The first radio program broadcast in Sami was a Christmas church service transmitted from the church of Polmak in Norway in 1936. In Norway, Sami broadcasts were started on a regular basis in the end of 1946. In Finland, broadcasts in Sami were started as a result of active individuals and their personal connections. When the Sami had been evacuated to Ostrobothnia, a Sami organization called Samii Litto was founded in Alavieska in 1945.
The central figures of the new association included e.g. Nilla Outakoski and Johan Nuorgam. Nilla Outakoski who was studying theology in Helsinki knew Hella Wuolijoki who became the Director General of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE in 1945. Wuolijoki was interested in developing the production of radio programs in Sami, and already in the fall of 1946 there may have been some broadcasts in Sami.
Regular broadcasts in Sami started within YLE in October 1947. News in Sami could be heard from Oulu on the medium waves on Mondays 7.15 - 7.30 p.m. They were edited by Johan M. Nuorgam and Magga Pohjanraito. Unfortunately there are no tape recordings from this time.
In an interview made in 1977, Johan M. Nuorgam describes what it was like to be the first Sami-speaking radio journalist! The first religious program in Sami was broadcast on Sunday, February the 1st 1948, from the Cathedral of Oulu. After that, church services were transmitted from the Cathedral on the first Sunday of every month up until 1960. For decades to come, news and religious programs were the foundation on which Sami program production was based on.
Moving to Rovaniemi
At first, Sámi radio programs were transmitted from Oulu, but, as early as 1948, the association Samii Litto suggested that the programs be broadcast from Rovaniemi Radio Station which was about to be completed at the time.
The association argued that it was necessary to move to Rovaniemi, because the broadcasts – when transmitted from Oulu – could hardly be heard in the Sámi Area. The association also noted that, in Rovaniemi, the Sámi editors would have a better access to the regional papers that had news about Northern Finland.
The move to Rovaniemi was carried out in the early 1960s, when the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reorganized its regional production. Rovaniemi, which had a studio at that point, became the broadcasting center of Lapland and the first center in Finland to start airing provincial programs.
The new location brought changes to the editing of Sámi programs, too. After the move, a new journalist – Kaarina Somby (from 1960, Halvari; later Somby-Sorvari) – was employed. Her job was to gather and read out news in Sámi. Kaarina worked for the Sámi Radio until she retired in the 1990s.
In Rovaniemi, Finnish newspapers were the primary source of the Sámi news, as no telephone expenses were budgeted for the Sámi journalist. The editor worked at home, and the salary was by no means very high. At first, the taped newscasts had to be mailed as ordinary freight to Oulu Radio Station. Later, the Sámi programs were transmitted directly from Rovaniemi Radio Station.
The move to Rovaniemi also brought changes to the religious programs broadcast in Sámi. In December 1960, evening prayers began to be transmitted every week, but the church services on the radio became shorter and were eventually stopped altogether. However, the total number of broadcasting hours increased, and, in 1965, the people who assisted in the making of programs started to get paid for their work.
In the 1960s, the Finnish Broadcasting Company began to receive an increasing number of requests for employing a journalist permanently for the Sámi programs. At the same time, YLE also began to arrange courses for assistants in the field of Sámi radio broadcasting. Such courses were held in Inari, for example.
From the Nordic perspective, extending the joint Calotte broadcasts of Northern Norway and Sweden to Finland, too, in September 1966 was a big step forward. These five-minute newscasts were broadcast in the morning every workday.
In Rovaniemi, the broadcasting hours of Sámi programs gradually increased, but, still, the Sámi had to accept that "Everything is fine as long as we can hear at least something in Sámi on the radio."
Independent Radio Broadcasting
A new era in Sámi radio broadcasting began in Finland in October 1968, when the first half-an-hour-long program on current affairs was broadcast in Sámi. This program, Sámi ságat, no longer consisted only of news: it also contained interviews, music and inserts on cultural affairs.
"In addition to being a language of news and the Word of God, the Sámi language can now be used on the radio for making other types of issues and thoughts visible", journalist Oula Näkkäläjärvi stated in the beginning of the first such a longer program.
The model for the program type came from Sweden, where Maj Lis Skaltje had been, for a while, making programs on current affairs in Sámi and Swedish under the program name Sámi ságat. In Finland, the programs were made mainly in Sámi, but they sometimes contained parts in Finnish, too.
Even though Sámi ságat was the only more notable reform within the Finnish Sámi Radio that took place in the course of many years, it laid the foundation for independent radio broadcasting for the Sámi. The development launched by this change eventually resulted in the Sámi Radio moving to its home region and in employing journalists permanently for Sámi broadcasting.
In the late 1960s, the national self-esteem of the Sámi grew stronger. This showed in Sámi art, such as music and literature, but also in political activity. This Sámi movement helped the forces that worked inside the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE for granting the Sámi an independent status in radio broadcasting.
YLE's journalist Juhani Lihtonen had worked with the Sámi especially in Enontekiö. On the basis of his experience, he felt that it was important for the Sámi to decide themselves on the content of the Sámi programs. This idea was also supported by the director of Lapland's Regional Radio, Jukka Häyrinen.
Together with the representatives of the Sámi, Lihtonen and Häyrinen managed to convince the leadership of the Finnish Broadcasting Company that the Sámi needed to be able to make programs in their own language, on the basis of their own views.
When still working under the auspices of Lapland's Regional Radio, the Sámi Radio began to broadcast programs in the Skolt Sámi language (in the 1970s) and in the Inari Sámi language (in the early 1980s). The purpose of these programs was to support the information activities of the Sámi minorities, too.
There was also a Sámi Program Committee which contributed to putting pressure on the Finnish Broadcasting Company to establish an independent Sámi Radio. The Sámi could also cite the concession of YLE which had, since 1980, contained the sentence "In addition, programs must be broadcast in the Sámi language." The broadcasting of programs in Sámi was included in the "public objectives" of the Finnish Broadcasting Company much later.
Today, the obligation to broadcast programs in Sámi is stated in the 1994 Law on the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. According to the law, "It is the task of the Broadcasting Company to produce services in the Sámi language."
In the early 1970s, when the decision-makers of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE began to have more understanding for the demands of the Sámi, it became possible to move the Sámi Radio further north from Rovaniemi. At that point, the Sámi Radio did not exist officially: it was only part of the regional radio production of Rovaniemi.
The Program Committee of Lapland's Regional Radio recommended in December 1971 that the microphone office of Hetta in the municipality of Enontekiö become a permanent office and that an editorial office be established in Ivalo for the Sámi Radio.
As a result, the Regional Radio stationed journalist Sulo Aikio in Ivalo with the task of gathering material for Sámi programs. In the spring of 1972, the journalist had his office in Ivalo Hotel and, later on, in the dormitory of the Akujärvi school which had been closed down by the municipality of Inari.
The idea of having the editorial center of the Sámi Radio in Ivalo was not, however, supported by all the Sámi. Many felt that the village of Inari would suit this purpose better. In December 1972, YLE managed to rent facilities from the municipality in Inari. Journalist Kaarina Halvari moved from Rovaniemi to Inari, and the microphone office of Enontekiö continued its activities as the editorial office of Western Lapland.
Although the Sámi editorial offices were at this point finding their home in the Sámi Area, the working facilities were still quite inadequate. It was only after the summer of 1973 that the Sámi Radio could start broadcasting its programs straight from Inari – after the national radio had first broadcast Mid Summer programs from the village.
In the summer of 1973, the Sámi editorial office was, for the first time, granted an official status within the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, when an editor-in-chief was appointed for Sámi broadcasting. Earlier, the responsibility for the broadcasting in Sámi had formally fallen upon the director of Lapland's Regional Radio – who did not understand the Sámi language.
The Sámi Radio got its own building in Inari in 1977, when YLE had a small studio and an office as well as a few apartments built for it. From 1980 on, the Sámi Radio has been lead by Juhani Nousuniemi, who was first the director of the editorial office and is now the regional director of the Sámi Radio.
When the Sámi editiorial office got the status of an independent regional radio station within the Finnish Broadcasting Company, it was time to extend the facilities. As a result, the present building in Inari was finished in 1987. Already before this, in 1983, a local editorial office had been established in Utsjoki and the microphone office of Enontekiö had become a local editorial office which was located in Kaaresuvanto. Thus, the Sámi Radio has now taken root in the Sámi Area – its natural home region.
An independent radio channel
The idea of an independent Sámi Radio had risen in the 1970s, when there was, in the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, an increasing understanding for making programs in the Sámi language. The Sámi journalists formed a separate regional radio in 1985. This was a result of the long-term plans for which the Sámi journalists had, together with Lapland's Regional Radio, worked.
Technically, the Sámi Radio moved a step closer to an independent unit in the summer of 1981, when Martti Aikio was appointed the head of the studio in Inari. All in all, the Sámi Radio strengthened its position within YLE in the 1980s: more journalists were employed, the number of programs broadcast in Skolt Sámi increased, and programs in Inari Sámi were begun.
In the Sámi community outside YLE, people had also started to demand improvements in Sámi radio broadcasting. The Sámi Delegation – the predecessor of the present Sámi Parliament – demanded that Nordic radio connections be improved and a third VHF channel be constructed in the Sámi Area.
The year 1987 was in many ways an important one for the Sámi Radio. The programs were moved to a third channel so that they no longer cut the Finnish programs of the other channels. The Sámi Radio's broadcasting center in Inari was completed, and the Sámi Radio got its own development plan.
The building of the new VHF channel was started from the north. Thus, the Sámi Radio was the first station to be able to use this Channel 3. With the new channel, the Sámi Radio's total number of broadcasting hours grew almost four times bigger.
In the inauguration of the broadcasting center in Inari in October 1987, Sakari Kiuru, the Director General of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, said: "The Broadcasting Company, which has certain tasks given to it by society through the concession, also wants to bear its responsibility for the target groups which are small but make the whole community richer – such as the Sámi."
In Western Lapland, the reception of the radio became better in 1988, when a new transmitter was erected on the fell Yllästunturi. Later, the construction of Lammasoaivi Radio Station brought the north-western corner of Finland within the range of the Sámi Radio.
Even on the third channel, the Sámi Radio soon started to feel the pressure of the Finnish regional programs. Therefore, building a fourth VHF channel in Northern Finland was the only way to ensure broadcasting time for the Sámi programs.
A new network was finally built in the Sámi Area after Reino Paasilinna was appointed the director general of YLE. The State of Finland did not give any support to the construction of a Sámi channel. Thus, the broadcasting company YLE had to pay all the expenses of this cultural deed alone.
The independent radio channel of the Sámi was taken into use in November 1991. At the same time, a link system between the Sámi editorial offices of Norway, Finland and Sweden was completed. In this new situation, the number of Sámi programs on the air increased further.