Tuning in to the islands

Article written for Islands Magazine Jan/Feb 2001

Rhythmic junkanoo from the Bahamas...soulful Greek ballads from Cyprus…reggae from Jamaica…Celtic folk songs from Ireland. An island's music can give you as much insight into its culture as any guided tour. The songs flow from radios in taxis, cafes and stores, permeating your island experience as distinctively as the exotic scenery or the luscious, regional cuisine.

Now, you can replicate that aural experience—or sample before you go—with Internet radio. More and more island radio stations are broadcasting online, giving both curious tourists and homesick expatriates a unique way to connect with a key ingredient of an island's culture: its music. Online radio has grown in popularity not only because it offers desk-bound workers a chance to listen to music at work, but also because it gives music fans a way to discover musical genres and bands before they reach the mainstream.

For example, if you had been in the Bahamas in the early summer of 2000, and had tuned in to the island's top urban station, 100 JAMZ (100.3), you just might have heard Nassau's own Baha Men. The band subsequently soared to popularity in the US on the strength of its single, the junkanoo/hip-hop/dancehall reggae inflected "Who Let the Dogs Out?" The song was quickly adopted as the rallying cry for the 2000 major-league baseball playoffs.

Of course, the Baha Men's success story is the exception to the rule. But, the advent of online radio means that even the most obscure island song doesn’t necessarily have to be an island-only phenomenon. For example, online surfers have the same chance to experience Fiji's lovely Georgina Ledua as the islanders themselves. Ledua's song "Sa oti," catchy and appropriately evocative of lush palm trees, reached number one on Viti FM's Top 10 list, and it was available in streaming audio from the station's Web site.

Not only are these sites excellent sources for undiscovered musical genres and artists, but they can also serve as information resources for non-musical aspects of an island experience. Richard Robbins, chairman of, which builds Web sites for a variety of island stations, points to Jamaica's IRIE FM site as just such a resource. "Our site is not geared to someone who goes down to Sandals on spring break and just happens to turn on the radio," he explains. "Those people are not really seeing Jamaica. What we're doing is more for the tourists who are interested in experiencing Jamaican culture and music." Robbins also points out that while sites like his do have value for tourists, they provide an excellent way for expatriates to stay in touch with their homeland.

In addition to the streaming audio on IRIE FM's site, you will find a photo gallery with pictures of out-of-the-way destinations, news, message boards, and information about Jamaica's annual carnival and music festivals. Other island station sites also serve as rich sources of information. On Maui, KPOA (93.5 FM), which broadcasts ethnic Hawaiian music, has an extensive list of beaches, golf courses, and parks on its site. And, an Internet-only radio station "broadcasting" traditional folk and contemporary Irish music from Dublin, offers a wealth of links to all things Irish.

Now, music may be a universal language, but if you don't speak an island's language, you may have difficulty reading its Web site. Some sites offer pages in more than one language (Tahiti's Radio Bleue site offers text in French and English), but these are rare. Luckily, the icons for the streaming audio feeds are easy to recognize. Even if you don't read Greek, you can't miss the RealPlayer button at the top of Cyprus-based Radio Proto's home page!

Whether you're planning your next vacation adventure or would simply like to spark fond memories, island radio stations on the Internet can be undiscovered gems. So, what are you waiting for? Start surfing!


Where to find the sites:

100 JAMZ (Bahamas)

IRIE FM (Jamaica)

KPOA (Maui) (Ireland)

Radio Proto (Cyprus)

Copyright Lisa M. Moore
May not be reproduced in whole or part without my written permission.