CRST 104FM Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Snow White and the Seven DJs

Melanie Arnost

Once upon a time there was a radio station on Tanna Island, Vanuatu. It was without broadcasters, music, programs or funds. The only inhabitants of the station were old equipment and a lot of dust.

So it stayed until one sunny morning in May when an Australian Volunteer arrived and, equipped with a fantastic station manager and enthusiastic broadcasters, helped transform the station. CRST FM was reborn… and no longer a pumpkin!

Melanie and colleagues outside the radio station

When Shania Twain, Celine Dion*, local string bands and Sean Kingston share the airwaves, you are obviously not listening to your average radio station. Welcome to CRST (Crest) FM 104 – the Community Radio Society of Tafea. We pride ourselves on broadcasting quality content and an eyebrow-raising variety of music across the southern province of Vanuatu Islands.

Working as Radio Broadcaster Trainer for the station, I taught the importance of community radio. Announcers are encouraged to see their listeners as just a single person, and to speak to him or her as they would a friend. This attitude leads to a more intimate development of programs and communication with the listener.

One of the first shows I introduced was a young adult talkback program, ‘Young pipol toktok’. It is said that 50 per cent of Vanuatu’s population are under 25 years old, so the opinions of local youth are beginning to play a very important role politically. It soon became a program with educational and sometimes eye-opening content.

Melanie teaching broadcaster Aileen panel operating

Early in my project, the program’s hosts devised an interesting topic – whether or not women should wear trousers. In the outer islands of Vanuatu, it is still frowned upon for women to wear pants; however, the fashion for young women these days is to dress in a more masculine style.

The SMS responses to the topic were endless. Numerous women were supportive of the concept, demanding they should have the freedom to wear whatever they wanted. Unfortunately, quite a few young men, and many older, more conservative listeners, were of the opinion that women wearing pants had no self-respect.

After-effects of the show were evident for weeks. Some women defiantly wore trousers around town. The village I lived in called a meeting to demand that all girls remember they are forbidden to wear pants. The young broadcasters were now more confident to voice the opinions and questions of young people around the island, going on to cover other topical issues including HIV/AIDS, contraception (again, extremely controversial), dating, local elections and lucrative business deals.

Despite community radio’s progress, there are still many people in the east and south of Tanna Island who do not have radio reception. The radio station is currently surviving on basic financial support from the local government, those behind it hope it will eventually stand on its own ground financially, in order to produce more independent content.

Since returning from Tanna, I have maintained regular content with the station’s manager and broadcasters; their passion for quality journalism with the most limited of resources continues to inspire me. After finishing my Bachelor of Journalism degree at the Queensland University of Technology a few weeks ago, I moved to Melbourne to work on Radio Australia’s ‘Pacific Beat’ program. No doubt my Vanuatu contacts will come in handy!

*For the record, I did not choose the music. I may have contributed some, but for the sake of my musical reputation I promise we played Celine Dion on a demand-only basis.

Melanie was an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development under the AusAID-funded Australian Volunteers for International Development Program. Australian Volunteers information sessions are being held around Australia in January. For more information visit or

© Mamamia January 18, 2012.

This material remains © Mamamia and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.

Melanie Arnost is a producer with Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program. She spent nine months on Tanna Island, Vanuatu working as a Radio Broadcaster Trainer for the Community Radio Society of Tafea (CREST) as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development under the AusAID-funded Australian Volunteers for International Development Program.

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