Calling all ships, all the time
This blog likes to share interesting uses of radio from around the world.
The same virtues that make radio an effective promotional platform also make it a practical tool to improve peoples lives. Here’s a great example.
Last week I took a holiday in Cayman, a small British Overseas Territory of three Caribbean islands. Cayman may have official British ties and drive on the left but I found that its culture and the flavour of its radio is strongly influenced by its proximity to the United States.
Among the dozen or so stations serving its population of 60,000 are the national Radio Cayman station with its popular morning phone-in show and news from the BBC, a service from the island University which has strong echoes of US Public Radio albeit laced with some promotional content from the United Nations, a number of tightly-formatted commercial music services to make you feel good and some preachy Church stations to make you feel wretched and insignificant.
Z99 and X107.1 jostle for position as Cayman’s hit music leader. The drivetime show on X comes from the UK, presented by radio’s Dave Kelly. I wonder if he’d rather be doing it from the Caribbean. Kiss FM covers the 80s, 90s and Now. “Now” in this instance being a big net that sweeps-up anything from the last 17 years. Reggae, Soca and Calypso always sounds great in the sunshine: Irie FM has them covered while Breeze 105.3 plays inoffensive soft AC and 101.9 The Rooster brings Country to the Caribbean.
Then, at the top of the dial, sits one radio station that’s quite unlike anything else. All speech, no ads and only one on-air voice. Yet when you hire a self-drive car you’ll find this is the station that’s pre-set on the radio.
The Cayman Weather Radio Service does just one thing and broadcasts round the clock. On land, on fishing vessels or leisure craft it has a familiar sound:
The station is automated from a data feed provided by the Cayman Islands National Weather Service. The raw data is parsed into a human-friendly scripted format that’s halfway between a detailed weather report and a Shipping Forecast and then rendered by a synthesised voice.
Under normal circumstances the data may not change very much from morning to night and the looped audio reflects that. This is not a format designed to maximise time spent listening, indeed it is not just an everyday weather service. 107.9 is a lifeline-in-waiting for hurricane season.
Cayman’s most recent direct hit was from hurricane Ivan in 2004 but there are storms every year. Our hosts told me the island has good plans for emergencies – houses are equipped with fixtures for metal shutters and the routes to community shelters are well signed.
Our hosts keep a bag packed with emergency supplies and equipment ready to go. A torch and batteries sit alongside the packets of dried food and tins and the portable radio is there for the Cayman Weather Radio Service, operating on 107.9 FM so it’s easy to find on an analogue dial in the dark.
On an island where many of the local population spend as much time on the water as on land, and where it’s normal to have a car on your front drive and a boat moored at the back, this is a well-known utility radio station that’s useful every day and is ready for when the big one hits.
Picture by Scott Smith on Flickr. Used under licence.