Radio y Televisión Martí

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Radio y Televisión Martí
Type International broadcasting
Country United States
Availability Americas
Owner United States government
Launch date
May 20, 1985 (radio)
March 27, 1990 (television)
Official website

Radio y Televisión Martí is a radio and television international broadcaster based in Miami, Florida, financed by the Federal government of the United States through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which transmits newscasts and programs in Spanish to Cuba. Its broadcasts can also be heard and viewed worldwide through their website.

Named after the Cuban national hero and intellectual José Martí, it was established in 1983 with the addition of TV Martí in 1990.[1] The 2014 budget for the Cuba broadcasting program is approximately US$27 million.

Radio y Televisión Martí is an element of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). The sister elements in the IBB are Voice of America (VOA), Alhurra/Radio Sawa, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Radio Free Asia (RFA). The IBB and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are independent federal entities spun off from the now defunct United States Information Agency.

Radio Martí[edit]


In the early 1980s, the U.S. Government planned to create a radio station to be known as Radio Free Cuba, modeled on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the mission of fighting communism in the hope of hastening the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro. The station – renamed Radio Martí after Cuban writer José Martí, who had fought for Cuba's independence from Spain and against U.S. influence in the Americas – was established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan at the urging of Jorge Mas Canosa. Existing North American broadcasters objected strenuously to the establishment of Radio Martí, fearing that its broadcasts would lead Cuba to retaliate by jamming existing commercial medium-wave broadcasts from Florida.

On May 20, 1985, Radio Martí began broadcasts to Cuba from the United States. The first day of broadcasting was chosen to commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Cuba's independence from United States rule on May 20, 1902. The fears of broadcasters proved well-founded, when Cuba-based transmitters briefly broadcast powerful signals on the medium-wave band in 1985, disrupting U.S. AM radio station broadcasts in several states. Cuba continues to broadcast interference against U.S. broadcasts specifically directed to Cuba in attempts to prevent them from being received within Cuba.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the budget for all U.S.-government-run foreign broadcasters, with the exception of Radio Martí, was sharply reduced. In 1996, Radio Martí '​s studios were moved from Washington, D.C. to Miami, Florida. The move, in addition to placing the station's studios closer to its target audience, also underscored its growing independence from the Voice of America, another U.S.-government-run foreign broadcaster with which Radio Martí had previously shared studios.

Radio Martí today[edit]

Radio Martí broadcast studio.

Today, Radio Marti broadcasts a 24-hour radio program over short-wave transmitters in Delano, California, and Greenville, North Carolina, and a medium-wave transmitter in Marathon, Florida (GC: 24°41′58″N 81°5′19″W / 24.69944°N 81.08861°W / 24.69944; -81.08861). Its studios are located in Miami, Florida. Cuba jams both the medium-wave and shortwave signals, but the shortwave program is heard in Canada and throughout Central America and South America. On occasion, the medium-wave transmitter at 1180 kHz can be heard as far north as Washington, D.C.

An hour of Radio Martí's news programs are carried each night, midnight to 1:00 AM local time, by Miami's most popular Spanish-language station, Radio Mambi (WAQI-710AM), which blankets the island of Cuba with its 50,000 watt signal, although it is jammed in Havana.[2]

Radio Martí operates with about 100 employees and a budget of $15 million. Its mission, in its own words, is to provide "a contrast to Cuban media and provide its listeners with an uncensored view of current events." Former prisoners in Cuba and Cuban exiles often speak on Radio Martí, and on Saturdays a Spanish-language version of the U.S. president's weekly radio address, as well as the opposition's response, are transmitted.[3]


There is much debate about the effectiveness of these broadcasts. As with Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, there is no way to judge the station's true audience through the usual listener surveys. Thus, the actual number of listeners is open to speculation. However, after the fall of the communist Soviet satellite governments of Eastern Europe in 1989 and of the Soviet Union itself at the end of 1991, a Hoover Institution conference reviewing reports from citizens in newly independent Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other countries tended to substantiate the effectiveness of RFE and U.S. Voice of America broadcasts both in providing information and bolstering democratic movements within those countries, despite attempts at electronic jamming and counter-propaganda,[4] and supporters of Radio Martí hope that it is achieving similar success in Cuba.

The watchdog group Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) has been critical of the radio station and television for broadcasts critical of warming relations and cooperative efforts with U.S. organizations. A report from the Committee on Foreign Relations in 2010 reported that less than 2 percent of Cubans listen in and U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and U.S. House of Representatives member Betty McCollum introduced the Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act to shut the stations down. Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy has also been critical of the stations.[1]


Estimated total direct programme hours per week of some external radio broadcasters for 1996
Broadcaster 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 1996[2]
United States VOA, RFE/RL & Radio Martí 497 1,495 1,907 1,901 2,611 1,821
China China Radio International 66 687 1,267 1,350 1,515 1,620
United Kingdom BBC World Service 643 589 723 719 796 1,036
Russia Radio Moscow / Voice of Russia[1][3] 533 1,015 1,908 2,094 1,876 726
Germany Deutsche Welle 0 315 779 804 848 655
Egypt Radio Cairo (ERTU) 0 301 540 546 605 604
Iran IRIB World Service / Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran 12 24 155 175 400 575
India All India Radio 116 157 271 389 456 500
Japan NHK World Radio Japan 0 203 259 259 343 468
France Radio France Internationale 198 326 200 125 379 459
Netherlands Radio Netherlands Worldwide[1] 127 178 335 289 323 392
Israel Israel Radio International[1] 0 91 158 210 253 365
Turkey Voice of Turkey 40 77 88 199 322 364
North Korea Radio Pyongyang / Voice of Korea 0 159 330 597 534 364
Bulgaria Radio Bulgaria[1] 30 117 164 236 320 338
Australia Radio Australia 181 257 350 333 330 307
Albania Radio Tirana (RTSH) 26 63 487 560 451 303
Romania Radio Romania International 30 159 185 198 199 298
Spain Radio Exterior de España[5] 68 202 251 239 403 270
Portugal RDP Internacional[1] 46 133 295 214 203 226
Cuba Radio Havana Cuba 0 0 320 424 352 203
Italy Rai Italia Radio[1] 170 205 165 169 181 203
Canada Radio Canada International[1] 85 80 98 134 195 175
Poland Radio Polonia[1] 131 232 334 337 292 171
South Africa Radio RSA / Channel Africa 0 63 150 183 156 159
Sweden Sveriges Radio International[1] 28 114 140 155 167 149
Hungary Magyar Rádió[1] 76 120 105 127 102 144
Czech Republic Radio Prague[4] 119 196 202 255 131 131
Nigeria Voice of Nigeria 0 0 62 170 120 127
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Radio Belgrade / International Radio of Serbia 80 70 76 72 96 68

Source: International Broadcast Audience Research, June 1996

The list includes about a quarter of the world's external broadcasters whose output is both publicly funded and worldwide. Among those excluded are Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and various international commercial and religious stations.


  1. Does not broadcast on shortwave as of 2014.
  2. 1996 figures as at June; all other years as at December.
  3. Before 1991, broadcasting for the former USSR.
  4. Before 1996, broadcasting for the former Czechoslovakia.
  5. REE ceased all shortwave broadcasts in October 2014 but announced in December that it would resume shortwave transmission in Spanish only for four hours a day in order to accommodate Spanish fishing trawlers who were otherwise unable to receive REE at sea.

TV Marti[edit]


In 1990, the U.S. Government created TV Martí to broadcast television programming to Cuba. It began broadcasting on March 27, 1990, beaming daily programs in Spanish via a transmitter affixed to an aerostat balloon – nicknamed "Fat Albert" by people in the area – tethered 10,000 feet (3,048 m) above Cudjoe Key, Florida.[5] Weather affected the broadcasts; "Fat Albert" sometimes was hauled down because of high winds, once broke loose and drifted into the Everglades in 1991, and was destroyed by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. After the aerostat '​s destruction, TV Martí in October 2006 began to use fixed-wing aircraft to transmit its signals, first a military C-130 Hercules which proved too expensive to operate, and then a Gulfstream twin engine airplane flying a figure-eight pattern off Key West, Florida. One of these aircraft has since been retired.[6]

The first TV Martí broadcasts took place in the very early morning hours to avoid interference with Cuban domestic television programming. This combined with Cuban jamming of the signal has led to low viewership of TV Martí in Cuba, where, according to a U.S. official who was stationed in Havana in the station '​s early days, it is known as La TV que no se ve ("The TV that can't be seen"). U.S. Government telephone surveys in 1990, 2003, 2006, and 2008 reported Cuban viewership of TV Martí of less than one percent; the U.S. Government ceased the surveys after 2008, claiming that obtaining accurate Cuban domestic television viewership statistics was too difficult.[6]

Despite the frequent reports of its low viewership in Cuba, TV Martí '​s defenders cited continuing Cuban government jamming of its signal as evidence of its importance, and U.S. Government funding of it continued, with TV Martí broadcasting daily programs in Spanish. In 2012, the administration of President Barack Obama finally asked the United States Congress to cease funding of the program, but Congress nonetheless continued to provide money for it.[6]

TV Martí today[edit]

Like Radio Martí, TV Martí is an element of the International Broadcasting Bureau. TV Marti airs half-hour early and late evening newscasts which a low-power Miami television channel, WGEN-LD, Virtual digital Channel 8.1 (RF digital Channel 45.1), carries along with other programming.[2] The pay-TV platform DirecTV, which is pirated by many people in Cuba, also carries TV Martí.

In May 2013, the U.S. Congress finally eliminated funding for the operation of Aero Martí, the lone aircraft still committed to TV Martí broadcasts. However, funding for the preservation and maintenance of the plane continues, and it remains in storage in a hangar in Cartersville, Georgia, ready to return to service if funding of its operations resumes.[6]

Controversy and legality[edit]

Fabio Leite, Deputy Director of the Radiocommunications Office of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), has condemned radio and television transmissions to Cuba from the United States as illegal and inadmissible and more so when they are designed to foment internal subversion on the island. The director emphasized that this constant U.S. attack is in violation of ITU regulations, which stipulate that radio transmissions within commercial broadcasting on medium wave, modulated frequency or television must be conceived of as a good quality national service within the limits of the country concerned.[7] The Cuban government also has insisted the penetration of their airwaves violates international law. This claim has not been elucidated; however, Cuba responds to these broadcasts by jamming the signals.

The Radio Martí broadcasts are directed at Cuba, but can be picked up throughout North, Central, and South America when Cuba is not jamming them. However, Radio Martí programs cannot be specifically directed at U.S. citizens under the same law that restricts Voice of America broadcasts.[8]

On November 15, 2007, delegates to the World Radiocommunication Conference 2007 declared illegal the U.S. government's use of airplanes to beam the signals of Washington-funded Radio and Television Marti into Cuba, stating "A radio broadcasting station that functions on board an aircraft and transmits only to the territory of another administration without its agreement cannot be considered in conformity with the radio communications regulations."[9][10]

A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office accuses the station of engaging in political propaganda in the forms of editorializing, use of offensive and incendiary language in broadcasts, use of unsubstantiated reports coming from Cuba, and presentation of individual views as news.[11] The claims of unprofessionalism are strongly rejected by the station's management. National Public Radio's On the Media programme has pointed out that while "the U.S. has spent close to a half billion dollars on TV and Radio Martí, the Cuban government has managed to effectively block the transmission signal, at least on the TV side. Viewership on the island is estimated to be a third of one percent. One study several years ago found that nine out of ten Cubans had never even heard of the channel."[12]

According to a January 10, 2007 episode of the news and commentary program Democracy Now!, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CRE) called for a congressional investigation into the legality of broadcasting Radio and TV Martí over commercial airwaves from southern Florida. The group states that the Bush administration has reached an agreement with two south Florida commercial Spanish-language TV and radio stations to broadcast the TV Martí program, which the CRE accuses the US government of illegally paying the station $200,000 to air the Radio Martí program daily for six months, citing that U.S law prohibits broadcasting of propaganda inside the country.

Democracy Now! went on to state that a senior TV Martí executive was indicted by federal prosecutors for providing kickbacks in trade for certain contracts and the inspector general '​s office has launched a review into the operations of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting which oversees Martí. In addition, the program indicates that Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt has also promised to hold hearings on TV Martí.[13]

Other critics consider the actual ineffectiveness to reach Cuban audience, the risk of the broadcaster's purposes for heavy budget-cuts and the fear of limited editorial independence in order to be manipulated by right-wing Cuban exiles and their political agenda for personal political gain.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Perry, Mitch (February 20, 2014). "Propping up the propaganda; What's the point of Radio and TV Marti?". Creative Loafing Tampa. 
  2. ^ a b Snyder, Alvin (January 4, 2007). "TV/Radio Marti Boost Their Volume to Cuba, Expanding Their Services". USC Center on Public Diplomacy. 
  3. ^ a b Nichols, John S. (September 11, 1993). "Pull The Plug On Politicized Radio Marti". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved June 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ Cold War Broadcasting Impact (PDF). Hoover Institution (Stanford University), Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. October 13‐16, 2004.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ "Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) Fact Sheet". Office of Cuba Broadcasting, International Broadcasting Bureau, Office of External Affairs. December 2001. Archived from the original on February 18, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d Fahrenthold, David (September 2, 2013). "Grounded TV Marti plane a monument to the limits of American austerity". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ Davalos, Gabriel (February 14, 2007). "Radio-electronic aggression of Cuba condemned". Granma. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. 
  8. ^ "US 'paid anti-Cuba journalists'". BBC News Online. BBC News. September 8, 2006. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "US Radio Bombing of Cuba Found Illegal". Prensa Latina. November 14, 2007. Archived from the original on November 19, 2007. 
  11. ^ Adams, David (February 15, 2009). "Time to scrap TV Marti, critics say". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved February 17, 2009. 
  12. ^ John Nichols (August 18, 2006). Straits Flush. Interview with Bob Garfield. On the Media. WNYC/National Public Radio. New York City. Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. 
  13. ^ Joe O’Connell, John Nichols, Joe García (January 10, 2007). Should State-Run Media Be Broadcast in the United States? A Debate on Radio and TV Marti Airing in South Florida. Interview with Amy Goodman. Democracy Now!. Pacifica Radio. New York City. 

External links[edit]