Surfin': Clandestine Radio in Uncle Tom's Corner
One of the people responsible for sparking my interest in radio died recently: "Tom Kneitel, W4XAA (ex-K2AES), died August 22 at age 75. He was a prolific author of articles and books on monitoring, CB radio and building electronics projects," according to August 29th edition of The ARRL Letter.
As a newbie SWL and AM broadcast band DXer in the mid-1960s, I poured over Tom's articles and columns ("Uncle Tom's Corner") in Electronics Illustrated, gleaning information on how to improve my DXing skills in order to snag those rare ones.
Courtesy of Tom, I did snag a few rare ones and my most interesting Kneitel capture was Radio Swan/Radio Americas on Swan Island in Honduras. Back then, the DX world used the names "Radio Swan" and "Radio Americas" interchangeably, but I will use "Radio Americas" here because that is what is printed on the QSL card I received.
In early 1967, I heard Radio Americas operating on 1160 kc. Honduras-to-Connecticut (almost 1600 miles) on the AM broadcast band is an excellent catch in anybody's logbook, but what made this one more interesting was that Radio Americas was supposedly a clandestine operation run by a secret government agency that was trying to undermine the Castro regime in Cuba.
At the time, the Radio Americas story was just speculation, but it was pretty exciting stuff for this teenager during the height of the Cold War and the era of Goldfinger and 007. Just the words "clandestine radio" sounded exciting and mysterious back then. Needless to say, I was shocked when the Radio Americas QSL card arrived in the mail, since I did not think that spies acknowledged their clandestine operations.
Tom's death got me waxing nostalgic about those days and I began wondering about the real story behind Radio Americas. So I powered up my computer, loaded a browser and began searching the 'Net.
According to my search, it turns out that Tom was right and the rumors were correct. Radio Americas was a classic CIA operation that even had connections to the United Fruit Company. Wikipedia does a good job summing up the story and even explains the name change from Radio Swan to Radio Americas.
Ham Gallery has the QSL card and a little history about the radio station and the subsequent history of the island. DXing.com also has a short piece about Radio Americas and other clandestine radio operations. "Clandestine Radio: An Anti-Castro Historiography" provides an archive of past and present anti-Castro clandestine radio stations, including Radio Americas, and analyzes the use of political propaganda against the Castro regime.
Until next time, keep on surfin'!
Editor's note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, is a James Bond fan of the Sean Connery variety; the others are just pretenders. To communicate with Stan, send him e-mail or add comments to his blog. By the way, every installment of Surfin' is indexed here, so go look it up.
Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU