AT 7:30 .p.m on Monday 19 August 1974, St. Lucians heard the theme song of a new programme on Radio Caribbean International; it was “Pint O’Wine” by Joey Lewis and His Orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago and it introduced – “Radioa Se San Nou”- the first magazine programme in St. Lucia Kreyol or St. Lucian Patois as it was more commonly called then.
The presenter was a young man, Sam Flood from Gros Islet, who was later to style himself Jouk Bois, Rapping Rhapsody, Jamadar- but it was the Jouk Bois sobriquet that was to remain with him. The producer and creator of the programme was your humble servant, Earl Stephen Huntley, who had already been producing and presenting a Caribbean news analysis programme – Carib Report- for the station.
August 19 2014 therefore marks 40 years since that programme hit St. Lucia’s airwaves and changed radio in St. Lucia. As I look back at its origins, I realise at the time I was only partially aware of the revolution that I was creating. The programme concept was born out of a workshop I had attended in St. Vincent and the Grenadines a couple of months earlier, organised by the Communications department of the Caribbean Conference Churches (where I was to work a few years later as a radio producer/presenter), on the theme, “Communications for Development”. From the discussions, I concluded that if radio in St. Lucia had to be the agent for change and development that I had accepted it should be, it needed to communicate in the language of the people of St. Lucia- Kreyol – Patois- Lang MamanNou; the fact that it was known as Lang MamanNou- our Mother tongue, but in the St. Lucia context, I would suggest that the more correct translation is the Language of Our Mothers, underlined that it was indeed the language of the majority of its people; and in the 1970’s in St. Lucia, it certainly was, especially in the rural areas of the island.
When I approached the Englishman who was the manger of the then Rediffusion owned Radio Caribbean, David Gardiner, with the idea, he endorsed it because he had previously worked in Mauritius where Kreyol was spoken and he understood the impact that it could have. However there was opposition from some members of the staff of the station who thought that “patois on the radio” would degrade RCI. That was the historical attitude to Kreyol in St. Lucia – a dialect which was not for the elite and the educated classes. But it was the language of the people and Gardiner saw the commercial potential in it. He agreed to do it. However, I had been the product of this very same thinking that patois was not to be spoken and as a child of two school principals, I had not been allowed to speak patois, even though I lived in Monchy, one of the most country areas of St. Lucia in the 1950’s -1970’s; so my Kreyol was just too limited to present the programme myself. That’s how Jouk Bois came in to radio.
He had been one of the dynamic Kreyol speakers on the platform of the St. Lucia Labour Party candidate for Gros Islet, Gregor Mason, in the 1974 election campaign and in scouting around for a presenter, he was brought to my attention. He had just exited a job as a meter reader with St. Lucia Electricity Services and agreed to audition for the programme. Peter Ephraim, one of the technicians at RCI who was my technical producer for Carib Report, and who is now a co- owner of RCI, worked with him on the consoles. The programme was about one month in preparation as we searched for music and I prepared the features I would be presenting. As a former French Caribbean station, RCI had a vast library of French Caribbean Kreyol Music and as fate would have it, two Dominican music groups, Exile One and, Grammacks had just begun their own revolution in Kreyol music with the cadencelypso genre; we had the fuel for the show; we were ready.
Radio Se San Nou hit St. Lucia like a hurricane. Sam “Jouk Bois” Flood was perfect for the programme- dynamic, witty, energetic, speaking the language of the people as they were used to conversing with it daily. To be hearing it on the radio every night for the first time was for them extraordinary. I had felt and known the programme was going to be successful but I had not anticipated the extent. Commercially, it brought immediate and significant income to RCI, to those who advertised on the programme, to the makers of a St. Lucia manufactured transistor radio, Akay which could not keep up with the demand for it, and for the merchants who sold transistor radios generally. An additional half hour was added to the hour with which the programme was launched (from 7:30 to 8:30p.m). More importantly, it gave St. Lucian Kreyol its rightful place in the electronic media in St. Luca and brought respectability to the language that it had hitherto lacked. Instead of degrading Radio Caribbean International, it elevated it and turned it into the people’s radio station. We also allowed the voices of the ordinary people to be on the radio. I sent Sam Flood around the island’s communities with a tape recorder to record their answers to the question: “Ki Sa Ki KaAffecteOu?”; and they told the nation- of course largely to the discomfort of the then government; so before the talk shows which are a staple of radio in St. Lucia today, Radio Se San Nou” on RCI had pioneered this and really taken radio to the people.
Forty years later, Kreyol broadcasting has not developed as much as I had hoped and thought it would have and as it should have. It is true that other radio stations have taken up Kreyol broadcasting, Sam “Jouk Bois” Flood and I brought morning kreyol radio to Helen FM 100 in the late 1990’s; and Kreyol has also crept into television; but Kreyol radio is still too limited in scope and content; sadly Radio Caribbean International, which pioneered Kreoyl broadcasting and gave St. Lucia other notable broadcasters as the late Hilarie Alexander and Marcellus “Man” Miller, has dropped its Kreyol programming; so it is refreshing to see that the latest radio station in St. Lucia, WVent has accorded Kreyol four hours daily in the morning.
Forty years later Sam “Jouk Bois” Flood is still on radio. He has developed in his own inimitable way and is now one of the most controversial and certainly the most listened to radio announcers in St. Lucia and the most successful. As for me, I have been in and out of the media since then, following a diplomatic career but not forgetting my roots in the media. this year also marks 40 years since I began radio production and broadcasting with an interest in current affairs; and with the diplomatic career almost at an end, it is likely that I will return to what has really been my first love – radio and the desire to use it to inform and educate.
As I contemplate that move, I cannot help but reminisce about that night on August 19 1974, when Pint O Wine (chosen by Sam Flood and which he still uses as his theme) heralded Radio Se San Nou and we changed radio broadcasting in St. Lucia. We had indeed opened a chapter in communicating for development in St. Lucia. Forty years later, it is a night I have not forgotten and will not ever forget.