The Gambia – R.I.P. Radio Syd. The first commercial radio station in Africa

Gambia - R.I.P. Radio Syd the exterior of what was the first commercial radio station in Africa, Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio

The Gambia – R.I.P. Radio Syd, the first commercial radio station in Africa. I was extremely saddened to hear that Radio Syd had been almost entirely destroyed in a fire earlier this year, January 2020. Thankfully, the Swedish couple, Benny and Connie, who used to operate the radio station turned guesthouse, survived the fire but lost everything.

Gambia - R.I.P. Radio Syd the exterior of what was the first commercial radio station in Africa, Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio
The Gambia – R.I.P. Radio Syd the first commercial radio station in Africa. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio

Radio Syd (‘Radio South’) was a Swedish pirate radio station. It began life as Skånes Radio Mercur, the first “pirate radio” in Sweden, and started to broadcast in December 1958.

Having heard stories about the history of Radio Syd over the years I’ve spent in The Gambia, driving to the capital, Banjul, the other day, I was shocked to see what was left of the building that used to house the old radio station. Particularly as, a few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the Swedish couple, Benny and Connie, who had helped to run the radio station (which had long since been turned into a guesthouse). Benny made us his delicious homemade shipa shipa – sautéd shrimp – dish. Afterwards, he even showed us what was left of the old control room, by now dilapidated, which housed only a few of the remaining dusty relics of the original broadcasting equipment.

“Never did I imagine, when naming the station ‘Radio Syd’, that we would end up this far south” Britt Wadner/Founder

Connie is the daughter of the founder of Radio Syd, Britt Wadner (1915-1987). Wadner was also known as thepirate queen. The story goes that when Wadner was prohibited – and imprisoned for a short period for violation of broadcasting laws – from operating her pirate radio station in international waters between Sweden and Denmark, she decided to sail a boat – Cheeta 11′ – to find a new place to transmit. The boat eventually ended up off the coast of The Gambia, West Africa. Wadner was granted a license to transmit and in May 1970 Radio Syd went live, broadcasting to The Gambia and neighbouring Senegal. The station finally ceased to transmit when the antennae collapsed in September 2002.

Gambia - R.I.P. Radio Syd the exterior of what was the first commercial radio station in Africa, Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio
The Gambia – R.I.P. Radio Syd the first commercial radio station in Africa. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio

A slice of history is about to totally disappear (be demolished!) from The Gambia. R.I.P. Radio Syd, and all who sailed in her.

Helen Jones-Florio

Photos Tell Stories

Helen Jones-Florio, and Madi Sonko, on location walking through the streets of urban Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Jason Florio
Helen Jones-Florio, and Madi Sonko, on location in Essau, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Jason Florio
Follow on Instagram:@doors_helenjonesflorio / @floriophotos @jasonflorio 

CURRENT LOCATION WITH JASON FLORIO: NOVEMBER 2020 – THE GAMBIA, WEST AFRICA
Assignment queries, and image licensing – Contact here

Header Image: The Gambia – R.I.P. Radio Syd – what is left of the recently demolished building, Banjul Highway, The Gambia, West Africa. Image ©Helen Jone-Florio  (Nov 2020)

Published by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

Award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Jason Florio (floriophoto.com), and photographer, producer, and writer, Helen Jones-Florio http://www.rivergambiaexpedition.com/ http://930kmafricanodyssey.tumblr.com/ https://www.facebook.com/floriophotostellstories Twitter @floriophotonNYC Instagram https://www.instagram.com/floriotravels/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/jasonflorio/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/florio_gallery/ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/doors_facades_florio/

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