Seth FM – Radio that heals
Veteran Broadcaster Anton Jayamaha was on his way to the Seth FM Radio station, in Negombo, Sri Lanka to host his regular call-in show on Easter Sunday when he heard a loud blast nearby.
As he passed the city Hospital he saw vehicles and ambulances arriving with injured people and decided to investigate.
When the Founder and CEO of Seth FM found out that there had been an explosion St Sebastian’s Church he contacted the radio station and asked that he be put on the air.
“I was speaking live from the hospital from then on for many hours,” Jayamaha told RepublicNext. “Many of the dead and injured were from our community and regular listeners,” he said.
As he stood in the hospital vestibule talking on the radio, he recalled seeing Singer Desmond Fernando coming towards him carrying a man. “He left the body at my feet, it was his father and I could not control myself at that time and the station took me off the air,” Jayamaha recalled.
“Our whole community had suffered an incredible loss and were all grieving, we are a station broadcasting from that village and we sought to do the maximum we could to help them,” he said.
Two hundred and sixty-three people including 43 foreigners lost their lives and more than 500 people sustained injuries due to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on the 21st of April 2019 which were aimed at three churches and three main hotels in the country.
The bomb at St Sebastian’s took the highest toll, with 115 dying in the blast.
The station toned down its broadcast, playing hymns most of the time. “At this time we needed to calm everybody down and we were very careful in our reporting. We did not broadcast false news, even if there were hard truths we were careful not to arouse people. We had to be very responsible, and all the time we asked ourselves will hearing this make things worse for the relatives,” Jayamaha said.
The Parish Priest of St Sebestian’s Rev Fr Manjula Niroshan says “from the beginning of this crisis the primary channel of communication for us with the grieving community was Seth FM.”
Singer Fernando said he was carrying the lifeless body of his father and when he saw Jayamaha. He then left his father’s body with Jayamaha and went to look for his Mother. “We all had to find ways to heal, and I composed a song about my father, how much we loved him,” he told RepublicNext.
The station which had a dominant position in the local market in the Negombo region, became even closer to the community.
After the funerals, the healing had to begin, and the Church assigned priests for several different tasks. Every family has its own counsellor.
Rev Fr Claude Nonis, the Psychologist assigned by the Catholic Church to lead the counselling of the bereaved people in this region says he chose Seth FM to partner him in producing radio programming to heal people. “In this program, we took listeners through the three stages of healing and led them to a new beginning,” he said.
The crisis caused by the blast damaged the local economy. During that time earning money through commercials was not a priority, for the station Jayamaha said. However because of the great service, the station was doing to the community and its closeness to the listeners attracted local businesses came forward to support it.
“We didn’t have to go after businessmen asking for their support,” says Jayamaha, “they came to us.”
Duminda Perera is one of those businessmen. “Seth FM is doing a great service in Negombo and it tries to calm people down and quieten their hearts. We are happy to be working in a community which has customers like that,” he added.
Others came to help because of a communal feeling. Ranjan Wijetunge, who owns a shop selling electronics equipment said: “after the Easter attack this channel did a great service and we joined them and supported them, this is our community and we needed to come together.”
Jayamaha summed up the tale saying “the people were in great pain and anguish and doing something to ease that pain was the greatest service we could provide.”