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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, November 8, 2009

The St. Helena Story

The island of St Helena in the South Atlantic is such an interesting island; it is lonely and distant, it is rugged and exotic, and it has been inhabited only during the past 500 years. In addition to its fascinating historic backgrounds, its wireless and radio history is of equal interest.

However, before we delve into all of these interesting items of information, we interrupt for a few moments so that we can give you the schedule for the special shortwave broadcasts from Radio St Helena next weekend. These once a year broadcasts are scheduled to begin at 2000 UTC on Saturday, November 14, on 11092.5 kHz USB, upper side band, and they will end five hours later at 0100 UTC.

The island of St Helena is located in the Atlantic Ocean about half way between Africa and South America. It is a very rugged volcanic island, rising more than 14,000 feet from the ocean floor. Even though we speak of the island of St Helena, yet in actual reality there are some two dozen small islands and ocean rocks clustered around the main island. St Helena itself covers 47 square miles and the highest peak is Diana’s Peak at 2,700 feet.

The coastal areas of St Helena are rough and barren with cliffs rising 1,000 feet above the waterline, though the center of the island is forested. As is the case in other isolated islands, St Helena has been the home to several unique forms of vegetation, including the Cabbage Tree, and also the now extinct String Tree and the St Helena Olive. The St Helena Wirebird is also unique to this island.

The island of St Helena was first discovered by the Portuguese voyager, Jaoa da Nova, on May 21, 1502, on his return journey from India. The island was named St Helena in honor of Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Constantine the Great. The island was uninhabited at the time, and no information is known about the possibility of seafarers coming to the island in earlier years.

The first permanent resident was Fernao Lopez, an escapee from a ship sailing from Goa in India to continental Europe. In 1633 Holland claimed the island, though they never established any settlement on the island. In 1657, St Helena was claimed by the British, and two years later they sent a boat load of colonists to the island. In this way, St Helena became the second British colony, after Bermuda.

During the Christmas season in the year 1657, the Dutch captured the island, but the British re-took the island during the following year. In the late 1690s, it is reported that many of the women born on St Helena chose to marry passing sailors so that they could escape the island for better living in Europe.

It is claimed that the world's oldest living animal is on St Helena. It is an imported tortoise, named Jonathan, that is said to be 177 years old. It was imported from the Seychelles Islands in 1882 at the age of 50, and a historic photo taken in the year 1900 shows the famed tortoise with a prisoner from South Africa during the Boer War.

The total population of St Helena these days is around the 5,000 mark and they trace their line of ancestry back to Europe, Africa and several countries of Asia. There is just one town on the island, Jamestown, which is their capital. Politically, St Helena is clustered with the other Atlantic islands, Ascension and the Tristan da Cunha group, as a colonial unit under the British Government.

Almost everything needed on St Helena is imported and exports are few. Their economy is dependent upon grants from London, though the visit each year by 1,000 incoming tourists boosts their local finances. Travel to the island is possible only by boat and the Royal Mail Steamer, RMS St Helena, makes regular visits every few weeks from England and South Africa. Hotel and private accommodation is available by prior arrangement.

The island issues its own currency, the St Helena pound, which is on a par with the English pound. These bank notes are legal tender for both St Helena and Ascension, though banks in England do not exchange them. The first bank notes were issued in St Helena in 1716; and the first coin, a copper halfpenny, was issued more than a hundred years later, in 1821.

In addition, St Helena also issues its own postage stamps and these attractive philatelic items are prized by collectors all over the world. Their first stamp, known as the 6 pence blue, was issued on January 1, 1856, just 16 years after England issued the world's first postage stamp in 1840. This stamp showed the engraved likeness of the 37 year old Queen Victoria.

Over the years, many notable people have visited St Helena, including royalty from England and continental Europe. The famed scientist Charles Darwin spent six days on the island in 1836, and had he only known, there were many unique forms of animal life and vegetation that could have absorbed his interest. Some forty species of plants are not known elsewhere.

However, it is acknowledged that the most famous of all visitors to the island was Napoleon Bonaparte, one time Emperor of France, who came not as a tourist, but as a prisoner of the British. After his disastrous defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was banished to the island of St Helena in October of the year 1815, where he died six years later. His body was subsequently exhumed and re-interred in Paris; and to this day, the French provide a resident consul on the island of St Helena. The Longwood Home where Napoleon lived, and his burial location, have been ceded to France.

We invite you to stay tuned, and in our next major feature in this edition of Wavescan, we will present the introductory information about radio broadcasting on the island of St Helena.

The Radio Scene on St. Helena

OK, so let us resume in this edition of Wavescan the St Helena story again; and we go back to the beginning; that is, the beginning of wireless and communication history.

In the year 1886, the first telephone service was introduced into Jamestown, St Helena. Three years later, a submarine cable link from Capetown in South Africa came ashore at St Helena; and during the following year, the underwater cable system linked the Atlantic terminals with England via the West Indies.

The first and only wireless communication station on St Helena was installed back some 90 years ago, and the only locatable entry for this unit lists the callsign as BXH. It would be presumed that this was a British government wireless station and that its purpose was for communication with nearby shipping and for the transmission of weather reports to England.

Electricity generation and distribution was installed in Jamestown for the first time in 1953; and up until that time there were very few radio receivers on the island, all battery operated. The international submarine cable system had been installed by the Eastern Telegraph Company, and in 1934, a large new conglomerate took over, known as the now familiar Cable & Wireless.

In 1965, a government radio station was installed on St Helena with the high towers for transmission and reception located at Prosperous Bay Plain and Deadwood Plain. To the islanders, the usage of this station seemed to be a bit of a mystery. Twelve years later, the station was closed and the personnel left the island.

There was also a weather radio station located on St Helena and it was on the air under the British callsign GHH. This station operated with a 1 kW Racal transmitter and an inverted V antenna system. Jamestown Meteo was in use for the teletype transmission of weather information to England on two shortwave channels, 6824 and 9044 kHz. The reception of station GHH was reported occasionally in Europe and in North America, and a few QSLs have been received. There is one prepared QSL card from station GHH in the Indianapolis QSL Collection.

Before the regular mediumwave broadcasting service was introduced in 1967, there were at least five attempts at amateur radio broadcasting on the island of St Helena. The very first attempt at radio broadcasting took place in the year 1958 when Percy Teale obtained a temporary license and made a one-time broadcast to a public meeting in the Cinema Hall in Jamestown. Soon afterwards, Mr. A. J. Davies assembled a radio transmitter from electronic parts that were imported by Percy Teale from England and he too made a few amateur radio broadcasts.

Another notable amateur radio broadcast was made by Mr. Freese from the Arts Club in Jamestown; this event took place on January 3, 1960. Soon afterwards, Mr. Bill Stevens went on the air with scheduled musical programming and his broadcasts were in response to listener requests. Then there was "The Ham of Half Tree Hollow," another amateur radio broadcasting station that was noted on the air on January 27, 1962.

It should be stated that all of these attempts at amateur radio broadcasting on St Helena pointed out the fact that there was indeed a real need for the introduction of a legitimate radio broadcasting station on the island. Just four years later, such a station was installed and inaugurated.

Since then, both FM and TV have been introduced to the Saints, as they call themselves. Actually, TV was introduced before FM, and it was in 1994 that the Cable & Wireless facility imported equipment from England and launched an island-wide TV service. They are on the air these days with three TV channels in the PAL system, identified as Channels A, B and C. Programming comes in via satellite and island wide coverage is obtained via transmitters located at Head O'Wain and The Depot.

Talks regarding the introduction of an FM service began in the year 2003 and a license was obtained during the following year. Test transmissions began from a private home soon afterwards and the first regular transmissions from the new station began on January 3, 2005, under the slogan, Saint FM. One week later, the official opening of the new station was celebrated.

These days, Saint FM is on the air island wide from three different locations, with the main transmitter listed at 250 watts and two relay transmitters at 30 watts each. In addition, the programming from Saint FM in Jamestown, St Helena is also heard on relay via satellite in Ascension Island, as well as on Tristan and in the Falklands.

That’s as far as we can go in this edition of Wavescan in the story of radio broadcasting on St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. Next week we plan to conclude this short series of topics with the story of mediumwave and shortwave broadcasting in St Helena.