, he and wife Linda run the Island Images website, selling honey, jewellery and mosaics. The site also has details of their activities as amateur radio operators.

Island Images
St Helena Government press releases


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

Meeting on maths teacher shortage – full transcript

Students in St Helena have been struggling without enough qualified maths teachers for most of the past academic year. Year 11 pupils have gone into GCSE exams in the subject with help from stand-in teachers. On 13 June 2012, the parents’ association at Prince Andrew School called a public meeting on the issue – which the director of education insisted was not a crisis. Click here to read a full-transcript, as taken from a recording by Radio St Helena’s Ralph Peters – broadcast on the internet by Saint FM.

“I can’t not pay tribute to those teachers and staff of the school who have gone the extra mile for a number of months to assist with the teaching of mathematics outside of their responsibilities. I know I have been very reliant on the goodwill, the high levels of professionalism, to keep things on track.”

– Colin Moore, St Helena director of education.