Samoan Radio Journey

2AP studios as seen from the seawall, Apia Harbor. © David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

by David Ricquish

Logo used by 2AP Apia, Samoa.
© Radio Heritage Foundation Collection.

We turned a corner on the Cross Island Road, and there sat a stumpy little radio tower, almost hidden in the misty rain. High in the hills behind Apia, the Afiamalu Pass is the location used by 2AP for many years. As Alan Roycroft, even today still remembered in Samoa as the founder of radio in the islands, once said “the engineers were fed with kava before deciding to put the transmitter at Afiamalu . The signal was lacking in lift outside Apia. No longer used, the mast looms lonely, surrounded by sodden fields of high grass and tropical ferns and approached along a muddy track.

In the distance is another tower, this one used to beam Magik 98 FM across northern Upolu. From the FM Building in Savalalo, a block back from the waterfront in downtown Apia, “The Real Music Station” is “Voted Number 1 in Town” . We took the 4WD Toyota through copra plantations and along the beautiful East Coast Road listening to American country music. At night, programs originate from a second studio up at Afiamalu. The owner can broadcast from home, it’s less stressful.

The original 2AP tower at Afiamalu, near Apia.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Meanwhile, down on the Mulinuu Peninsula, there’s a ramshackle old building down by the Apia Yacht Club. People sit on fences and cluster around cars parked in the shade of a tin roof. Welcomue to 2AP “The Voice of Samoa” . There’s a great view right across Apia Harbour to the town. If you open the windows, you get the sound of surf breaking on the seawall. Fishing nets are strung out through tidal channels nearby. The heat beats down and even the palm trees seam to wilt.

The main transmitter is just across the road, and a very tall tower, heavily guyed sits further back, not far from the Old Parliament House. At night it stands like a thin pencil when viewed from the front bar of Aggie Greys Hotel across the water. Three red warning lights blink in the darkness as the 747 AM signal reaches across Polynesia.

Studio building and original tower used by Magik98 FM at Afiamalu.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

In the morning, Channel 1 broadcasts alone on 540 AM. A mixture of Samoan and English. The main news comes from Radio New Zealand International in Wellington. The sponsor is Air New Zealand. The weather forecast is for a fine day with 28 degrees and showers later in the day. The music ranges from Samoan stars (local recording studios churn out cassettes that sell down at the new marketplace) thru Hawaiian ballads to middle-of-the-road American songs of the 70s and 80s. During daytime, there are school broadcasts to the isolated Tokelau group to the north.

In the early evening, Channel 2 on 747 AM is switched on. The programs are usually in English, including transcription programs from the BBC, modern rock music and news from Radio Australia. The signal splashes right across 650-850 but they do switch the whole transmitter down several hours later. The other choice in town is FM 106, which features Christian music and Bible readings. Even though the island is covered in churches, no one seamed to know anything much about the station. It’s been on air for about 6-8 months and is apparently funded by a local businessman who owns liquor and duty free stores. It’s not even listed in the brand new telephone directory which came out in mid-May.

Midnight is the time to catch the perfect station ID. Over in American Samoa, WVUV tells you they broadcast from the village of Vailoa on the island of Tutuila, on 648 AM with a maximum authorized power of 10,000 watts as licensed by the FCC in Washington DC. They actually say even more than that, play a jingle and the American Samoan National Song. The signal is steady but not great 100 km in Apia, and the morning DJ invites listeners to call the talkback line but reminds them to remenber they’re on radio and should avoid using rude words. There are lots of PSAs about the effectiveness of using radio advertising. There are not many ads. The sound is of no particular format, with Samoan love songs mixing it with heavy metal. The DJ obviously writes his own playlist.

New 2AP tower site at Mulinu’u, Apia.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation

Back down at the 2AP studios, a satellite dish is partly hidden by palm trees. Welcome to Televise Samoa. That morning, their one man crew was down at the big fale (or island style building) of the Western Samoa Visitors Bureau interviewing the young kids who just got back from the fire dance champs in Honolulu. The reporter checks the details before recording her links. It’s part of local programming on this Television New Zealand off-shoot. Every night they bring in the TV One network news delayed by 90 minutes. Church choirs seem to feature, as well as movies and single episodes from various series such as the X Files, Murder She Wrote and other stimulating fare. At least it’s better than KVZK Channel 4 from Pago Pago, which features old American soaps and comedies, along with Hawaiian commercials for products you can’t buy locally and shows you can’t attend. But television is popular in Samoa. At the Polynesian Airlines check-in counter in Auckland, several families were hauling TV sets onto the scales, and TV aerials are sprouting from thatched fale rooftops in villages everywhere. The Director of Televise Samoa (and former Director of 2AP) complains to me that the standards of grammar and pronunciation are not what he remembers from a decade ago.

After 2AP closes down, the locals like to tune their radios for some music. Some of the Fijian stations are stronger than others, mainly 891, 1152 and 1476 AM. There are some other strong signals around, especially KAIM Honolulu on 870 AM and KCCN “Station Aloha” on 1420 also in Honolulu. In fact, a mid-morning bandscan reveals most Hawaiian stations at varying strength. The other reliable signal is RFO in Papeete which relays France Inter from Paris through the night. Earlier in the evening, Tonga 1017 provides an alternative program at a good level, and Radio Cook Islands on 630 AM is steady but not very strong shortly after sundown. Some of the Fijian stations are stronger than others, mainly 891 and 1476. Also regular are mainland US stations from the West Coast, in particular KNX Los Angeles 1070 AM which remains at listenable level for about 10 hours through the night.

Observations from a short business visit to Apia May 16-19 1995. DXing from Aggie Greys Hotel on Beach Road, Vaisigano, Apia.

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