Haitian radio helps keep a country afloat
Signal FM, a music radio station, survived the quake and is helping others in the aftermath
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Radio presenter and DJ, Jean Gary Apollon, had just put a new thumping track of Caribbean bachata music on the air when the earth moved below this sprawling seaside city.
For some 60 seconds he felt the building of his station Signal FM sway back and forth like the bricks were made of rubber.
But miraculously, the music never stopped.
“We were so used to power cuts here in Haiti that we had built a special system for when the lights go out,” he explained, talking in his hectic studio. “Our diesel-run generator switched on automatically.”
When the Jan. 12 tremor ceased, the crying and wailing came from the street around, and he looked out the window to see whole office blocks reduced to rubbles. But besides having some equipment hurled around, the signal FM studio was virtually unharmed.
The luck of being saved in the dark lottery allowed Signal FM to be the only local media outlet broadcasting through the first frantic days following the catastrophic quake that devastated this Caribbean country.
Keeping itself on air, the station became a crucial source of information that helped get thousands of people to hospitals and back with their families. Now as Haiti faces the Herculean task of reconstructing its shattered capital, media outlets will have to play a central role in averting the chaos and building a new order.
“Right after the quake, it was hard to think about keeping the station going. We all wanted to just look for our families and friends. It was so hard to comprehend the enormity of the event,” said Apollon, a lively radio presenter in his 40s. “But we realized how important the station would be. And we all did everything we could to keep the signal up.”
The electricity grid was down but residents heard Signal FM on transistor radios and car stereos. Rapidly, hundreds of people flocked to the station asking to get out calls to their families.
The station reached out to lost relatives, allowing people to know news of their loved ones and arrange places to meet. Soon, thousands had found each other that way.
When the station regained internet connection, it also started communicating with its many web listeners abroad in the Haitian communities in the United States, Canada, France and other countries.