It’s a new catchphrase for radio: ‘This is Heaven 97, the Sister Islands’ station’.
But what started as an emergency measure to help the community on the Sister Islands after Hurricane Ivan, still has an important role as things improve.
Heaven 97 went out live from Cayman Brac on Monday, 13 September, to fill a void in communications following the storm, and has continued to broadcast throughout Cayman Brac and Little Cayman ever since.
After Radio Cayman went off the air during the storm, cell phones and coconut telegraph were the only forms of communication for residents on the Sister Islands. That Monday morning, Sister Islands MLAs and District Administration called a town hall meeting, during which Pastor Thomas French realized that the community had a desperate need and that Heaven 97 could help.
He told the Caymanian Compass that the station’s transmitter and antennae were already at the Cable and Wireless tower at Stake Bay for repeater feeds from the station in Grand Cayman.
With permission from the telecommunications operator, they took their equipment into the C&W building on the Bluff, and Pastor French, the first DJ that day, was live on the air that afternoon from 2pm, playing music and relaying any relevant information to the public. Justin French and Pastor John Herbert also took their turns at the microphone to keep residents informed.
Radio Cayman was soon back on the air in Grand Cayman, using their outside broadcasting equipment at the George Town Fire Station,
However, residents on the Sister Islands were still unable to receive the government radio station, since the link to the Brac is from Broadcasting House.
Amid all the difficulties on Grand Cayman, staff at C&W managed to beam Radio Cayman through the phone line to Cayman Brac, where C&W technician Twain Foster patched in the broadcast to the Heaven 97 transmitter. Electronic Engineer Christopher Randall then put a receiver in the government bunker to receive the Heaven 97 frequency and re-broadcast through the Radio Cayman transmitter.
Thus, in that crucial period following the storm, people on the Sister Islands were able to get news from Radio Cayman several times every hour, interspersed with music and reports from Heaven 97.
It was not until the first week of October that Radio Cayman was back on 91.9MHz on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman without this link through Heaven 97 and C&W. Pastor French pointed out that, for a while, they were the only link to the outside world.
‘Hurricane Ivan really caused a new era for Heaven 97 on the Sister Islands because we are no longer just a repeater station,’ he said, adding that this is the first time, to his knowledge, that a radio station has broadcast regularly live from the Sister islands.
They plan to continue to broadcast local programming as well as programmes from the main station, and even to feed some local Brac broadcasts to Grand Cayman.
Heaven 97, the Sister Islands station, will be moving into the old Texaco gas station at Stake Bay soon after the New Year, where they will taping and broadcasting gospel programmes designed for a Sister Islands’ listening audience, which has a slightly different taste to an audience on Grand Cayman, said Pastor French.
The main station is supplying new equipment to add to that already purchased to get the Brac station up and operational in its new location. This will give them the opportunity to offer and provide training to young people that have an interest in broadcasting as a career, he said.
Plans also include developing a budget to support the Sister Islands’ station through advertisements and sponsorship. They already have the advertising support of a few local businesses but they are looking for others.
‘This needs to be supported locally,’ said Pastor French, explaining that the main cost will be payment for staff, which has so far been voluntary.
Heaven 97 has been on the air in Grand Cayman since 1997. Pastor French raised funds through donations for a transmitter so that the station could be broadcast from the Brac, and this was set up by Steve Faucett from Heaven 97 on Grand Cayman and Cantrell Scott on Cayman Brac.
With live broadcasts from the Brac, Pastor French said, ‘A new day has dawned.’