Return to Guadeloupe: The Radio Scene on outlier islands

Not so well known is the fact that back in the early 1900s, France once held one of the world’s largest empires.  At its peak in 1929, France controlled almost 5 million square miles of territory, that is 8.7% of the Earth’s total land area.  A full 72 countries were part of France at one time or another.

Map showing the French Colonial Empire 1534-1970.
(Gd21091993, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The first permanent French colony in the Caribbean was established at St Pierre on the island of Martinique by the French trader and adventurer Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc in the year 1635.  Thus began what has since developed into what has become a four century French saga of conquest, colonization, commercialization and modern local development in the islands of the Caribbean.

All told, the French have established colonies on some thirty different islands in the Caribbean over the past six hundred years, and the French language is still part of the culture of several of these islands to this day.  The four main islandic countries in the Caribbean which currently form the French Caribbean territories are: Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin, and St Barthelemy.  The country of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola was formerly a prominent French territory, though they obtained their independence from the European mother country two hundred years ago.

In our program today we return to the radio scene on Guadeloupe, and in particular to the radio scene on the other nearby islands that form part of the this French overseas department in the Caribbean.

The two main islands of Guadeloupe, Grande Terre and Basse Terre, form the shape of a butterfly that is flying towards the northwest.  The total land area is a little over 600 square miles, and the total population is a little over a third of a million. 

In addition to the two main islands, there are three other islands nearby to Guadeloupe that are populated, and these are Marie-Galante, La Desirade and Les Saintes.  Let us examine all three of these islands clusters, and we do so in the order of their geographic size and their population totals.

This 1963 QSL card from amateur radio operator FG7XL provides a colourful map of Guadeloupe.
Image from ebay

The island known as Marie Galante is circular in shape, and because it is mainly flat, it is sometimes called Pancake Island.  This island has a total area of 61 square miles with a population of some 10,000 people.

Marie Galante Island lies 15 miles southeast from Guadeloupe, just a short one hour ferry ride away.  It was named by the famous Iberian explorer Christopher Columbus in honor of his ship, the Maria Galanda at the time of his second voyage to the Americas in 1493.  The main town on Maria Galante is Grand Bourg at the southwest tip of the island.

In 1984, the local government began the installation of a network of FM radio broadcasting stations to provide nationwide coverage.  A dedicated unattended relay station on 89.1 MHz was installed at Haut du Morne des Peres on Marie-Galante Island and it took a continuous relay of RFO Guadeloupe programming from the main station at Point a Petri on the main island that could be described as the eastern wing of the butterfly.

An additional FM relay station was installed in 2013, and that station carries a relay from RFI Radio France International in Paris.  Both transmitters, 89.1 MHz and 91.7 MHz, are rated at 1 kW each.

Another inhabited island is La Desirade, seven miles long and one mile wide, and it lies due east five miles distant from Guadeloupe.  Christopher Columbus landed on that island during that same 1493 voyage and it was named Desirade because the sailors were so glad to see land again.

The island has a population of around 1500 people, and the main town is Beauséjour.  Nearby is a large windfarm for the generation of electricity.  Because of the potential threat of hurricanes, the arms on those tall windmills could be folded for safety.  However the radio coverage for this island comes off air direct from the two main islands.

La Desirade wind farm. Photo: Pavana Energy Ltd

Six miles south of Desirade are the twin islands Petite Terre and Terre de Haut which are separated by a lagoon 200 yards across.  There has been a population of up to 50 people on these two islands known collectively as Les Saintes, though when the lighthouse was automated in 1974, they all left.

The nearby island of St. Barthelemy has been linked politically with Guadeloupe, and a 300 watt FM station was active on 100.7 MHz and much of the programming on this station was a live relay from RFI in Paris, via Guadeloupe.  Then around the turn of the century, another FM station was inaugurated on St Bart, with 300 watts on 88.6 MHz.  These days there are three RFO relay stations on St. Bart each at 300 watts, and they receive their program feed via RFO Guadeloupe.

Then also, two FM relay stations on the French part of the 200 mile distant island of St. Martin have also carried a relay of programming from RFO Guadeloupe for the past 35 years.  Those two stations, with 300 watts each, are broadcasting on 88.9 MHz and 91.1 MHz.

In addition to the government RFO stations, there is also a host of commercial and community FM radio stations on the air in Guadeloupe.  Radio Caribbean, with its headquarters on the 200 mile distant island of St Lucia, also operates a network of FM relay stations on several Caribbean islands.  On the two Butterfly Islands of Guadeloupe, they operate four FM relay stations, and on Marie Galante Island, they operate one FM relay station, on 106.6 MHz with 50 watts.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of November 20, 2022

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