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Christmas Island Radio

by Ron Ehrke

Radio comes to Christmas Island

image of Christmas Island transmitter building and tower

Christmas Island transmitter building and tower

To people living in the developed economies of the world, information is shared in ways which were not possible a decade or two ago. Radio and television broadcast stations and broadcasting networks make major contributions to the information exchange and are crucial elements of the global communications network. They enable people to be well informed and better educated and they contribute to the social and economic development of nations and countries

In 1999, the notion of a significant part of any populated country without any form of media communication may be almost unbelievable. Until recently, Christmas Island, the largest of 33 islands which comprise the Republic of Kiribati, was one such place. This important island, part of the Line Group of islands, with a population exceeding 4,000, did not have any form of media.

As a component of a major project being carried out on Christmas Island, funded under the Australian Government Foreign Aid program, a community based FM radio station began operating in December 1998.

Humble beginnings

Construction of the radio station began on 28 October 1998, on a site on the edge of the main town, London. With some assistance from local "boys", an area of virgin saltbush scrub was cleared to make way for the building and antenna mast. The foundations were prepared and concrete was poured for the building slab and mast footings.

Building Construction

image of Christmas Island studio under construction

Christmas Island studio under construction

A 6.5 x 3.2 metre building was constructed using timber and cladding materials shipped from Australia.

The studio, a 4 x 3 metre area, was air conditioned and soundproofed and acoustically treated to ensure that good quality radio programs could be produced.

Studio and transmission equipment, also shipped from Australia, was installed and commissioned ready for training in four and a half weeks after site clearing began.

Training

image of Local announcers on air

Local announcers on air

A 7 day period of intense training was provided to 4 local people who had been selected to become radio announcers / program presenters. During the 7 days of training, the "trainees" were taught a range of skills necessary to operate a radio studio. Skills taught included voice production, interviewing, music production using cassette and compact disc, all blended together to produce composite programs through the studio on-air mixing console. Most of the trainees had never seen a radio studio before but within a few days, were competently operating the equipment.

On-air

The 8th and final day of operational training was a great climax for the 6 week project on Christmas Island. On this day, each trainee presented, "live-to-air" short music programs, mostly without errors or mis-cues.

Christmas Radio, FM stereo 93.5

The new radio station was officially opened on Thursday 17 December 1998 by the Hon. Mr Tiim Taekiti, the Minister for Line and Phoenix Development. The station is now transmitting 7 days per week, in morning, midday and evening sessions.

Local announcer on air

Local announcer on air

The 4 main villages on Christmas Island all receive good quality FM stereo radio programs from the station. The 500 watt transmission provides a strong signal to all parts of the island which will ensure that as the island develops and people settle in other areas, Christmas Radio will still be available everywhere on the island.

A major feature of the radio station project was the enthusiasm for the station which developed in different quarters. Firstly there were the local "boys" who assisted, where possible, in the building construction phase. They not only had the opportunity to develop new skills but also were able to give expression to their pride in the new radio stationA which they had helped to build. This was evident through their enthusiastic involvement whenever asked to help, and their landscaping around the new building to give it a high profile to all people who pass the radio station as they come into town.

The Future

It is possible to now look back on the radio station project on Christmas Island with a good deal of satisfaction and pride. When one lives in a country where radio is taken for granted as a "fact of life" that can't be done without, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to provide something for the people of Christmas Island which can be of real benefit to them both now and in their future.

Ron Ehrke is an Australian broadcasting consultant.
Original article for Alpha Broadcast Services International.
Photo credits © Ron Ehrke.

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