The name ZIZ is not new to St. Kitts. In the mid 1930s the sons of Administrator Douglas Roy Stuart and their friend, Kittitian radio enthusiast Kenneth Mallalieu, applied for permission to conduct experimental commercial broadcasting on the island and were issued with the call-sign ZIZ. The transmissions were heard mostly by residents in the Basseterre area. When Stuart died, his family left the Caribbean and the radio station went silent.
World War II showed the importance of radio in reaching the minds of the person in the street. For the first time military tactics were accompanied by propaganda maneuvers on the airwaves. Psychological warfare took on unprecedented proportions as there were no guns that could shoot down the announcers who minimised enemy successes and bolstered support at home. With the days of Empire numbered by a growing demand for democracy, Britain realised that in order to retain its status as a significant world power it had to re-think its relations with the colonies. Maintaining a measure of intellectual control over a medium that reached thousands was a means to that end and the BBC fulfilled that role with distinction. It became the authority, the model and the symbol of educational and intellectual achievement to which every colony aspired. With the standards set, the Colonial Office could then move into the role of facilitator.
In 1955, when the idea of a Radio Station in St. Kitts was first discussed, conditions were promising for a positive outcome. The project became a favourite one of C.A. Paul Southwell, then Minister of Communications and Works, who devoted a great deal of time and effort to it. Initially the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund identified the sum of £16,000 for the establishment of a Public Service Broadcasting Service owned and operated by the Government. By 1959 the amount had been increased to £23,000.
In 1960, Karney Osbourne was identified as the future Broadcasting and Public Relations Officer and sent to train in Canada and with the BBC in London. The responsibility of seeing the new station become a reality lay in his hands and eventually so did its day-to-day activities. The Public Works Department undertook the planning and construction of the new building at Springfield. The Department of Electricity and Telephones and Cable and Wireless also assisted in significant ways to make the project a reality. In preparation for the start of regular programming, the station was on the air for one and a half hours every evening for a period of two weeks
On Sunday, the 5th March 1961 the project became a reality. Punctually at 4.00 p.m. Administrator Lieutenant Colonel H.A.C. Howard opened the proceedings. The Hon. F.T. Williams then handed the keys to the building to the Chief Minister Southwell who delivered the feature address in which he gave a brief history of the project and acknowledged the contribution of all those involved. He also explained the Government’s involvement in the project. He said that radio was considered such a potent and effective force for good or ill that governments all over the world found it necessary to control broadcasting in their territories. He also expressed the readiness of the St. Kitts Government to co-operate with the West Indies Federal Government in respect to any reasonable proposals for regional broadcasting. At the end of his speech Southwell handed the key to the building to Lord Hailes, Governor General of the Federation of the West Indies who proceeded to open the Station
Following the official launching, ZIZ started transmitting for a three-hour period, between six and nine every evening. One of the very first speakers to be heard on the air was Joseph Archibald, Registrar of the Territory who shared his favourite gramophone recordings with his audience in My Kind of Music. A big success was the transmission of three songs recorded at the Irish Town School. Broadcasting and Information Officer Osbourne hoped that this was the beginning of a series of visits to schools throughout the island. Lorna Sheppard, Secretary of the Station was also given the duty of announcing the songs on Pepperpot, a children’s programme and of introducing the Wednesday Concert. The technical side of the operation was in the hands of Zephaniah Joseph. Lloyd (Bill) Bramble was appointed programme assistant in 1963 and Eustace Hicks joined the the staff as Operator technician in 1966.
For the next few years ZIZ tried with limited means to cater to the interests of the citizens of the State. Programmes of a community nature satisfied the need for self expression. The small staff attempted to find out what was on the mind of the person on the street with regards to the issues of the day and even the shut-ins were given a chance to have a say. Parliamentary debates were aired, live an activity that, at the time had not been initiated in England, and the Government Ministers made frequent visits to the station to keep the people informed of their activities.
To assist students sitting exams in literature, selections from texts set were often read on the air. For parents, teachers and students, the radio became an extension of the class room. Teachers found good use for the current affairs and news programmes as students were expected to stay abreast of what was going on in their country and in the world at large. Nor was entertainment left out of the picture. Aunt Lulu (Louvina Maynard) and Uncle Goldwyn (Goldwyn Caines) became popular with the children. Rev. Buttolph of St. Peter’s Anglican Church provided amusement and educational content with his renditions of plays, a literary works in which he provided voices for all the characters. Goldwyn Caines introduced Latin Music to his listeners, Karney Osbourne read poetry and played tunes for the enjoyment of all and coverage was given to local sporting events. Requests poured in daily from all corners of the state and overseas.
Contacts with the BBC allowed for the airing of the adventures of Jimmy Clitherow and Ned Kelly and the music of Victor Silvester, whilst London Calling the Caribbean became a feature of daily listening. But perhaps it was the international sporting events for which this link was most appreciated. Who did not look forward to the thrill of listening to commentaries of World Cup and Test cricket matches in a village shop with his or her friends? How many where those who would bet that Barbadian opening batsman, Conrad Hunt would have hit four runs off the first ball bowled to him in West Indies vs England Test matches and when he did, cheered loudly along with a crowd many, many miles away.
In 1973, recognising the value of reaching a more discerning audience with a variety of programmes, the management of ZIZ embarked on transmissions on its FM frequency. By 1975, equipment had been purchased to increase the power of the radio station to 10,000 watts and to establish a studio in Charlestown, Nevis.