Radio South Atlantic: recording of a short-lived clandestine radio station


In reply to our recent post about Radio Atlantico del Sur, SWLing Post contributor, Jonathan Marks, adds:

Radio South Atlantic was a short-lived clandestine radio station started by the UK Ministry of Defence with programmes aimed at Argentine troops on the Falkland islands. This programme was broadcast from a transmitter on Ascension Island which was temporarily taken away from BBC World Service.

The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas), also known as the Falklands Conflict, Falklands Crisis and the Guerra del Atlántico Sur (Spanish for “South Atlantic War”), was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two British overseas territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on Friday 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands (and, the following day, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands) in an attempt to establish the sovereignty it had long claimed over them.

On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.

This is a studio copy of Radio South Atlantic. In May 1982, the British government decided to set up a Spanish language radio station targeting Argentine troops. This was probably in response to an Argentine radio station (nicknamed Argentine Annie by the UK press) which appeared on shortwave some weeks earlier using the Beatles theme “Yesterday” as a signature tune.

I was editing the Media Network programme at the time. We could hear Radio South Atlantic in Hilversum – but the signal was very weak. So I rang the British embassy in the Hague and asked if it would be possible to get a studio copy of the programme to use in a documentary feature we were making. A few days later, a courier riding a large motorbike arrived at RN’s reception and asked for me. I went down to the front-desk to sign for the tape. “But you can’t keep this tape. You can only listen to it” was the message from guy in the helmet. “I have to take it back to the Hague in about half an hour”. I said I’d look for an empty studio, gave the guy a large coffee and wandered casually round the corner. Then I made a mad dash to the fast copy-room used to make tape copies of RNW transcription programmes for other radio stations. It had a machine that could copy tapes at around 8 times faster than normal. Luckily, Jos, the guy in charge, saw my challenge, set up the machine immediately and 15 minutes later I was back in reception to return the tape to the messanger. And I had a copy.

It seems the British dropped leaflets over the Falklands to try and spread the word that this shortwave radio station existed. And we later analysed the programme. It was classic Sefton Delmer (Black Propaganda), although rather poorly presented. Bit like calling up Vera Lynne if the British had a dispute with France.

But this is one of the few surviving recordings of Radio South Atlantic. You be the judge of how effective it all was.

Click here to read Jonathan’s full post about Radio South Atlantic and listen to the recording on his website.

This is an amazing recording, Jonathan.  I’ll admit that I had never heard of Radio South Atlantic before and never knew a UK-supported clandestine station was on the air during The Falklands War/Guerra de las Malvinas.

Thanks for the excellent history lesson and your own (clandestine) recording!

Spread the radio love

8 thoughts on “Radio South Atlantic: recording of a short-lived clandestine radio station

  1. David Maynard

    I have just come across this item by accident. In 1989/1990 I was involved in setting up a radio station. Our goal was to have a digital source for the programming of our music, ads etc. We obtained some kit to do this but I can’t remember where from. We were told that it had been used to deliver Radio South Atlantic from Ascension. We started by using it to create all the ad breaks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it to work consistently.

  2. Jonathan Marks

    I think the operations in Voice of the Khmer were better prepared and executed than Radio Atlantico del Sur – had the pace of BBC Radio 3 rather than the dynamic drive I monitored coming out of Latin America around the same time. And some of the black clandestines operated in Iraq post Saddam by the MOD were much more effective than their US equivalents I will order the book, I met Ffrench-Blake once when I visited Radio 210 in 1979.

    1. Mike Barraclough

      He had much more time to prepare the broadcasts and train the staff for Voice of Khmer, Radio Atlantico del Sur was set up quickly. He strongly criticises the US approach to psywar radio operations.

  3. Mike Barraclough

    Response to some of the criticisms from Neil Ffrench’s book:

    “The truth is that not only did our broadcasters speak fluent Argentine argot but we even had a South American language expert sitting in the whole time to check.”

    Of the 40 staff: “Nearly all of them had lived in Argentina and some still had families there which meant we had be exceptionally careful about security. Their names can never be known”

    As to the music they used to ring up a major record store in Buenos Aires every week saying in Spanish “Hello this is Radio Atlantico del Sur, could you please give us your top ten this week.” They made hundreds of calls to Argentina for information and never had to hang up with people getting curious as to who they were.

    The BBC were co-operative behind the scenes in particular the Deputy Director General Alan Protheroe who had been in the Territorial Army.

    If you read the full book Neil uses the same principles regarding credibility of news, correct choice of music and language spoken by announcers when he operated Voice of the Khmer, the staff were of course Khmer nationals who saw the weaknesses in the Khmer Rouge station, backed by the Chinese, and the Government station run by the Vietnamese.

    I wanted to get a verification from Radio Atlantico del Sur so shortly after it came on the air I wrote, without expecting a reply, to Radio Atlantico del Sur, Ministry of Defence, London W1. To my surprise I got a very quick reply. On the back of the QSL card was handwritten

    “Dear Mr Barraclough, Thank you for your letter and helpful comments. If you feel sufficiently strongly it would help our cause if you conveyed the same sentiments to the Press. The Times and Observer have written articles which appear very prejudiced to us. You will appreciate that we cannot reply directly ourselves as MOD employees. Thank you again for writing.”

    I can’t remember what I said, probably my interest in radio, black, white and grey, during conflicts and how it could shorten them.

  4. Emily Taylor

    Falklands war is pretty interesting topic. I especially like the use of shortwave, like the HAME operator who was passing messages.

  5. Rich McVicar

    What a great recording! I loved the account of Jonathan’s getting a copy! Oh, those days long before zipping off a copy on a computer.

    Radio Atlantico del Sur used to come in with a very strong signal in eastern North America. I loved the music they used each night (starting at 2:32 into each program). The audio quality wasn’t the best (although it was a great deal better than that of Argentine Annie), and the announcer’s accent wasn’t as noticeable, at least for my high school-level Spanish ears.

    I have two recordings–One is from June 14/82, the day of the Argentine surrender. The jammers come on the air right after the the newscaster says that the Argentine forces have raised the white flag. The next night, June 15, the signal was unjammed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.