Radio Cayman's 32 Years
Published on Monday, April 21, 2008
By Kathy Miller
After what began as a small, three-studio operation, broadcasting from half inch analog tape machines, 8-track recorders and record players, Radio Cayman 89.9 FM has seen tremendous growth from the first day of operations on 12 April 1976, to present day, 32 years later.
The start of Radio Cayman proved to be a challenge, as records indicate that the first consultancy report proposing a government owned and operated broadcasting station, was lost in a fire that also destroyed the old Government House.
The struggle to open the station continued, as the equipment took over six months to arrive in Grand Cayman from the United Kingdom due to a series of shipping delays. But finally, in April of 1976, Radio Cayman sent out its first testing programme through the 75-foot antennae behind the current Broadcasting House on Elgin Avenue in George Town.
In June of the same year, residents of the Cayman Islands tuned into over 60 hours of broadcasting. Six months later in December, the station went into full broadcasting mode, providing 168 hours of radio programming per week, linking residents of the Cayman Islands by a unified frequency.
The station’s original staff consisted of 11 Caymanians, hand-picked by the first Director of Broadcasting, Roy Dunlop. The Canadian native brought an extensive background in radio, television and newspaper reporting, including nine years with the CBC in Canada and five years with Radio Anguilla.
Of the 11 original staff, Loxley Banks, who started at the station as a Programme Controller, later went on to become the second Director of Broadcasting. Mr Banks spent 15 years in Miami, Florida, working in the radio and electronics/engineering field, before returning to the Cayman Islands to lend his talents at Radio Cayman.
The first voices to be heard over Radio Cayman’s airwaves included Joy Ann Rollins, Avery Eden, Sheryl Ebanks-Miller and Lomax Rankine. Rounding out the news team was Chief News Editor Doren Miller and News Editor Tessa Bodden.
Wanda Tatum took on the administrative task of library facilitator, which in the 1970s was comprised of LPs, 45s, 8-tracks, and 1/2 inch analog tape recordings. Thousands of LPs and 45s are still a part of Radio Cayman’s music library today, providing a dream for crate diggers and music lovers, as many extended versions of recordings that never made it to the digital format can still be found on vinyl.
Completing the original staff at Radio Cayman was Sales Manager, Rex Rankine; Personal Assistant to the Director, Selma Eden, and Secretary, Francine Broussard.
At the start of the station, the company which provided technical expertise in installing the studio equipment was Comtech Ltd from Kingston, Jamaica. Comtech received the government contract to install all equipment in the studios, and its sister company International Aeradio Ltd, which had a branch in Cayman, was responsible for the erection of the antennae towers at the Broadcasting House, Gun Bluff, and at Red Gate.
At this time, George Hunter, the proprietor of Island Electronics, was working with International Aeradio Ltd, and was instrumental in the construction of the towers.
The transmitter operating at Gun Bluff was housed in a 300 foot tower and allowed Radio Cayman’s 1555 AM frequency to reach as far as the Bay Islands of Honduras, Belize, the southern coast of the United States and the north coast of Jamaica.
“Erecting the tower in Gun Bluff during the ‘primitive’ times of Cayman used all the skills one could imagine,” reminisces Mr Hunter. “We didn’t have all the proper tools and equipment needed. I recall using an Oldsmobile station wagon to pull the rope used to hoist tower sections!”
Mr Hunter also noted that the current Minister of Works, Communications and Infrastructure, the Honourable Arden McLean, was part of the crew that helped erect the tower at Gun Bluff.
All audio coming out of the Broadcasting House was on 89.9 FM, and was relayed to Red Gate and then to Gun Bluff, where it was then transferred over to the 1205 and 1555 AM signals.
As years progressed, the AM transmitter operating at Gun Bluff proved to be inefficient, as well as not economically viable, and so the station changed their frequencies to 89.9 FM and 105.3 FM.
Mr Hunter continued his involvement with Radio Cayman, maintaining the studio’s equipment for over a decade under his newly formed company, Island Electronics.
The switch to the current FM frequencies of 89.9 and 105.3 came about in the late 1980s. At this time, Radio Cayman was spearheaded by Loxley Banks, who took over as Director of Broadcasting in March of 1980.
Replacing Mr Dunlop, whose four year contract with the government came to an end, Mr Banks continued to bring forth the vision of Radio Cayman for 16 years, until his retirement in 2006. His love for electronics and radio broadcasting started out when he was a little boy in West Bay constantly fiddling around with the family radio.
“I had always been fascinated by radio,” Mr Banks shares. “I was always trying to get better reception by positioning the radio on the roof and trying out all sorts of things. One day I took my broken radio to Mr Mally, who had a radio shop in town. He took the back off and replaced the tubes in my radio- because in that time we didn’t have transistors- and the radio came back alive! That day really peaked my interest in electronics, and I pursued that field from then on.”
Mr Banks spent close to 15 years in Florida, where he studied Business and Management at Dade Community College, and also completed courses in radio and television announcing. He spent four years with the US Armed Forces Radio Intelligence Service, working in various engineering and electronic departments.
Although he was residing in Florida when the Broadcast Bill was passed in Cayman in 1973, Mr Banks was still in the inside fringes of helping establish a national radio station. It took over a decade of liaising with government officials until approval was granted for the start of Radio Cayman.
“In the ‘60s, the population was maybe around 10,000 people and the economy was not what it is today, so funding was considered to be a barrier in starting the station,” Mr Banks recalls.
But in 1974, a grant from the British government for $79,000 pushed the on-going talks of a national radio station into reality.
“Some of the people that were instrumental in fighting for the establishment of Radio Cayman were John Jefferson Sr;, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly at that time; Benson Ebanks; Sir Vassel Johnson; the late Dennis Foster; Captain Eldon Kirkconnell; the late Desmond Watler, the late Harry McCoy and the late Burkley Bush.,” recalls Mr Banks.
The vision for Radio Cayman, even before it was officially established, was to have a Caymanian community radio station that served the needs of the Cayman Islands in news, entertainment, and spirituality. And in its 32 years of operation, the station continues to uphold this vision, building strong, traditional roots in the ever-growing, multi-cultural community.
Radio Cayman has experienced and shared with the rest of the country some great historical moments, including two visits from Queen Elizabeth II.
“We followed the Queen around from the time she arrived, till the time she left the Cayman Islands,” shares Mr Banks. “People tuned into Radio Cayman to hear real time coverage of all her functions on the Island. When she arrived in West Bay, you knew about it right away!”
Among the Queen’s visits, significant moments in time that gained Radio Cayman world-wide recognition, although through devastating circumstances, were the natural disasters of Hurricane Gilbert and Hurricane Ivan. “For Gilbert, we were the only source providing real time information to major news networks like CNN, BBC, ABC, updating them on the status of the Cayman Islands.
“For Ivan, we went down, but were the first station to recover and start broadcasting again our news to the rest of the world,” informs Mr Banks.
And with the current renovations taking place at the station, Radio Cayman is looking to become an even stronger broadcast entity for the Cayman Islands.
Acting Director of Broadcasting, Ms Norma McField, who has been with Radio Cayman since 1984, says, “We are working to strengthen the station by upgrading our facility, introducing new staff, and becoming even more involved with the community.”
While keeping much in tune with diversified programming on the station, Ms McField is looking forward to the growth of the station. “We’ve given our studios a huge facelift that not only improves our facility, but also our quality of service,” she shares.
“We’ve recently built a new production studio which has a new telephone interface that will encourage greater listener participation. The new studio also increases our production capabilities for commercials and programme preparation.”
Included in the plans for growth is an upgrade to the current website ‘radiocayman.gov.ky’, to feature daily news sound-bites and archived recordings of Talk Today. Radio Cayman will also have a greater visual presence in the community with the addition of a new broadcasting van. The ‘mobile studio’ will allow the Radio Cayman team to have a greater impact during live, remote broadcasts and its easy connection and interaction with the Broadcasting House studios will introduce the station to many more promotional ventures around the Island.
Technical Engineer, Mark Danziger says perhaps one of the biggest changes for Radio Cayman lies behind the scenes with the upgrading of all existing analog equipment to digital format. “We are putting an Axia node at the output of every studio, which links all the studios and routes all the audio to our Studio-Transmitter Link (STL), which is then relayed to our transmitter tower in Northward,” he explains.
“We are also increasing our 89.9 transmitter at Northward from 3,000 to 5,000 watts, which means that we’ll have a stronger signal, better building penetration, and better reception island wide.”
Since its inception, Radio Cayman has kept a tight, family-like environment at the station, with many loyal employees spending over a decade with the broadcasting department. From its original staff of 12 to a current staff of 24, Radio Cayman looks forward to continue serving the Cayman Islands, meeting its diversified needs and strengthening the already strong traditional roots for which the Island and station are known.
Additional sources of Information provided by the National Archives and the July 1976 edition of the Nor’Wester Magazine
24 aprile 2008
Dai Caraibi, una pagina storica per le onde medie
Note ai più come paradiso bancario e societario, le isole caraibiche Cayman occupano una pagina particolare nella biografia di chi si è avvicinato all'hobby del radioascolto impegnato, in particolare sulle onde medie. Questo articolo del Cayman Net News che celebra il 32esimo anniversario dell'emittente Radio Cayman ed è straordinariamente rievocativo, perché descrive esattamente il momento in cui, personalmente, iniziavo a muovere i primi passi nel monitoraggio delle onde medie lontane. Radio Cayman nasce nel 1976 e ricordo molto bene il momento in cui il suo segnale entrò a far parte del tesoretto di stazioni in onde medie che era possibile ascoltare alle nostre latitudini. La frequenza, riportata in questa dettagliata cronaca, era di 1555 kHz, affiancata da una più rara 1205 kHz. Purtroppo non durò a lungo, già alla fine degli anni 80 Radio Cayman passò definitivamente in FM.