“This is really sad,” said Radio Cook Islands boss Jeanne Matenga. “AM is the only one that can carry a signal as far away as Penrhyn, and at night, depending on the atmospheric conditions, the signal can bounce all around the world.”
The free-to-air AM station had been the most effective way of keeping people informed during cyclones and other emergencies. “There is no service on earth that has the reach and accessibility of AM radio.”
Matenga argued the rusty mast should be refurbished, not dismantled. Building a new one would be prohibitively expensive: last year Samoa 2AP had a new AM mast funded by Australia costing Au$4.18 million.
On Aitutaki, local radio listener Neil Mitchell has been vocal, warning of the risks during cyclone season and disaster situations. The islands could not rely on Internet, he said. “The first thing that happens if a cyclone is close, Bluesky drops the dish to secure it, no internet.
Radio Cook Islands has been consolidating its broadcasting on FM. The range of FM frequencies on Rarotonga are all going onto 101MHz. Titikaveka’s new FM will be up in the next few days with the arrival of new equipment; Matavera’s part is being airfreighted.
Some Northern group islands – Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Rakahanga and Manihiki – have FM broadcasts, but their local broadcasts depend on the signal first being bounced over by satellite, on streaming internet. When that goes down, they lose their radio too. On other islands, parts of the FM broadcast equipment do not function.
“Hopefully, we can get those islands sorted before the AM mast comes down,” Matenga said. “Otherwise, those islands will have no radio at all apart from their own radios like Araura FM and Atiu School FM – that’s it.”