|Courtesy of emiana|
Some interesting facts about the country in this regard:
- It was one of the first countries to have radio and television in the Americas.
- There was media censorship in place before the Cuban Revolution, under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
- During the early years of the revolution there remained a number of media outlets that opposed Fidel Castro's new regime, until the Cuban Broadcasting Institute was firmly established.
- There are three radios for every ten Cuban citizens.
- Computer ownership was outlawed until 2007 and Internet access is still amongst the most expensive in the world, adjusted for the median monthly wage.
Radio Habana Cuba
|Courtesy of Universidad de La Habana|
These days, RHC broadcasts towards several regions: the USA (in English and Spanish), Europe (in French, Portuguese and Arabic), Central America (in English, Spanish, French and Creole), South America (in French, Spanish and even in Quechua - the language of the native populations of Bolivia and Peru) and Africa (in English). For a small country, such broadcasting schedule is ambitious and shows an impressive regional and international reach. Oddly, there seems to be no dedicated broadcast directed at Europe in English or Spanish and the easiest way to catch either in London is to tune in to their beam directed at New York on 6060 kHz from about 0220 UTC (after The Voice of Islamic Republic of Iran stops interfering with the signal on the same frequency). At 0500 UTC the programming switches from Spanish into English.
|The short path between La Habana, Cuba and London, UK. It is easy to see why the New York beam might offer some hope of reception in London.|
♫ Radio Habana Cuba 6060 kHz at 0400 UTC on 18/12/2013, recorded in London, UK (1 hour, 86Mb)
There are some other programming gems, such as El Mundo de la Filatelia (the world of stamp collecting), the likes of which one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, as well as regular extensive features on the Cuban healthcare and education systems.
|A celebratory Radio Habana Cuba stamp, courtesy of dvaldemoro|
The station does have Internet streams for both its international and Spanish broadcasts. However, they are frequently offline and their audio quality is often actually worse than the shortwave transmissions, especially if you are located in an interference-free area (sadly, not in my case) and have a good antenna. You can get the latest list of Radio Habana Cuba's frequencies here.
|Courtesy: The Monitoring Magazine, November 1985|
♫ Radio Martí 7365 kHz at 0150 UTC on 18/12/2013, recorded in London, UK (10 minutes, 14Mb)
The above snippet contains a segment on Pope Francis's birthday dinner with the homeless and a brief description of the US immigration system.
Cuban Numbers Stations
|Courtesy: Dirk Rijmenants|
By complete chance, I stumbled across one such station that is actually very interesting. The numbers, spoken in Spanish, are followed up by shrieking modem-like tones (for those who remember the dial-up days of the Internet).
It turns out that this transmission was in the so-called Hybrid Mode and the shrieking tones are in fact computer files being sent in Redundant File Digital Transfer mode called DIGTRX. This mode allows the recipient to connect their shortwave receiver's headphone jack to the mic input their PC's sound card and decode the files as they are being sent across the airwaves. The inventor of this mode came across the station - nicknamed HM01 - by accident, and decoded the files with his own software but couldn't read them: as one might expect, they were encrypted. Below is my recording of HM01, which I caught straight after RHC finished its Spanish broadcast:
♫ HM01 5855 kHz at 0512 UTC on 18/12/2013, recorded in London, UK (2 minutes, 3Mb)
It might come across as amusing to find spies employing this somewhat dated way of obtaining information in our digital age. It does, however, offer one huge advantage: the recipient leaves no trace of ever having received the message!
The Cuban Five
The Cuban Five, mentioned above, are a group of Cuban intelligence officers who resided in the United States and were convicted of espionage by a US court. The Cuban media have regular features on their continued detention in the United States and there are major events staged throughout the year that are dedicated to calls for their release. One such event was The Concert for The Five that took place on September 12, 2013 in La Habana. Radio Rebelde, Cuba's arguably most popular national radio station founded by none other than Che Guevara, was airing it live and Radio Habana Cuba joined in by rebroadcasting Rebelde's coverage internationally. I was fortunate to catch a part of this broadcast and record it:
♫ The Concert for The Five : Radio Habana Cuba 6060 kHz at 0232 UTC on 13/09/2013, recorded in London, UK (45 minutes, 64Mb)
It goes without saying that I will keep tuning in to Cuban radio. In fact, the whole concept of using this older way of listening somehow feels distinctly Cuban.