Category Archives: Clandestine

Platja de Pals: Once a Cold War “front line” for Radio Liberty

(Source: CNN via Tracy Wood)

(CNN) — It’s March 23, 1959. The radio waves crackle and broadcast begins: “Govorit Radio Svoboda” (??????? ????? ??????? – “This is Radio Liberty speaking…”)
From the other side of the Iron Curtain, the radio broadcasts of US-funded Radio Liberty reached deep inside the Soviet Union. This was an opening line destined to enter Cold War folklore.

What most of those clandestinely tuning in could not possible imagine is the unlikely location those broadcasts were coming from.

This quiet beach resort of Platja de Pals, Spain, tucked between the Mediterranean Sea and the greenery of pine groves and rice paddies, makes for an unlikely Cold War front line, but this is exactly the role it played for nearly half a century.

At this spot, some 150 kilometers north of Barcelona, Catalonia’s rugged Costa Brava opens up into a large bay lined by a long sandy beach, the perfect location for what was to be one of the most powerful broadcasting stations in the world.

Strategic location

In the mid-1950s, and after nearly two decades of international isolation for Francisco Franco’s Spanish dictatorship, the increasing tensions of the Cold War provided the background for a rapprochement between Spain and the United States.

In this new Cold War context, Washington took an interest in Spain’s strategic location. General Franco, himself a staunch anti-communist, was happy to oblige. In a landmark deal, the United States was provided with a string of bases on Spanish soil, while Franco’s dictatorship would see its relations with the West restored.

The setup of Radio Liberty’s broadcast station in Pals was a side effect of this new geostrategic reality.

From 1959 to 2006, this beach was home to 13 massive antennas (the largest of them 168 meters high, or more than half the size of the Eiffel Tower). This spot was favored not only because of the availability of space — the antennas were laid out in a mile-long line parallel to the shore — but also because it provided direct, unimpeded access to the sea. A physical phenomenon called tropospheric propagation makes it possible for radio waves to travel further over water.[…]

Click here to continue reading at CNN.

Spread the radio love

Radio Venceremos: A Salvadoran Civil War underground station

Radio Venceremos (Image source: Biblioteca UTEC)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bruce Atchison, who who shares this short video from the early 1980s showing a glimpse inside Radio Venceremos:

Click here to view on YouTube.

From Wikipedia:

Radio Venceremos (Spanish; in English, “‘We Shall Overcome’ Radio”) was an ‘underground’ radio network of the anti-government Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the Salvadoran Civil War. The station “specialized in ideological propaganda, acerbic commentary, and pointed ridicule of the government”. The radio station was founded by Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (Santiago).

Despite the end of the war in 1992, the network continues to broadcast. The war years of the station and its national and international influence were documented in the Spanish-language book Las mil y una historias de radio Venceremos and its English translation, Rebel radio: the story of El Salvador’s Radio Venceremos, by the author José Ignacio López Vigil (translator: Mark Fried), a book recorded by the American Library of Congress. An exhibit honoring Radio Venceremos, including a studio room with original equipment, forms a prominent part of the Museum of the Revolution in Perquín, Morazán, El Salvador.

I also found this film on YouTube (The Radio Venceremos Story) which sheds a little more light on the station. The recording is low-resolution, but the subtitles are legible:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Have any DXers logged and confirmed Radio Venceremos? Please comment!

Spread the radio love

“The dream of Biafra lives on in underground Nigerian radio broadcasts”

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who shares the following story about Radio Biafra from the LA Times:

Every evening as 5 o’clock approaches, the clogged, perpetually dusty streets of this industrial city in southeastern Nigeria begin to empty.

Groups of men just off work go inside, shut their doors and tune their radios to 102.1 FM.

Then an anthem begins to play, and a voice says “Kedu” ­ “how are you” in the Igbo language ­ to welcome listeners to the daily broadcast of Radio Biafra.

For the next 90 minutes, hosts and various guests proselytize for the revival of an old dream: the creation of an independent state called Biafra.

The broadcasts, conducted live from an undisclosed location in Nigeria, are illegal, and the group behind them ­ the Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB ­ has been classified by the government as a terrorist organization since 2017. Its leaders say they eschew violence and want a peaceful settlement of the issue through a national referendum.

Activists say people caught listening to the station have been arrested or beaten. But many residents here say they are willing to take the risk.

Radio Biafra is a daily reminder of the bloody civil war that ravaged Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. The conflict started when a Nigerian military general, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, declared an independent state of Biafra. It ended after more than a million deaths, mostly from starvation after the government imposed a food blockade on the region.

Ultimately, the rebels surrendered and the area was reintegrated into Nigeria under the government motto “No victor, no vanquished.”

But the memory of the brutal war looms large in Aba, feeding enthusiasm for the broadcasts despite extremely long odds that Biafra will ever come to be.[…]

Click here to read the full story at the LA Times.

Radio Biafra has also been elusive and rare DX for radio listeners. Click here to read more Radio Biafra posts in our archive.

Spread the radio love

Despite crackdown, North Koreans seek foreign radio broadcasts

(Source: DailyNK via Andrea Borgnino)

North Koreans continue to seek out foreign radio despite crackdown

Police in North Korea have recently focused their attention on cracking down on listeners of South Korean radio broadcasts in another sign of the government’s dual-approach to warming ties with the South, according to a source inside the country.

Speaking from Ryanggang Province on April 24, a source told Daily NK that “police have begun inspections of households possessing radios,” explaining that one method used to restrict radio usage includes applying stickers to the tuning buttons to prevent users from finding foreign broadcasts.

State-approved radios in North Korea are fixed to prevent tuning to non-official stations, but the authorities have used additional methods in recent times to handle the increasing amount of personal radios in the country. In addition to radio controls, authorities also place heavy restrictions on DVD players, phones, televisions, and other media devices.[…]

Continue reading the full article at the DailyNK.

Spread the radio love

Going By the Numbers

For those who follow numbers stations or, like me, enjoy seeing articles about numbers stations, below are a few paragraphs from a recent article in Radio World by author James Careless:

“6-7-9-2-6. 5-6-9-9-0.” Tune across the shortwave bands (above AM/MW), and chances are you will come across a “numbers station.” There’s no programming to speak of; just a mechanical-sounding voice (male or female) methodically announcing seemingly random groups of single digit numbers for minutes on end.

Congratulations! You are now officially a spy-catcher, to the extent that you may have tuned into a spy agency’s “numbers station” transmitting one-way instructions to their minions worldwide.

Numbers stations are unidentified radio broadcasts that consist usually of a mechanical voice “reading out strings of seemingly random numbers,” explained Lewis Bush, author of “Shadows of the State” a new history of numbers stations and the spies who run them. “These are sometimes accompanied by music, tones or other sound effects.” He said. “There are also related stations broadcasting in Morse Code and digital modes.”

The article goes into some of the history of numbers stations, but also talks about modern stations from all over the world. A worthwhile read for those so interested!

Do Shortwave ‘Numbers Stations’ Really Instruct Spies?

Cheers! Robert AK3Q

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

Spread the radio love

“Go after North Korea with sanctions and short-wave radio”

(Source: Yahoo News)

Key GOP Lawmaker: Go after North Korea with sanctions and short-wave radio

WASHINGTON — House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R.-Calif., called Wednesday for tough new sanctions on Chinese banks that do business with North Korea. Royce also said the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang has been losing its totalitarian grip on a population increasingly getting information from short-wave radio and contraband South Korean movies.

Royce said in an interview with Yahoo News on Sirius XM POTUS Channel 124 that he had met with a top North Korean defector who played up the impact of communications from the outside world as a way to pressure the government of Kim Jong Un.

“He told me that the one thing really shaking the resolve of people across North Korea is the information that’s coming in on two short-wave [radio stations] run by defectors,” Royce said. “They’re telling people what’s really going on in North Korea and in the outside world.”

The defector, Royce recalled, said, “You should help amp that up and get that all across the country.”

Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — descendants of Cold War-era information warfare — currently broadcast 10 hours per day of short- and medium-wave radio into North Korea, according to a congressional aide. And Congress doubled their Korean-language programming for the year ending Oct. 1 to $6 million, where it will stay for the next fiscal year, the aide said.[…]

Continue reading at Yahoo News…

Spread the radio love

Radio Erena: “a symbolic lifeline” to Eritrea

(Source: The Guardian)

[Radio Erena founder, Biniam Simon, writes:] “You have to understand: Eritrea is completely closed. No information is available there at all, about the outside world or what is going on internally. So if you’re an Eritrean journalist, and you make it to a place where so much information is available, the first thing you think is: why not tell people all this? It was the obvious thing to do.”

[…]The station broadcasts a two-hour programme in Arabic and Tigrinya seven days a week, repeating it several times a day, giving listeners inside Eritrea multiple opportunities to listen (they may do so, in the privacy of their own homes with the shutters closed and the sound turned down, only when electricity is available – which it often isn’t). As well as news about what the regime may be up to, it provides a detailed picture of what is happening to the refugees who are travelling to Europe – when a boat carrying 360 Eritreans capsized off Lampedusa in 2013, a correspondent was immediately dispatched to Italy – as well as features about diaspora success stories, footballers and athletes among them.

It runs smoothly. There is always a lot to tell. Making sure it can be picked up in Eritrea, however, remains a constant struggle. In 2012, the government managed to block it – seemingly unbothered by the fact that in doing so, it also blocked its own television channel (both broadcast on one satellite frequency). It has also successfully jammed it on shortwave, and on at least one occasion has hacked into the Radio Erena website, destroying it completely. “It’s a nonstop challenge,” he says. “We’re constantly fighting them, and it’s getting harder and harder because they are now employing new experts from China and Indonesia.”

But if this is exhausting, it’s also hugely encouraging: “It means that what we’re doing is working. We know this because the government wants us to stop.”[…]

Readers: this is only an excerpt from this excellent article in The Guardian. Click here to read the full article.

Spread the radio love