Windward Islands Broadcasting Service 

25 July 2022 tbs.pm/75391

 

by Laurence Stapley
who was seconded to the Windward Islands as Manager towards the end of 1954. He outlines the growth of the Service and pays tribute to Alan Bosworth, the Chief Engineer, who was responsible for the planning and installation of the equipment

 

Cover of Ariel

From Ariel, the house magazine of the BBC, for May 1957

IT is five o’clock. The wind is beginning to roar ominously through the palm trees. The surf is pounding in over the reefs. Overhead the sky is overcast, troubled looking. The announcer is playing gramophone records of light music, and constantly interrupting the programme to give the latest news about the progress of hurricane Janet.

A car pulls up in front of the station. The Governor, a slim, active man, jumps out, hurries into the building. He glances at his script, makes a few alterations and is then shown into the studio.

The announcer turns up his microphone. This is the Windward Islands Broadcasting Service. In a few moments we are broadcasting a talk given by His Excellency the Governor, but first here is the latest information we have received on hurricane Janet…’

Hurricane Janet

The station stayed on the air until about eight o’clock, when the power went. Then the staff switched off the apparatus and made their way home the best they could. The wind by now was whipping the palm trees right over. Torrential rain was making new rivers and new waterfalls. There was fury and death in the air.

That night was one of horror. In the midst of it strangely there came memories of eight months before — memories of Royalty, of bands and pageantry, of colour and laughter. For this was the time when Princess Margaret was paying her visit to the Caribbean. The time when she opened the Windward Islands Broadcasting Service — the first non-commercial station in the Caribbean Federation. Now it seemed as if there might be nothing.

The morning light showed a scene of desolation. The countryside looked as if a fire had swept over it. The trees had no leaves, and jagged trunks pointed crazily and accusingly where the wind and rain had come from. At first there was the numbed shock, prohibiting effort, but that lasted only a few hours. The Governor began to organize and to plan. The radio station was to transmit an emergency service, giving all the latest information; programmes were to be relayed in the market square by public address.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the emergency passed, programming became more normal. The Windward Islands Broadcasting Service had proved itself to be of use and importance to the community in time of stress and disaster, now it had to show the public that it was equally necessary to them in their everyday life. This was difficult in many ways because competition was keen. Radio Trinidad had two programmes of seventeen hours a day. The Voice of America at times came through as strongly as a medium-wave station.

 

A large white building on a hillside

The Studio Building, Windward Islands Broadcasting Service

 

Shortage of Staff

Extreme shortage of staff and lack of funds made local programming difficult. But it was clear that with a growing nationalism it was essential to make the station West Indian. If the listener took a pride in what was being broadcast because it was part of his own life, part of his own inheritance and culture, the battle would be partly won. But at the same time we had, of course, to be popular. Public service broadcasting which becomes dull has a doubtful use. All this does not mean that BBC transcriptions and relays were unimportant. They did, in fact, play a very significant part in our output. Throughout the British West Indies there is a belief in the integrity of the BBC which is one of our most valuable assets.

 

A harbour with boats, surrounded by rugged hills

Inner Harbour, St Georges, Grenada, B.W.I.

 

The Audience Builds Up

That the Windward Islands Broadcasting Service did build up a large audience, that its mail seldom dropped below 1,500 letters a week is a measure, I believe, of the success of its policy. The story of the difficulties is a long one. But perhaps the greatest compliment that was ever paid to us was an overheard remark to a friend: ‘I heard it over the W.I.B.S., therefore it must be true’.

The same point was also brought home to me in a somewhat different way. In Grenada, Government primary school teachers decided to go on strike for more pay. This was an important local news item and of course we gave it full coverage, reporting both sides of the dispute as fairly as we could. The objectivity of our reporting we took as a matter of course. But not so the school teachers. They were immensely impressed that a Government radio station should be able to present their case in an unbiased fashion. The strike committee came to me after the dispute was settled full of praise and congratulation.

What type of people listened? They came from all walks of life, rich and poor, educated and uneducated alike. Each one talked about ‘our station’. There was, of course, criticism but a pride and faith in the Broadcasting Service as well.

 

A man sits behind two turntables

Leslie Seon, the announcer on duty the night of the hurricane. As well as announcing he plays the records and controls the level of the programme. During the war he was a sergeant in the R.A.F.

 

Standard of Programmes

Programmes on the whole were about the standard of the Light Programme, although it is a little difficult to make direct comparisons; they varied very considerably. Political talks, religious services, brains trusts, local drama, short stories, news, outside broadcasts were all part of the normal output. As well there was a regular series of programmes for schools, based on the output of the BBC’s Transcription Service for Colonial Schools.

On looking back on those happy months of hard work and pioneering, I can truthfully say that my West Indian staff were amongst the best and most faithful people I have ever associated with. I am grateful to them. But above all credit must be given to Alan Bosworth, for without him the station would never have existed.

 

Courtesy of offthegridmedia

 

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