bi-weekly news magazine for Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

feature story / editorial / local news / business


written by Jaime Johnston

photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Their voices echo through your homes, offices and cars. Their energy greets you in the morning, their music weaves its way through your day and, when you're drifting into sleep, they're providing entertainment for the island's insomniacs. With each show, Roatan's radio deejays provide the soundtrack of day-to-day life in the Bay Islands. Every broadcaster is different from the next, but they all share a common trait. While their programs boom through the airwaves, there is an air of mystery about the personality behind the voice.

organization, but it's really worth it," said Silseth, "We try to have most of our staff cross-trained and we actually have a lot of fun with it." On SUN radio, Elizabeth Melendez brings fun to her morning listeners, as she hosts "Aca Entre Nos" from 8am-12pm throughout the week. "When I was little, I knew I wanted to be either a news reporter or do radio talk because I just love talking," said Melendez who started out at Coral Radio two years ago. "I would go to my job for eight hours and then go to the station and learn how to do things. I wasn't being paid; it just became my passion," said Melendez. Beginning with "Quitondome lu pijama" show on Coral, Melendez had been selected from 165 candidates to become a deejay. In January 2003, she moved to SUN on 107.1 FM where she plays Hip Hop, new rock, R&B and Pop music. "I also talk about the stars, music and read news from the Internet about the artists who I play on my show," said Melendez, "I just really have fun, making jokes and interacting with people who call in." With a bright smile and quick wit, Melendez is described by her colleagues as a "true radio talent."
SUN radio, started in 1998 by Sun Broadcasting's Eldon Hyde, transmits to the Bay Islands, La Ceiba and various locations across the North coast. Their Roatan transmitter is 1000 watts, located on Dixon Hill. In La Ceiba, their 2000 watt transmitter broadcasts on 107.7 FM. In addition to SUN radio, Sun Broadcasting owns Coral and Magic radio. "The three stations [owned by SUN Broadcasting] are not in competition with each because they all have such different markets," said Roberto Montiel, who manages the three stations, "SUN brings in the most revenue because it was the first of the three, so it's the most listened to." Montiel hosts a rock program on SUN, featuring a variety of bands from Metallica to Coldplay. SUN also features "Quiet Storm" by Big Dog Papi Chulo (Royce Anderson) from 10pm-12am, playing slow jams and love music.
In October, Sun Broadcasting bought Coral radio from Mayor Jerry Hynds. It transmits to the Bay Islands and the North Coast with a 2000 watt transmitter. New Coral radio highlights several new talents on 104.7 FM. "The Cell", hosted by 'Crazy Legs' Elroy Levy, is a three-hour show of reggae, soca and calypso music. "I eat, breathe and sleep music," said Levy whose co-host Ermita Fermin ('Jewels') adds her feminine touch to Levy's playful style. "The Cell's" trademarks are the daily games with their listeners. From "Tell me a lie Monday" to "Sing it if you can", Levy and Fermin enjoy the pranks as much, even more, than their audience. "On Saturday, we call a number who called us during the week and we've recorded information about them. We call and pretend to be someone serious like immigration or something. If they are listening, they will know it's us. If they're not, then they will fall for it and we got them," said Levy, smiling.
Coral's programming includes a wide variety of Spanish music, including Salsa, Meringue and Bachata on Ritmo y Sabore with Roman Cruz and Dayana Ortiz. Danielo Midence plays two hours of Rancheros music daily and Shanna Stamp hosts a country music program from 8-11am. There are two Christian shows on Coral; a Spanish praise and worship show is hosted by Marcela Brooks and Lillian Fino, while Carol Bodden has an English Christian program from 6-7pm.
The newest radio station to Roatan, Magic 107.7 FM, is home to the island's first English talk radio program, The Roatan Bruce Show from 12-2pm daily. "There was just music for so long on the airwaves and now there's talk where there was only music. My show is trying to ease the audience into talk radio and I hope to be invited into people's homes or offices," said host Bruce Starr, an American broadcaster with over a decade of radio experience. Every day, Starr begins his show with Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry, Be Happy'; the first hour is solely music. Starr's musical tastes range from Marvin Gaye, The Temptations to Donna Summer and Aerosmith. "I have a great appreciation for the disco ago. I like positive music," said Starr. The second hour of the show is dedicated to local interviews. Past guests include Congressman Evans McNab and Governor Clinton Everett. "There are a lot of people living here on the island who want to know what's going on. I want to bridge that information gap and also make people accountable for what they say on my show," said Starr. Magic, started in 2002, transmits to the Island, La Ceiba (93.9 FM in La Ceiba) and part of the North Coast. According to Starr, the Magic demographic is mostly English-speaking listeners between the ages of 35-65 years old. "It's a lucrative market for advertisers," said Starr.

Between songs in the studio at Estereo Mar, Steve Bush Ebanks takes a minute to remember how his program, Country Time Again, began. "It all started out when I answered a radio ad in Ceiba. I was trembling like a leaf during my first show and was scared the manager would tell me that was it, but he told me to come back. I started a weekly hour-long country music show. That was in 1967," said Ebanks who has managed Estereo Mar for two years. In total, Country Time Again broadcasted nine years on Radio Ceiba and four years on Roatan Radio in the 1970s. He returned to the airwaves in 1998 on Coral Radio before moving to Estereo Mar two years ago. Born in Utila, Ebanks has lived on each of the Bay Islands and the North Coast, residing in Jonesville for the last 15 years. Ebanks likes to play the old country classics of Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Jim Reeves and his personal favorite, Waylon Jennings. He remembers how country music came to the islands through two small radio stations in the 1950s. According to Ebanks, there were stations from Little Rock, Arkansas and from Belize which were the only English programs available on the Bay Islands. They both played country music. "I like to keep it country for the Islanders. There is a shift in musical taste of the younger generation, but I think country links us to the good ol' days," said Ebanks.
Estereo Mar, owned by Emilio Silvestri, transmits to the Bay Islands and the North coast of Honduras. Operating from 6am-10pm, there are 13 live programs, 11 of which are Spanish. The station, 104.5 FM, broadcasts four Christian programs, including The Light in Obscurity, hosted for the last two years by Olga de Casildo and Juventiva de Herrera. Light in Obscurity is a Spanish praise and worship program, funded solely on donations. Herrera also hosts a children's show on Saturdays where she plays books on CD and plays a call-in question and answer game for kids. "I get 40-50 calls every show. They are mostly from the coast, but some are from the island too," said Herrera.
HRGS, a Christian radio station in Gravel Bay, is the longest-running station on the island still in operation, according to HRGS Manager, Peter Silseth. In May 1999, Silseth and his wife Sandy, American missionaries, came to manage the station, replacing original manager, Glen Priddy. The Silseths had finished a year mission in Liberia, broadcasting Bible programs for the public. HRGS, operated by the Bay Islands Baptist Association, is a bilingual station with teaching programs, praise and worship time and Christian music. It is sponsored by some local and American churches, as well as a group of Listening Club Members. These are people who privately donate money to support the station on a monthly basis. "It's amazing to have support from listeners; it makes it a real community station," said Silseth.
With a seven-member staff, HRGS broadcasts local and American programs, the latter picked up by satellite. In July 1999, HRGS moved their AM satellite to Utila, widening their transmission penetration throughout coast and within Utila's Cays. 93.9FM and 1290AM can be heard throughout the North Coast, the Bay Islands and even in Southern Belize. HRGS broadcasts from 5am until 11pm, with English programming lasting from 6am-1:30PM. "We look for programs that are appealing to the listening public and those that are true to scripture," said Silseth who hosts "Sunrise Serenade" each morning at 6am. Serenade is a mixture of Bible reading and devotional thoughts; its Spanish equivalent is Devocional Matinal at 5am hosted by Mario Guevara. Silseth adds his own personal touches to Serenade with inserts like "Question of the Day" and, a coming attraction, "Word of the Day". "I had a program in Minneapolis where I used 'Word of the Day'. Here, I will pick a word from the dictionary and use it in a fictitious story about people living in Roatan," said Silseth who notes that 'Islanders Hour' and 'Request and Dedication Hour' are other popular programs on the station. Two years ago, the station moved to an automated system where show hosts record their programs in advance in one of HRGS's three studios. "We'd like to think that it sounds like there's always someone in the studio," said Silseth. HRGS also uses software that picks out the day's music using programmed guidelines. "Right now, we have our programming for the next month lined up. It takes a lot of start-up

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THE MISSING BUTTON by Alfonso Ebanks

In a previous edition of this magazine, I wrote an article about my present-day beliefs in Christ and Christianity. However, I was not always of this persuasion. Here is a true story that has remained in great detail in my memory for over half a century:
The Sun was taking a long time to rise. It seemed like I had been awake for hours waiting to see its rays reflected from the surface of the ocean and dance across the walls of my bedroom. As I pondered the reason for the delay, I caught a glimpse of its golden fingers creeping above the eastern horizon and even at the tender age of six, I could tell this was going to be a beautiful day.
It had to be; it was the day my mother would get the gold-colored buttons that was needed to complete the khaki uniform that I would wear in my very first Independence Day parade. I had been to see the seamstress on two occasions for fittings and the uniform was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, even without its buttons. The buttons arrived at about 10 o'clock and I reminded my mother that the seamstress was probably waiting for the buttons to sew them to my uniform. I went on to emphasize that she had been waiting for at least five days and would probably be getting angry by now.
My mother informed me that she was aware of the delay in getting the buttons and that the buttons would be dispatched directly. I was shocked; by dispatched; she meant that someone else would take my buttons to the seamstress. This would not do. After all, it was my uniform and I should carry the buttons. After swearing that I knew the way and promising that I would go directly, would not fall in the water and would come directly back, I was permitted to carry my buttons to the seamstress.
My mother carefully wrapped the buttons in a piece of brown paper and, after giving me a couple of more bits of advice, sent me on my way. According to me, I went straight and returned right away from my errand so upon arriving at home, I gave my mother the piece of brown paper the seamstress had returned with some writing on it.
My mother looked up from the writing on the brown paper and her eyes told me that I was in trouble. One of the buttons was missing, and after some cross-examination by my mother, I was found guilty. She pronounced my sentence with her raised left arm and index finger pointing to the door: "Go," she said. "And don't come back without that button."
The day was still sunny, but it was no longer beautiful. I knew that if I did not find that button, the day would get much uglier. With my eyes fixed to the ground, I traversed the route to and from the house of the seamstress about four or five times, looking up only to ask anyone on the road if they had, by chance, seen my golden button-but their answers were always negative.
The afternoon was going fast and desperation had overpowered me. My mother was an expert with the machine strap-and I was not looking forward to going home that evening. As night approached, I found myself sitting on some logs that lay along the road in front of the church.
The church! Why hadn't I thought of it before? I would pray to Jesus for help. I had been taught in Sabbath School that Jesus helped people in need and at that particular moment, I knew that no one was in more need than I was.
Upon deciding what had to be done, I looked around for some where to kneel. I could not kneel in the street; some of my friends might see me and make fun of me later.
I decided to go behind the church. I kneeled on a wooden plank behind the church and prayed: "Dear Jesus, please help me to find my golden button. If you don't, my mama is gonna kill me. Thank you, Amen."
Upon rising up from praying, my desperation had abated and my mind was much clearer than it had been in hours. At the back of the church yard, something was not right; one of the pickets in the wooden fence was askew, and I walked over to check it out.
As I stepped through the hole in the fence, I saw it. On the ground before me, shining in all its golden glory, was my button. I cried with joy. I was saved; Jesus had saved me.
It was not until then that I remembered going through the church yard on my way to the seamstress. You see, that loose picket in the church fence was my secret short cut. But from that moment on, I had another secret: I could talk to Jesus.

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Dorte Giesel, 27, a German Lufthansa employee from Kiel, Germany, and Joanna Swornowska, 25, a Polish law student at Kiel University, are assumed drowned off coast of Utila.
On Tuesday, Dec. 16, Giesel and Swornowska checked out from Hotel Celena and rented a yellow, 15-foot sea kayak and two paddles from Günter's Dive Shop. "It was perfectly calm when we rented them the kayak," said Roland Dietrich, the dive shop's owner. "They received a briefing and were told to stay close to the land."
The women left passports and valuables as a deposit on the kayak, which was rented for an overnight trip to Utila's Water Cay.
At 3pm that day, the crew of A.J., a boat from Alton's Dive Shop, spotted the women close to Jack Neil Point dive site. Arien Jongejan, a Dutch dive instructor with 11 years experience of winter diving on Utila, said that even though the dive boat's crew shouted to the women that they should turn back because the weather was turning bad, the two women disregarded the efforts to contact them and continued on.
According to an investigation conducted by Mitch Wildersein, a manager of Alton's Dive Shop, a yellow kayak was spotted on the Water Cay by a local person on Tuesday at 10am. Two Cayton women cleaning fish saw a yellow kayak on the south side of the Utila Cays, outside the reef, at 11am.
According to the investigation, the women took a different return route south of the Cays that made them especially vulnerable to the heavy North-West wind that started blowing in toward Utila at 11am. "The worst thing that could have happened, happened," said Wildenstein. "If they had started off the Water Cay a half-hour earlier or half-hour later, the land would have protected them from the hard wind."
On Utila, the storm lasted until Friday, Dec. 19. "We had no contact with the [Utila] Cays. We assumed they passed the storm there," said Dietrich.
As soon as the weather allowed, Günter's Dive Shop sent out a boat to search for the two women but found nothing. After returning to Utila, Dietrich notified Utila's port captain, Municipality, chief of police, airlines, military, German embassy and the Polish council.
A two-day search operation using Honduran Army helicopters followed, but found nothing.

The families of the two women were notified and met after finding out about the incident. Zygmund Swornowski, an engineer from Kiel, and Swornowska's father spent a week in Utila and La Ceiba tracking down details of the accident for the two families. "It was her dream to spend some time on a deserted island," said Swornowski about his only child.
On Dec. 30, a van belonging to Giesel was found close to La Ceiba airport. "I wanted to find some photographs from the girl's trip, but they probably had them on the kayak," said Swornowski.
Giesel was traveling on a yearlong sabbatical to North and South America. She purchased a van in Los Angeles and drove to Mexico City where she met Swarnowska, her longtime friend. The two women traveled through Mexico and Guatemala and had planned to continue their trip through Central America to Peru and Brazil.
The drownings were the only tourist deaths on Utila in 2003. The island's last diving accidents happened in 1998 and in 1995. Alton Cooper, Utila's mayor, said that the Municipality will look into forbidding unaccompanied trips to Water Cay and requiring the renting of life preservers with every sea kayak rental.
Günter's Dive shop rents around 1,000 kayaks a year and this was the first accident in the nine years that Dietrich has owned the business. Dietrich is not sure if the two women brought life vest with them, as they are not required to have them onboard and the shop does not track the rental of the vests. According to Dietrich, the lifejackets are offered at no charge with every rental, but most people decline to take them. "It [wearing a life preserver] increases your survival chances by around 10 hours," said Wildenstein. His dive shop has ordered a number of life preservers and plans to require them on board with every kayak rental in the future.

by Linnea Brown

Residents of the Bay Islands may be used to unpredictable weather, but no one expected to feel the tremors of the 4.6 earthquake that rattled local homes and businesses at 7:45pm on Sunday, Jan. 4.
According to the official Preliminary Earthquake Report from the National Earthquake Information Center, the earthquake originated at 16.79N and 86.05W, 135km (85 miles) NNE of La Ceiba.
The epicenter was located a depth of 10 km. "I was in my store in Coxen Hole and I thought a Salva Vida truck had slammed into the side of my building," said Mitch Cummins, owner of Paradise Computers. "It wasn't a shake-it was more like one big slam-but it didn't damage anything."
An article in the Jan. 5 issue of La Prensa reported that President Maduro contacted officials in Centro de Operaciones Permanentes y Contingencia (COPECO) after the earthquake and initially volunteered to travel the Bay Islands. As more information was coming in however, Maduro decided to stay in Tegucigalpa when no one reported injuries or major structural damage.
Marcus Nelson, supervisor of public health projects at the Roatan Municipal, described the experience from his house in Watering Place: "I've lived here four years and I've felt minor shakes before, but this one felt like something collapsed against my house and shook it. I even went outside with a flashlight, but I couldn't figure out what happened until my brother called me from the mainland ten minutes later and said he'd just heard about the earthquake on the news."
According to La Prensa, the only major effect that the earthquake caused was an unusually low tide.

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RUNNING CABLE by Linnea Brown




In 1983, TV Alma Cable Service in Coxen Hole introduced Roatan residents to cable TV. Cable Vision on Utila and Island Communication on Guanaja soon followed suit and there are now at least seven cable companies servicing the Bay Islands.
"Initially, it was about a $20,000 investment consisting of one dish, three receivers, three descramblers and three modulators to rebroadcast three channels," said Glenn Gabriel, who helped set up his father's company branch in Utila. "We purchased a yearly subscription of 50 channels from the U.S., but we could only broadcast three at a time because of our corresponding equipment."
"Each cable company has a satellite dish that captures their cable signal, which gets routed into a control room and gets broken down into individual channels, depending on how many channels the company wants to rebroadcast," Gabriel said. "The main signal line then runs by light pole to taps that are installed all over the island, which subscribers receive through a wire that runs to their TV set."
Bay Islands cable company owners all purchase their channels through monthly subscriptions from channel suppliers in the U.S. such as Satellite Showcase Company in Colorado.
Ernestina "Tina" Mann picked SSC for her company, Roatan's Cable Vision. Since '97, Mann has supplied Roatan with a different form of cable: wireless, transmitted via satellite from the roof of her house in Coxen Hole to subscribers with receiver dishes on their property. The same year, Frank Morgan, Jr., had a similar idea and added Satellite service to his existing cable company in Utila, creating Morgan Cable and Satellite Systems.
While Mann decided to run her company via Satellite because she refused to "pay the electric companies to use their poles," Morgan said he added wireless cable to provide cable to the island's 400 rural households who could not receive cable via land lines. "There's only a limited area on Utila that we can run land lines to," Morgan explained. "Now wireless lets us go anywhere on the island."
Although most of the companies started their business with as few as three channels, all have been able to provide more. Currently, TV Alma broadcasts 40 channels (14 Spanish channels), Morgan Cable and Satellite Systems broadcasts 37 channels (four Spanish), Mac's Cable Company broadcasts 30 (six Spanish) and Cable Vision provides 21 channels (seven Spanish).
Company managers handle requests and input in a variety of ways. Morgan Cable and Satellite Systems broadcasts announcements and options on a private channel, while other companies rely on written surveys and phone calls to keep up with customer demand.
The managers all said that their subscribers' channel preference varies by area. "Only recently has there been a big demand for the Spanish channels," said Marcos Galindo, Jr., general manager of TV Alma. "But HBO, Cinemax and the local channel are pretty popular everywhere and BET is most popular in Flowers Bay and Gravel Bay."
Monthly rates vary between Morgan's cable rate of 250 Lps. per month in Utila to TV Alma's 400 Lps. per month in Roatan. Each of the companies charge an initial installation fee of 450 to 500 Lps., and when a new client signs up, companies' crew members can usually install their cable that day.
Late payment policies vary greatly between companies. If a client fails to pay their bill at Cable Vision, Mann cuts off their service and charges a 250 Lps. reactivation fee. At Mac's Cable Company, owner Crellin Arias charges clients a late payment fee of 25 Lps., and on Utila, Morgan cuts off their service after 30 days but charges no fees. "My biggest challenge is getting everyone to pay on time," Morgan said about his 500 accounts.
From Coxen Hole, Cable Vision reaches Roatan households as far away as Diamond Rock and TV Alma reaches as far as Flowers Bay and Sandy Bay. Mac's Cable Company serves clients from Calabash Bight/Bay to Carib Point Bay and Morgan's company services all of Utila.
All of the managers said they wanted to extend their service further in the future. "Our goal is to combine Internet and cable service sometime this year, which will enable us to service Utila's Cays," Morgan said.

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