12. Memorandum From the Director, Broadcasting Service, United States Information Agency (Loomis) to the Director (Murrow)1
Broadcasting to Cuba
In view of the questions raised in the press and in Congress about increasing broadcasts to Cuba,2 you may be interested in knowing what is being done and the problems involved in doing more.[Page 44]
Consideration of the problem of broadcasting to Cuba is only meaningful when the assets of the entire U.S. Government are considered. There must be an important division of labor between USIA and CIA.
The U.S. Government has the following assets:
Over a dozen powerful short wave transmitters in the U.S. Seven short wave transmitters with a total power of 530 KW are now being used for our hour long Spanish broadcast at 8:00 p.m. each evening. An hour later this program is repeated over two West Coast transmitters with a total power of 200 KW.
In addition to the short wave broadcasts, the Agency enjoys a tremendous placement on the local radios throughout Latin America. About 140 stations now relay portions of our short wave broadcast. In addition, we place roughly 400 hours a day on some 1,500 local stations in Latin America.
VOA also broadcasts 4½ hours a day in English to Latin America on short wave.
Radio Swan. A 50 KW medium wave transmitter located on Swan Island off the Honduran Coast. Swan broadcasts 6 days a week, 8 hours daily in Spanish, and ½ hour daily in English. It also has a 7½ KW short wave transmitter which carries the same programs.
CIA has also utilized mobile clandestine transmitters. I understand the attrition has been heavy.
WRUL has five short wave transmitters in Boston with a total of 220 KW. These now broadcast several hours a day in Spanish and English to Latin America. While much of their program is music, CIA did place programs on them until Swan was operating.
Half a dozen commercial U.S. medium wave stations can be heard in some parts of Cuba, particularly late at night. WGBS in Miami has the best coverage. CIA is now placing two hours a day of Spanish on WGBS—one hour late in the evening, one hour early in the morning. WGBS broadcasts 50 KW in the daytime but is required to reduce power to 10 KW at night. CIA is attempting to get special FCC permission to raise the power of WGBS during its broadcast. To date CIA has not been successful.[Page 45]
Last year a VOA technical monitor toured the entire island of Cuba and obtained complete and accurate data on both medium wave and short wave reception, city-by-city. He found that in addition to WGBS, the Atlanta, Nashville, and New Orleans stations had fair reception in limited areas, especially late at night.
It is estimated that there are about 1,100,000 radio receivers in Cuba, of which at least 10% can tune short wave. There is considerable evidence that the number of short wave receivers may be significantly larger however—many of them having been smuggled into Cuba during the Batista regime3 in order to hear Castro’s short wave broadcasts.
There are 135 medium wave transmitters on the island. While most are quite low power, at least two are 50 KW. Most of these stations are concentrated in urban areas. Twenty-five FM transmitters are mainly used for relay purposes. Six low powered short wave transmitters are now in use but a 100 KW transmitter purchased from the Swiss last year should be on the air shortly.
The large number of medium wave transmitters, particularly in the Havana area, effectively block reception of medium wave stations from outside the area. Since Cuban radios no longer operate independently, Castro can assign many to a jamming function without interfering with his domestic coverage. For the last six weeks he has been jamming Swan medium wave with increasing effectiveness. He has attempted jamming on short wave but physics is against him and the short wave jamming has been largely ineffective. If Castro chose, he could change the frequency of his most powerful transmitters and interfere with U.S. commercial broadcasts as far north as New York and as far west as the Mississippi.
In February, 1960 the Senate ratified the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement to which Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the West Indies are signatories. The treaty, negotiated over ten years ago,4 assigns specific frequencies and powers to the different countries for the express purpose of minimizing interference between countries. If the U.S. Government overtly broadcasts on medium wave to Cuba, it would be a clear violation of this treaty.[Page 46]
In view of the above, CIA and we have divided the job as follows:
VOA short wave broadcasts are aimed at an audience throughout Latin America. They discuss problems of interest to all of Latin America, including the Cuban problem. The US-Cuban position is explained not only to Cubans but to other Latin Americans. Its tone is objective and unexcited. Short wave broadcasts are massively supplemented by placement of material on local radios.
Radio Swan is for Cubans to talk to Cubans. Its purpose is to excite its listeners and to ridicule and undermine the regime. The CIA program on WGBS, while also Cuban to Cuban, is designed to be more objective, more certain of its accuracy, and quieter in tone.
All evidence points to both VOA and Swan having wide audiences. Many listen to both; to VOA for confirmation; to Swan for titillation. Some say that Swan has carried too many unfounded rumors and that its credibility is low. CIA is well aware of this and is watching it carefully, but we all agree the purpose of Swan is to be exciting. It should not have the same broadcast policy as the Voice. The WGBS program is just starting. All of this can perhaps best be summed up in the following direct quote from a Cuban defector who arrived in Mexico last week:
“VOA is the only thing we have, now that Radio Swan is being jammed. People spend the whole day waiting for the Voice of America broadcast. They consider it truthful and completely reliable. We know that when the Voice says it, it’s true. It is dangerous to be caught listening to the Voice of America, but everybody is doing it. There are many short wave sets in Cuba because they were popular when Fidel was broadcasting from the Sierra Maestra. Now they are being used to hear the Voice. We also try to hear Miami on the regular broadcast band, but it is not as clear or as strong as hearing the Voice from Washington.”
The ’62 Eisenhower budget calls for an increase of one hour in Spanish. The B budget you approved would call for an additional hour over that, which would make a total of three hours of daily originations in Spanish. I believe that this would be ample.
VOA has been urged by many to build a medium wave station in Florida. We have done the engineering studies of this. I do not recommend it however since it would be a clear violation of the NARBA Treaty; Castro could jam it in all the major cities; it would give him an excuse throughout Latin America when he started interfering with U.S. domestic broadcasts.
Many have also urged us to buy time on commercial stations. In fact, the Congress last year under the urging of Senator Mundt [Page 47] appropriated $100,000 for this purpose. I did not and do not recommend that VOA do this since CIA is now doing it without attribution, making it more effective. Incidentally, we and CIA have worked very closely in this affair. We helped them contact WGBS and they used our engineering studies in picking the station.
VOA is now doing all it can and should. Since you will be unable to mention the CIA program, there is no easy way to answer the many who press us to do more.
- Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Box 35A, Cuba, General, 1/61–4/61. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Loomis. Printed from an uninitialed copy. Copies were sent to Wilson and Dave Phillips.↩
- During the President’s February 8 news conference, held at the Department of State, a reporter asked: “Mr. President, Castro is reported to have built a new radio station, one of the largest in the hemisphere, which will begin operations within a few months to broadcast pro-Castro propaganda throughout Latin America. Is there anything we can do or plan to do to counter this?” The President responded: “We are giving the matter of Cuba and its export of its revolution throughout Latin America a matter of high priority. I could not state what actions will be taken yet until Mr. Berle, Mr. Mann, and Mr. Rusk have concluded their deliberations, which are now going ahead very intensely.” (Public Papers: Kennedy, 1961, pp. 73–74) Adolf Berle and Thomas Mann had been appointed to the inter-agency Task Force on Latin America, acting under Rusk’s direction. The Department announced the formation of the Task Force on January 31. In addition to Berle and Mann, Achilles, Leddy, Gordon, and Williams constituted the membership. (American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, p. 341) For additional information about the creation of the Task Force, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XII, American Republics, Document 4.↩
- Fulgencio Batista served as President of Cuba from 1940 until 1944 and from 1952 until he fled Cuba on January 1, 1959.↩
- The agreement was signed November 15, 1950, in Washington.↩