Through hell and high water, the Zinc remains

Anyone who has taken business classes knows that one of the things they drill into you at school is “Mission & Vision, Mission & Vision…Mission & Vision!”

Let’s start with a little Business 101, a company mission answers the questions “Who are we?” and “What do we do?” The definition of a company’s vision is just a little different from what Mr. Webster would tell you, answering the question “Where do we want to go?”

As it is most commonly said, “To know where one is going, one must know where they are coming from.” So, being that KREM Radio, or the Zinc Fence as it is known, is celebrating its 21st birthday this November, what better time to reflect?

To some, it may be hard to believe that the radio station that you hear blasting on so many Belizean radios and now even from the computer speakers of Belizeans in the Diaspora came from the humblest of beginnings. The famous “Zinc Fence” you see at 3304 Partridge Street in Belize City was the brainchild of Rufus X and Evan X Hyde after a visit to New Orleans in 1979.

While in New Orleans, Evan X came across a small, modest, radio station that practically ruled the city. Comparing Radio Belize, a much bigger three storey “expensive” building, to what they saw in New Orleans, the low-cost concept didn’t seem farfetched for Belize.

For the next ten years, Evan X’s application to broadcast was either outrightly denied or caught in the cobwebs of bureaucracy; and yes, I did say ten years. Things would soon start falling in X’s favor when campaign time came around and the sugar-coated promises started rolling out left, right and center. In an effort to regain political dominance, the People’s United Party quickly smoothed out bad ties that may have been left over from their big NO in 1979 and granted KREM a radio license when they won in September of 1989.

Lo and behold, KREM started broadcasting on November 17, 1989. Very different from the stern and one-dimensional Radio Belize, KREM brought on stream DJs who introduced dancehall to Belizean ears and then charmed them with Belizean Punta medleys.

To refresh the memory of those KREMites on the on-air lineup in those golden years, there was the engineer who enabled the station to raise an antenna to begin with, J.C. Arzu; Mose Hyde who, from his name Mad Rocka defined the word hype; and last but not least, Kenny Morgan, the smooth voice pushing that feel-good music. This small crew made KREM a force to be reckoned with Radio Belize was privatized in 1990, and soon after, Radio Belize’s branch, Friends FM (now Love FM) adopted the same format as KREM, and KREM was facing financial ruin. To add insult to injury, with the UDP regaining power in 1993, it would seem that a conscious effort was made to stifle the expanding KREMANDALA entity. The station found itself in financial trouble in 1994, and entered into an agreement with English billionaire Michael Ashcroft’s Sagis Investment Limited. Sagis agreed to lend Krem $75,000 and provide an extra $25,000 to buy 10% of Radio Krem’s shares. The investment company claimed that it provided the $100,000 to the radio station to buy a radio transmitter.

The bruised radio station was forced to shut down for a week in 1995 and was continually unable to pay its bills. This was a direct impact from the UDP’s attack on KREM, dishing out radio licenses without regard.

Retired public officer and Evan X’s father, Charles Bartlett Hyde, better known as C.B. managed KREM in the early years. Michael Hyde, Evan X’s youngest son, took over the station management in 1998, operating on frequencies 96.5, 91.1 and 101.1. For the first time, KREM’s seas were not so choppy anymore.

Note that I said the seas weren’t as choppy. Adversity just kept on coming as 1998 was a particularly troublesome year for KREM: first in February their on-site tower on Partridge Street was vandalized and nearly torn down, crippling signal strength; and then in August Minister Hubert Elrington wasn’t too pleased with X’s son Cordel running against him in the upcoming elections.

With that 1994 deal gone sour and left to the courts, then Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh ruled in favor of Krem Radio in May of 2008 saying the transaction to transfer the shares could not have taken place because such move contradicted Krem’s Articles of Association. The Articles of Association specify that for such a transfer to occur, other members of the company have to be given a first option to buy those shares. Sagis would not get shares over X’s or Rufus’ dead body sooooo…you can imagine Sagis’ upset.

In 2007 there was another attack made on KREM Radio, but this time by the then Michael Ashcroft owned Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL). KREM was off the Internet! Apart from denying international listeners the opportunity to hear the radio station, BTL took KREM out of Punta Gorda, Placencia, Independence, and Corozal Town…another low blow!

KREM is currently locked in battle with the giant English billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft, who in 2009 got the Court of Appeal to grant him 10% of the company’s shares he says were rightfully owed to him from 1994. KREM has since tried to raise funds for the matter to be taken to the Privy Council. KREM would have liked to take the matter to the “Just Let It Go” courts, but unfortunately that’s not the highest Court of Appeal.

Despite all trials and tribulations, the record shows that KREM Radio is now the oldest Belizean radio station, 21 years to be frank. In May 2010, the station re-launched its website, www.krembz.com. The website features live streaming video, live radio, interactive chat, and an archive of articles on the country’s happenings. Presently, there are several broadcast transmission sites across the country: In Camalote, Santa Elena, Dangriga, Independence, Punta Gorda, Caye Caulker, Ladyville and Carmelita that allows the station to have a presence in every district.

Today the station can boast about its wide selection of talk and music shows to fit the ear of any listener such as Women at Work, The Adele Ramos Show, Belizean Musicians Past & Present, Music by Request, Wake Up Belize Morning Vibes, National, Regional & International News, Sports, Blazing Reggae Vibes, Groove Yard, Serious Business, Punta Jam Session, Dignatiriz Saturday, Love Jam Session and broadcast of all year-round events.

Such programming wouldn’t be entertaining without a vibrant staff of course! I gotta give props where props are due.

Ok, so I’ve given you the full 360°, no stone was left unturned. It’s the end of class and I got the perfect mission statement that could even make its way onto one of those plaques hanging on the walls of businesses. Here’s my go:

Mission
KREM is the first private radio station established to enlighten, educate and entertain Belizeans through its commitment to the country, empowering all through freedom of speech, nationwide and globally.

KREM offers effective and efficient service with innovative and diverse programming to satisfy all segments of the society, using the most efficient level of technology available while being committed to growth and development of staff, shareholders, and the wider community.

The blueprint for the near future:

Vision
KREM plans on increasing its broadcasts across international boundaries to Belizeans abroad as well as those who simply enjoy good music. The station wishes to gradually change the mind-set of Belizeans at home and abroad to become more active and vocal in the community. KREM holds the intention to re-anchor its position as the most acclaimed Belizean radio station.

Now watch as the Zinc handles its candle, we made it look easy huh? Before I close off, did you really think KREM would just celebrate their birthday with an article? C’mon! Not cool! For those who don’t already know, KREM does its order of business a little differently. One night, two big names, and one big parking lot! Yup, on November 13th, Jamaican artist and I must add cutie pie, Konshens and Romain Virgo will jump on that silver bird just to celebrate with the Zinc. I know, I know…I’ve already marked my calendar too. Just one birthday wish from the man who founded it all, “let sleeping dogs lie”! Twenty-one years and it’s still KREM de la KREM….Happy Earthstrong!

Article written by Kim Timmons

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About KREM
The idea for the KREM Radio station originated in early 1979 while Rufus X and I were visiting New Orleans. There was a New Orleans deejay I liked, by the name of Sister Love, and one day Rufus and his cousin, Sam Wiley, who was our host, showed me the building where the radio station which featured Sister Love was located. It was quite a modest, one flat structure, much smaller than the three story Albert Cattouse Building from where the Belize government monopoly station – Radio Belize – was broadcasting.

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