FM 107 Comes to Port Vila

The Vanuatu Series > FM 107 > Vanuatu Beef > Coconut Crabs > Ambrym > Casino

This week the Captain is settling behind the microphone for a guest DJ set on Vanuatu's first commercial radio station. Let's see if he can keep the obscenities at a minimum and profundities at a maximum.

Pasted to the back wall of the newsroom is the mission statement of Vanuatu's first commercial radio station, Capital FM 107: striving as a team to inform, educate and entertain the public to become the best radio station in Vanuatu.

"Compared to the government's AM and FM stations, which say 'don't do this' or 'don't do that,' we are raw and cool," said Sera Cakau, station manager, from a café beneath the station's offices in Port Vila, the country's capital. "Young people are really interested in the latest music. They want it fresh."

Inside the booth, where CDs are stacked in the corners and computer monitors are set next to the microphones, DJs play new tracks by the likes of pop-queen Gwen Stefani and oldies by dinosaurs Credence Clearwater Revival and Air Supply. Certainly such programming is standard in the industrialized world, but FM 107 hopes to bring vibrancy to Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific.

The 300-watt station, which began broadcasting in March, sends its signal 75 miles, reaching all of the capital island of Efate. Programming, which can be in English, French, or the native tongue, Bislama, includes news reports, a mix of music, and sports coverage. On average, the station receives up to 400 dedication calls each day.

Until this year, the airwaves of Vanuatu have been dominated by the two stations operated by the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation (VBTC), which also presides over stations operated by international broadcasters Radio Australia and the BBC. For FM 107 to make a difference in this isolated land, where small-scale agriculture and fishing form the basics of the economy, listeners will have to want to embrace a new concept, said Aaron Hanghangkon, one of the station's three directors.

"The print media has been in business in Vanuatu for many years," said Hanghangkon. "We are trying to break through by providing news and entertainment up to the minute."

News stories have included the opening of the five-star Sebel hotel in downtown Port Vila, a scandal where it is alleged police misappropriated confiscated marijuana, and the details of a new Japan-funded hydropower project on the northern island of Santo.

Advertisers range from the local grocery store to the local casino to the airline Virgin Blue, Australia's low-fare carrier that serves the Pacific.

"At first people wondered if we would survive," said Hanghangkon, "but now they are gaining more confidence, and slowly beginning to place ads. Their minds are changing. Now they are betting on us."

The VBTC, however, remains a challenge. In addition to being an operator, the government organization oversees the licensing and operation of media outlets in Vanuatu. An annual licensing fee of $5,000 and a monthly commission of $1,000 must be paid to the VBTC. Hanghangkon isn't happy with this arrangement.

"You cannot have the government operating a station and dictating the rates for the other players," said Hanghangkon. "As it is now they are acting as the regulator and the referee."

Hanghangkon and two partners put up 35% of the initial costs to cover the transmission equipment and overhead. A bank loan was taken out for the remainder. Song royalties are presently not being paid, but that is something that Hanghangkon admits they must do in the future.

Even though plans for expansion beyond Port Vila include coverage that will extend to the majority of Vanuatu's 83 islands within two years, not everyone has been pleased with the station.

"When we get too noisy there is pounding from the other side of the walls," said Cakau of the station's neighbors. "But we should be loud and rowdy; we are young and exciting."

The Vanuatu Series > FM 107 > Vanuatu Beef > Coconut Crabs > Ambrym > Casino

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