They laughed and giggled. Some hi-fived each other and chortled. They spoke in disparaging terms about the effort to put Observer Media Group back together again as a new entity. They dismissed the initiatives as a fool’s errand. They dismissed those who were fighting to ensure that a free press, the pillar of any democracy, not perish from this Antigua and Barbuda earth, with unflattering words. The ‘doubting Thomases’ and the nay-sayers – the ‘nattering nabobs of negativity’ [Senator Patrick Moynihan) cast lots as to how long the new entity would last . . . if it ever got off the ground. Oh, the perverse pleasure that they seemed to be deriving from the fact that Observer would be silenced, never mind that many people would be put out of work. It was quite sick! Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that these twisted folks who were intent on killing free and independent media in our fair State, ordered a Te Deum when Observer Media Group stopped the presses and padlocked the doors at Coolidge that sad and painful day of November 30, 2018. It is not difficult to imagine the glee with which they may have exclaimed the words of Genghis Khan, the Mongol warlord, “It is not enough that I succeed; all others must fail.” (That quote has also been attributed to Gore Vidal, the writer).
Anyway, as many of you may recall, a palpable darkness descended over Antigua and Barbuda. There was a void that seemingly could not be filled. The media entity that the citizenry had come to rely on and love, these past 16 years, was no more. It was as if the soul of our fair State had been ripped out. Our democracy was grievously wounded!
Or so it seemed. You see, those who were wishing us ill had seriously underestimated the vision and determination of Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts (Managing Director, NEWSCO), Dave Lester Payne (Station Manager, NEWSCO), Stacy Samuel (Sales and Human Resources Manager), Dr. Cleon Athill and the indefatigable MOVEMENTEERS, the patriotic and freedom-loving financial backers, and the members of the Board of Directors. When the history of Antigua and Barbuda is written, their names will be inscribed on that august list of those who were willing to risk it all so that a free and independent media could continue “shining that light in the dark corners.”
Most importantly of course, NEWSCO was made possible by the unwavering support of the thousands of Antiguans and Barbudans, here and abroad, who were willing to give of their basket and their store to ensure the survival of a media house that was not a mouthpiece for the government, or a political family, or a ruling party propaganda machine. They made calls. Oh, the Barbudans! They offered to help in any way they could. They were resolved that this NEWSCO was going to be the tribune of the people.
On the first of December, 2018. NEWSCO was already a duly-registered and incorporated entity, with a home on the fourth floor of the ABI Building on Redcliffe Street. The intriguing story of how we were able to secure these fine premises will be told in the months and years ahead. Suffice it to say, our journey was one of many setbacks and much frustration, but Serpent and Dave Lester Payne, as well as so many others behind the scenes, were dogged in their quest to save Observer radio and The Daily Observer. If truth be told, those two gentlemen have admitted that there were times when they felt like abandoning the dream, but in the stillness of the night, an inner voice would encourage them to keep pushing, because this was a cause greater than themselves – a most worthy undertaking.
By the fifth of December 2018, computers were being installed, sheet rock and soundproofing work was taking place in a frenzy, as was painting and office partitioning. There was dust and debris everywhere. Everyone had to wear masks. Painters, plumbers, skilled carpenters, carpet installers worked liked the true professionals that they are. Joe Antonio, the IT genius who dismantled the old Observer network when the doors closed at Coolidge, worked around the clock to reassemble it. There is nobody else like him in all of Antigua and Barbuda. Joe was ably assisted by Andre ‘Illist’ Dyer, Norrid Henry, Kyle Scotland and others.
Meanwhile, Serpent and others were sleeping in the unfinished NEWSCO offices. No time to go home. MOVEMENTEERS like Dr. Cleon Athill, Beverley Charles, Joyann Williams, Sylvia O’ Marde, Charmaine Potter George and a whole brigade of volunteers spent hours arranging furniture and falling to their hands and knees to mop, polish, sweep and vacuum. Many of the NEWSCO team dispensed with baths (Smile, wink, wink), because time was of the essence. You see, every day that we remained off the air, we were losing money, and it was critical that we step up to meet the needs of our many advertisers. So we had people like Denley and his team, Danny Castro and his team, Merv of Redcliffe Holdings who assisted with the wiring and running of cords and so on and so forth. The guys from Future Farms helped with quite a bit of the heavy lifting, and Rusty from The MOVEMENT chipped in with some of the repainting.
Snap! Crackle! . . . Static! . . . Pop! That was the sound of radio transmission signals crossing the air on 91.1 FM, in Antigua and Barbuda on December 5, 2018. Gasp! Could it be true? Was the beloved Observer radio back? Apparently, much like the famed phoenix, Observer had arisen from the ashes. Free and independent media was alive and well! The prophets of doom and gloom had been confounded! Now, while that transmission was only a test of our broadcast systems conducted by Serpent and the zealous and excited, Mr. Dane Knight by phone, it proved that all systems were saying ‘go!’
That paved the way for our first official broadcast of VOICE OF THE PEOPLE, and most of our other programs, as NEWSCO on December 6, 2018, exactly one year ago. That first broadcast was hosted by Serpent, Knight and Quinn, and it is one that this writer will never forget – sitting in with broadcast legends, Serpent and Knight. We dare say that it was a moment that most Antiguans and Barbudans will also never forget. Under an almost cloudless sky, as if Heaven and Nature were in one accord with the goings-on of us mere mortals on earth, the euphoria in our twin-island State could not be contained. There were smiles and warm greetings everywhere. All men and women of goodwill had a spring in their steps. The cloud that had descended over our beautiful island for a few days, was lifted. All was well in our world!
Again, none of this would have been possible without our faithful listeners and readers. Your words of encouragement and your prayers were invaluable. And don’t talk about your loyalty and love! Priceless! We are grateful! We also wish to thank those advertisers who stood by us in our darkest hour. The many benefactors, donors and investors in NEWSCO are all so very deeply appreciated. As is the NEWSCO staff that worked tirelessly, and against the odds, to make Observer radio and the Daily Observer a reality. Most importantly, we return thanks to God, our heavenly Father, who carried us through the storm and brought us out in a large place. Truly, we can raise our Ebenezer and declare “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us!” Happy anniversary, NEWSCO!
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