RADIO ANGUILLA: MOTHER OF ALL LOCAL RADIO STATIONS
What Radio Anguilla and the Anguilla Revolution have in common? The answer is:they are inter-related. The broadcasting station, as limited as it had been at its inception, and now set to observe its 48th Anniversary next week, was a critical necessity at a time when the island was facing a most serious and complex challenge in its political and constitutional history. Hence, there was a need for an effective means of communication by the intervening British Government with the rebelling people, who simply wanted to be free. They desired freedom from an unpopular and demeaning yoke they had endured since Anguilla’s convenient annexation with St. Kitts in 1825.
In one of his writings, the late Canon Guy Carleton, an Anglican Priest in Anguilla at the time of the Revolution, described the island’s 19th century union with St. Kitts as “an unholy marriage which neither God nor geography had decreed”. With the creation of Associated Statehood in 1967 by Britain, giving the then hated Central Government of Premier Robert Bradshaw full responsibility for internal affairs in St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, the people of Anguilla became absolutely terrified by the new constitutional status. A radio station of their own, giving them a voice, among other things, including putting them on par with other people in the neighbouring islands, was an ideal means of expression, and even entertainment for themselves, but the question was: “How would such an opportunity present itself?”
For many years, prior to and during the Anguilla Revolution, the Anguillians were obliged to listen to a number of radio stations both regionally and internationally. They mainly listened to the Christian Mission radio station, WIVV in Vieques, off Puerto Rico. They enjoyed such broadcasts as “The Chuck Wagon Gang” and “The Request Programme”. They were also keen listeners to WIVI in St. Thomas, where many of their relatives resided and worked. ABS, in Antigua, was another popular radio station to which Anguillians tuned in. They particularly liked the legendary calypsonians and the calypsos they sung. Calypsos like “The Garrot Bounce”, “Dove and Pigeon” (eating hot pepper) and “Two On Top” (a couple trying to close a suitcase), were among the musical tunes they enjoyed. The Anguillians rarely listed to ZIZ in St. Kitts. Although many Anguillians journeyed to St. Kitts for employment, they always had feelings there of being regarded as second class citizens politically and, to some extent, socially as well. Nicknamed “Bobo Johnnies”, they, and the rest of their people back home, were often mocked and poked fun at.
The only time that Anguillians really began to listen to Radio ZIZ was during the onset of the Anguilla Revolution in 1967. They were curious to hear what Bradshaw was saying when they expelled the St. Kitts Police and took over the day-to-day running of their own affairs in a bid for secession. The only communication recourse they had to counter Bradshaw’s bombardment and threats was when the late Atlin Harrigan began publishing The Beacon, a stenciled newssheet. Later on, one or two other small local papers had emerged but, like The Beacon, eventually folded.
The British invasion of Anguilla was on March 19, 1969, as mentioned in a recent archived article in this column entitled “The Last Invasion of Anguilla”. With that invasion, came Radio Anguilla early in April that year. One morning, about April 3, Anguillians were taken aback with the announcement: “This is the Voice of Anguilla…” The broadcast came from HMS Phyl, a British Royal Navy Frigate, anchored behind the cliff at Road Bay. By April 9, the radio equipment, no more than an antiquated AM tube transmitter, worn-out reel-to-reel turntables (spool tape recorders, record-players), and one or two 60-foot antennas, were brought ashore and set up in the premises of the Agricultural Department. The actual transmitter and other broadcast equipment were located in the old rat-infested barn building as were the single studio and a few so-called offices. It was not uncommon for rats to gnaw at the transmitter’s cables or for a tube to blow, forcing the station off the air. It was also not uncommon for a rat, almost the size of a cat, to suddenly appear on the console in the studio, sending the Announcer’s screams of panic on the airways; or for an occasional snake to wriggle across the floor in the small crowded record album room.
One of the features of Radio Anguilla which has persisted from its inception to the present day, 48 years ago, is the sign-on tune, Yellow Bird. It is a very old Haitian folk song written in 1893. The composers were Michel Mauleart Monton and Oswald Durand. Originally called the “Choucoune Song”, it was rewritten with English lyrics as “Yellow Bird”. Over the years, it became one of the Caribbean’s classics played on steel drums from Trinidad. The invading British forces apparently not only liked the song and its rhythm, but thought that with its appealing and popular musical tune, it would catch the attention of the Anguillian listeners and they, too, would like it. No wonder the music for that song is still being played when Radio Anguilla signs on its transmission.
The initial programming on Radio Anguilla was mainly BBC material and British pop music, interspersed with some local entertainment, bulletin board announcements, official press releases, tidbits of local news and various old regional news stories received by post from the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) in Barbados. The station was originally run by an expatriate Director appointed by the British Government, with a few selected Anguillian workers, particularly with excellent communication skills and vocabulary. In time, the staff numbers would increase as necessary.
British officials made no secret that Radio Anguilla was established for “political expediency”. It was really to help put across the position of the British Government, to keep the Anguillians abreast with certain pertinent diplomatic information, and to counter some of the propaganda, threats and rhetoric from the Bradshaw regime. Later, apparently with that objective having run its course, the British Government eventually spoke about closing down the station. It was becoming an expensive operation both in terms of funding, manpower, and failing equipment. The people of Anguilla and their leaders however wanted to have their own radio station, a desire that eventually prevailed.
It was on April 1,1976, that Radio Anguilla in fact officially became part of the Anguilla Public Service with the formal title of “Department of Information and Broadcasting”. That followed an earlier decision by the British Government to grant Anguilla a separate constitution without breaking its legal ties with St. Kitts-Nevis; creating a ministerial system of Government for the island, with a general election in March that year to bring about the new administrative arrangement. It meant that the Anguilla Government would now have full responsibility for Radio Anguilla and to find the money for its operations and staffing. The old equipment and its frequent breakdowns continued to be a problem and with the integration of the radio station not fully supported as an integral part of the public service, there were times when its personnel had to use their initiative to carry on the work of the station. It was largely through those efforts that the United States principals of the Caribbean Beacon, a Gospel Radio Station, set up on the island some years after Radio Anguilla, donated a new 1000-watt AM transmitter to the Government in 1980. Like the original equipment, it was installed in the barn building at the Agricultural Department. It worked very well for some time but, as it aged, it presented its own unique share of technical problems.
In 1989, the offices of Radio Anguilla were transferred to a more spacious and comfortable location upstairs the Customs Department, from where it now operates as an FM station, but still known as the Department of Information and Broadcasting. It is now generally better equipped with improved consoles in both studios and its transmitter and tower relocated at the historic Crocus Hill, the island’s highest elevation.
Despite its many hurdles and setbacks over the years, Radio Anguilla has an impressive legacy of broadcasting. It has had four Anguillian Directors. The first, originally a Customs Officer, was seconded to the station at its inception. Trained in broadcasting and production at the BBC, he worked his way up becoming Programme Controller, Director and Telecommunications Officer. While at the radio station, he was seconded to design the island’s current Vehicle Registration System. He was later appointed Principal Assistant Secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office. He was awarded the MBE. Upon retiring from the public service, he entered Codrington Theological Seminary in Barbados where he trained as an Anglican Priest – a position he still holds. The second Director was recruited to Anguilla from a critical newspaper editorial post in St. Kitts where he served during the Anguilla Revolution. He worked at Radio Anguilla in the positions of News Editor, Information Officer, Director, and Telecommunications Officer. During that time, he served as Press Accreditation Officer for the Royal Visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1994. He was awarded the MBE. On retirement from the public service, he founded The Anguillian newspaper. The third Director was a Trained Teacher, who was later appointed Principal Assistant Secretary and Protocol Officer in the Chief Minister’s Office and carries out the same functions in the Ministry of Home Affairs. He holds a MBA degree from the University of the West Indies. The fourth and current Director, is a female employee who holds a Diploma in Mass Communications from CARIMAC at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies and a B.Sc. degree from a University in New York. In addition to those who worked at the station over the years, was an employee who served as the Government’s Press Secretary and later as Information Officer, Telecommunications Officer and Director of Disaster Preparedness. On retirement, he introduced a very active and informative Anguilla Television Channel and video system.
Two Radio Anguilla female employees, in addition to the one mentioned earlier, also graduated with B.Sc. degrees obtained from studies in the United States and the United Kingdom. One of them is a popular and effective Information Officer. The other has just been transferred to manage the Office of the Anguilla Summer Festival. Among the rest of the current staff at Radio Anguilla is a Trained Teacher who, as Chief Information Officer, heads the News and Current Affairs Division and is also the Producer of the Zone Programme. Another serves as the station’s Programme Manager and Trainer. He is a former BBC Presenter and Producer; a respected longstanding Journalist, Interviewer and well-known Regionalist. In addition, there is a cadre of suitably qualified female and male Announcers who are in fact the frontline staff or face of Radio Anguilla.
It can be said, without contradiction, that Radio Anguilla is the Mother of all the other radio stations on the island. To start with, two of them came into existence and prominence after three staff members left Radio Anguilla and established their own private broadcasting stations. In addition, there are at least four other radio stations in Anguilla which followed in the wake of Radio Anguilla. One of the past programmes, which brought much publicity and acclaim to Radio Anguilla, was “Talk Your Mind”, which scored high marks for freedom of expression. It was closed down by a former Chief Minister of the island and the case made its way to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Privy Council in London, the latter of which, like the Supreme Court, ruled in favour of the appellants. Today, that ruling in defense of freedom of expression, is a highly regarded and referenced benchmark in jurisprudence both regionally and internationally. “Talk Your Mind” was a responsible programme introduced and conducted by an experienced jurist. It was in stark contrast to the gossip, innuendos and defamatory statements one hears these days on some radio stations. Like Radio Anguilla, being the Mother of all local radio stations, “Talk Your Mind” was the Mother of all talk shows in Anguilla.
With all that has been said in this article, Radio Anguilla, on its 48th Anniversary, must continue to be the dependable Voice of Anguilla; blaze its own trail and hold its own independent and responsible course even in the face of any hostile or competing broadcast media force. Radio Anguilla and its hard-working staff should be commended for their excellent work.