St. Vincent Volcanic Eruption

Plumes of ash billow from the La Soufrière volcano on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines which started erupting on 9th April. The volcano had been dormant since 1979, it started spewing smoke and actively rumbling in December 2020. La Soufrière erupted last Friday 9th April 2021, blanketing Saint Vincent in a layer of ash and forcing some 16,000 residents to evacuate their homes to cruise ships and safer parts of the island. Photo: Navin Pato Patterson. Copyright © United Nations

Normally a paradise for tourists, a recent massive volcanic eruption on St Vincent Island in the Caribbean (on Friday April 9, 2021) produced an ash plume 7½ miles high, and it spread the fine volcanic ash over the Atlantic Ocean as far as Spain in continental Europe.  A subsequent explosion 3 days later, at 4:30 am on the Monday, was so massive that it could be seen on a radar screen on the island of Martinique, 100 miles distant.  The major volcano, Mt. La Soufrière, is located towards the north of the island of St Vincent, and it is noted for its occasional explosive eruptions over the historic years.

In areas close to the mountain, falling ash has damaged homes and caused the collapse of roofing.  The local airport was closed, widespread power outages are reported, and there is a shortage of clean water.  Fortunately thus far, no deaths and no injuries are reported.

People living near this volcanic Mt Soufrière are under a mandatory order of evacuation, and some 4,000 people are now temporarily housed in 84 government shelters.  It is anticipated that in total some 16,000 people will need to evacuate. 

Map of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. ©

As a safety precaution, four empty tourist ships are on standby in the island’s nearby port at the capital city Kingstown.  Thus far one small group of 130 people has been taken by boat to a nearby island, St. Lucia.

St. Vincent Island is just 18 miles long and 11 miles wide, and it lies towards the southern end of the long chain of islands that form the extreme eastern boundary of the Caribbean.  St. Vincent is the largest island in the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with a population of 130,000.

There is a total of around 70 small islands, islets and cays making up St. Vincent and the Grenadines, though their official list of significant islands is numbered at 32, with just 9 inhabited.  Most of the beach sand on St. Vincent is black, due to volcanic eruptions over the centuries.

The original inhabitants were of Carib origin, and over the years these islands have come under the influence of peoples from Africa, England, France, Spain, Portugal and India.  The main island, St. Vincent, was named by the famous Iberian explorer Christopher Columbus in 1498.

It was back on March 1, 1925, that the international communication company Cable and Wireless placed into service the first commercial radio transmitter on the island of St. Vincent.  During that era, C&W interconnected all of the major islands of the eastern Caribbean by cable and by low powered shortwave radio.

The first radio program in St. Vincent was produced and broadcast by an amateur radio station at the request of the International DXers Alliance in the United States.  That special one time only broadcast went on the air at midnight on Friday night May 26, 1939, and it was presented by Weston H. Lewis over his amateur station VP2SA.

In the pre war era, it was a common procedure for amateur radio operators to broadcast speech and music in entertainment and informational programs, and generally no special licensing was required.  The 1939 broadcast from VP2SA on St. Vincent Island was directed to the United States on 7108 kHz (42.21 m) in what was described as the 40 m amateur radio band.

1940 censored QSL card from St Vincent to the Canal Zone mailed 24 February 1940. By UK Government – found on this page, Public Domain,

QSL cards verifying that special radio broadcast were promised, though they were not posted out until almost a year later.  The first arrival of a VP2SA QSL card in the United States was in May 1940.  The specially printed card was described as black print on a pink card.

Another 14 years later, and Weston Lewis with his radio equipment under the callsign VP2SA, was  on the air again with radio programming, this time for the local population in his own island country, St. Vincent.  In August 1954, Weston began a weekly hour long broadcast on behalf of the local government.

Each broadcast was made up in quarter hour segments, containing news, sports, music, talks, and religious information.  These broadcasts were on the air each Sunday 2100-2200 with 400 watts on 3336 kHz.  These preliminary amateur radio program broadcasts on St. Vincent ended in 1957, with the intent that some form of local radio broadcasting would be implemented.

However in the meantime, radio events in the eastern Caribbean were taking a different turn.  Four of the nearby Windward island nations (Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, and including St. Vincent) began planning a new and combined radio service.

Under this system, the Windward Island Broadcasting Service (WIBS) Grenada began to provide a daily tropical shortwave broadcasting service to the three other island nations in 1954.  Each of these small countries then rebroadcast the combined programming on tropical shortwave to their own population.  At the end of each relay of the combined programming, then the four local shortwave stations presented their own local programming to their own people.

Radio St. Vincent QSL card- 1977 – 705 kHz

We would suggest that the internal local shortwave service on the other three islands was initially provided by the already operational C&W transmitters.  However subsequently, a small mediumwave unit was installed in each island nation, and the St. Vincent station operated on 1570 kHz with just 25 watts.

In 1965, the WRTVHB shows a new transmitter at 500 watts on 705 kHz.  In the mid 1960s, an additional mediumwave relay station was installed at Chateaubelair on the central west coast of St. Vincent Island with 100 watts on 1515 kHz, though the operating frequency was soon afterwards changed to 1535 kHz.

The four-nation combined WIBS service was on the air for somewhere around 20 years, and then in the early 1970s, the radio stations in each of the four nations (Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent) began to go independent.

The new and independent Radio St. Vincent was formed on January 3, 1972 with the use of the then current studio equipment in the capital city Kingstown together with the two mediumwave transmitters: Kingstown 500 watts on 705 kHz and Chateaubelair 100 watts on 1535 kHz.

Soon afterwards, a new 10 kW unit was installed in Kingstown and the Chateaubelair relay station was closed.  After the turn of the century, a new 10 kW mediumwave station on 700 kHz was installed at a new location in Kingstown. Ultimately though, mediumwave was dropped in 2010 and instead an islandwide FM network was implemented.

Kingstown, Saint Vincent. Photo: Holland America Line website

Interestingly, an additional mediumwave station was active on St Vincent for a score of years beginning in the late 1970s.  This additional station with 10 kW  on 1450 kHz was a slave relay station that was rebroadcasting the programming from the ambitious Radio Antilles on the island of Montserrat.

However, the parent station Radio Antilles on Montserrat was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and it was totally obliterated 6 years later by a volcanic eruption in 1995.  Apparently their mediumwave relay station in Kingstown St. Vincent was just simply abandoned.

It is possible that the “new” 10 kW for Radio St. Vincent at a new location in this century was simply the old Radio Antilles relay station refurbished and upgraded.  Radio St. Vincent station ZBG with 10 kW on 700 kHz finally left the air in 2010.  Their full data QSL cards are indeed nowadays a valuable historic collector’s item.

These days, there are nearly a score of FM stations on St. Vincent island, though probably most of them are now probably off the air due to the current volcanic eruption and the loss of electric power in most areas.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of April 25, 2021

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