Radio Americas 1966 Swan Island

Courtesy of Hank Tester & Harry Helms

 

Rare QSL Card from Radio Americas by Harry Helms;

Radio Americas was a legendary clandestine radio broadcaster operated by the Central Intelligence Agency from Swan Island, a small island in the Gulf of Mexico that was, in the early 1960s, claimed by both the United States and Honduras.

Radio Americas began in 1960 as Radio Swan. It broadcast in Spanish on 1157-1160 and 6000 kHz and its target was Cuba and Castro. Many programs were anti-Castro speeches by Cuban exiles along with pop music. Castro even denounced Radio Swan in the fall of 1960 in a speech to the United Nations.

During the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Radio Swan broadcast coded messages to the invading Cuban exiles. When the invasion failed, Radio Swan changed its name to Radio Americas and claimed it was a commercial station, although the programming was still heavily anti-Castro. It abruptly left the air in May, 1968 and shortly thereafter the United States ceded its claims over Swan Island to Honduras.

This QSL card was received for a May 18, 1966 reception of 1160 (actually 1157) kHz (by Harry Helms). As the illustrations show, the printing has been rubbed off a small area in the lower right, there is a stain on the reverse where it was mounted in an album, and the colors and paper have darkened with age. However, it remains a fine example of a QSL card from this historic station.

More info on Radio Americas by Hank Tester;

The station was an anti-Castro operation funded by the CIA. The operators made representations that the station was a commercial venture. There were several dummy corporations that fronted the whole scam. During the time of operation it was known as Radio Swan, later Radio Americas. The station was controversial because it was not licensed by the FCC even though Swan Island was at that point under U.S. control. It also interfered with KSL in Salt Lake City. In short the card represents a chapter in the clandestine efforts support of the Bay of Pigs operation and later operation Mongoose.

Others comment:
Swan Island - Site of US Weather Bureau Hurricane Upper Air Sounding Station. A mysterious development takes place on the islands after they are purchased by the little known Gibraltar Steamship Co. from New York. The Gibraltar Steamship Co. suspiciously owned no steamships but wasted little time in setting up a 50,000 watt radio transmitter on Great Swan. All questions were answered about this puzzling turn of events only after the transmitter became operational and the Gibraltar Steamship Co. began blasting anti-Castro propaganda 350 miles to Cuba. It quickly became obvious that the Gibraltar steamship Co. was, in fact, a front for the American CIA. Swan Radio, as it became known, regularly called Castro and his lieutenants "pigs with beards" and accused Castro's brother, Raul, of being a "homosexual with effeminate friends." In rebuttal, Havana could only call Swan Radio, "a cage of hysterical parrots." Swan Radio also broadcasted coded messages prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 but, apparently, interrupting Tito Puente songs with messages like, "Look well into the rainbow...The fish will rise very soon... Chico is in the house, visit him" aroused more than just casual suspicion. After the assault failed, Swan Radio was phased out and the island went back to weather reporting.

1961: In an attempt to make good on the Honduran claim and rescue the islands from their Yankee captors, a boat load of angry students set sail from the mainland with the intention of planting the Honduran flag on Great Swan. This potentially tense international incident was quickly diffused only after the students were invited ashore for sandwiches and beer and allowed to raise their flag. The Americans stationed on the island were, of course, invited to attend the ceremony and afterwards, graciously hosted the ensuing victory party. Satisfied they had accomplished their mission, the students then said good-bye to their new-found friends and happily sailed home.

1971: The United States eventually relinquished the islands to Honduran President Ramone Ernesto Cruz, who while raising a glass in a victory toast, implied, in his most serious tongue-in-cheek tone, that it was wise for the United States to give up the Swans voluntarily or otherwise he would have resorted to force.

1980: The C.I.A. and other covert government agencies, use the islands as a secret training facility for Nicaraguan Contras.