...The radios we'll always remember


 Posted By: Robert Nickels (W9RAN)
Posted: 05/18/2022

Monitoring Post 0 Comments 05/18/2022 

The Cuban-American Radio War of 1962

When US AM stations joined the fight


Everyone knows the history of the "Missiles of October"  - the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.   But many - even dedicated radio fans - may not know that 10 US AM radio stations joined the fight against the threat of nuclear proliferation by becoming the medium wave extension of the Voice of America.    This excerpt from a 206 page paper entitled "Cuban American Radio Wars - Ideology in International Telecommunications" by Otto H. Fredrick of Ohio University explains how this came to be:


The Voice of America, and with it the Latin American Division, had been caught off guard. ...ln July 1962, Russian arms and men began arriving in Cuba. Included were medium- and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. Overflights by U-2 reconnaissance aircraft showed more than 30 missiles. On October 22, President Kennedy broadcast over the VOA and other national media that he was declaring a naval quarantine of Cuba in an attempt to force the Soviets to withdraw the weapons. The world waited for possible nuclear confrontation.

Kennedy and his Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, called on VOA to broadcast the message to all of Latin America. At the time, VOA was broadcasting only via shortwave to Cuba and the Americas. Any effective radio propaganda campaign needed to be conducted on the mediumwave (AM) band as well. Cuba could be saturated much more densely with American mediumwave signals, which could be picked up on many more receivers there. Before the VOA could set up its own mobile AM transmitters , Salinger devised a plan whereby a powerful network of American commercial AM stations from Florida and the Gulf could flood the Cuban AM band with American reports.

Ten stations immediately volunteered their services and were connected through telephone line patches to the Voice of America in Washington. They included WCKR (10 kilowatts at night), WGBS (10 kilowatts at night), WMIE (10 kilowatts at night), all from Miami; WSB Atlanta (50 kilowatts); WGN Chicago; WWL New Orleans (50 kilowatts); WCKY Cincinnati (50 kilowatts);  KAAY Little Rock (50 kilowatts),   and shortwave stations WRUL Scituate, Massachusetts and KGEI, Belmont, California. 

An eleventh station should be mentioned in the service of U.S. government broadcasting to Cuba: Radio Americas - the successor to Radio Swan. Its new owner, the Vanguard Company of Miami, reportedly was operating under the
direction of the CIA.

Meanwhile, the VOA tripled its Spanish-language programming via shortwave to 24 hours daily. The number of frequencies also increased from five to eleven. It even broadcast 30 minutes a day in Russian for the Soviet technicians assigned there. The Voice then moved to transmit its signal via mediumwave.

Two mobile SO-kilowatt transmitters, each housed in two 20-foot truck trailers and driven by diesel generators, were moved into the Florida Keys, one at  Marathon, the other at Tortuga. They were connected via landlines to Washington.

This plan of simultaneous commercial and governmental transmissions to Cuba was part of a "masterplan" designed by prominent engineer George Jacobs.  The government transmitters were on 1040 KHz at Tortuga and on 11 80 KHz at Marathon. The Tortuga transmitter was on the same  frequency as WHO (AM) in Des Moines, Iowa, a 50 kilowatt clear channel station serving the entire mid-section of the country. The WHO management complained of interference with the Tortuga transmitter and eventually got the government to shut it down.   For many years, WHAM (AM) of Rochester, New York (also on 1140 KHz) complained in the same way as WHO, but to no avail.

The VOA, together with Radio Free Europe and other stations, mounted an 8½ hour barrage explaining the U.S. position on Cuba. This massive assault used 4,331,000 watts to try to break through Soviet jamming.   The AM barrage aimed at Cuba lasted through November 1962, and cost the ten stations involved $175-225,000 in Jost air time, for which each received special commendation from President Kennedy.

By December 17, the VOA also had cut its broadcasts aimed at Cuba from 24 hours to eight.   This intense radio propaganda blast at and about Cuba caused considerable  consternation in the VOA. The VOA is forbidden by its Charter from broadcasting its programs within the United States. This is intended to prevent an American presidential administration from using governmental radio channels to propagandize itself within the United States. Was the VOA acting illegally in using domestic AM transmitters for its Cuba-directed broadcasts?   No, was the Kennedy administration's answer, because these private stations had volunteered their services.


By the end of November, with the crisis resolved for the moment and VOA's own "temporary" AM BC transmitters in place in the Florida Keys, the radio stations were thanked, and allowed to de-mobilize.   As the news article from Broadcasting Magazine states, "the stations have willingly given up broadcasting features of great interest to their listeners when reminded of VOA's need for their facilities".


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