Monday, August 10, 2009

Radio Stations and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Below is the abstract from the first paper I wrote in 1994, while a master's student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, about the use of commercial radio stations and the 1962 missile crisis. Also included is a narrative listing of the stations that were asked to participate by the government. KAAY was the only one that voluntarily became a part of this radio network, in order to get the United States point of view to the Cuban people. This is a heck of a story, and the research allowed me to speak with several key Kennedy administration officials, some of whom are now dead. They included Donald M. Wilson, deputy director of the United States Information Agency, under then-director Edward R. Murrow. Wilson acted as the agency head during the crisis, as Murrow was recovering from lung surgery, although he was aware of the efforts. Another key figure was Pierre Salinger, press secretary for President Kennedy. Still another was Henry Loomis, director of the Voice of America. Only Wilson is still living presently. I interviewed everyone but Murrow in this aforementioned group.




By Richard C. Robinson

This study focuses on a little-known event that happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The United States Government, through its United States Information Agency, asked commercial radio stations throughout the country to broadcast Voice of America programs to Cuba in Spanish. Broadcasting began with the speech by President John F. Kennedy on October 22, and continued from late-night until dawn each evening for a period of more than three weeks. Examination of previous literature revealed little on this subject.

The study was conducted utilizing a number of sources. They included the World Wide Web, newspaper accounts, government publications, oral history transcriptions, books and interviews. Research revealed that this was the first time in the history of the United States that the government utilized commercial broadcast media for propaganda purposes. Government used a number of methods to provide the official point of view of the United States to the people of Cuba, both prior to and during the period of crisis. Even though some publicity was generated about the effort, apparently most of the people in the United States were not aware of persuasive techniques employed by their own officials.

The findings raise a number of questions about news media. President Kennedy was criticized for his "manipulation of the media" during this period. While Kennedy and U.S. officials praised the radio stations for their help and "patriotism," there should be concerns over how a democratic government can issue official propaganda messages through "free market" media outlets. This study could serve as a historical reference for future research about government control and media manipulation.


That Monday night (when President Kennedy spoke to the American and Cuban peoples) nine stations, including two commercial shortwave stations, WRUL in New York, New York, and KEGI in San Carlos, California participated in the broadcast efforts for the government (Sorensen, 1968. New York Times, 1962).

Seven commercial medium wave stations carried the president's speech that evening. They included stations WGBS, WMIE, and WCKR in Miami, Florida; WSB in Atlanta, Georgia; WCKY in Cincinnati, Ohio; WKWF in Key West, Florida; and WWL in New Orleans, Louisiana. An eighth station -- KAAY in Little Rock, Arkansas -- joined the network on Wednesday (October 25, 1962), and began broadcasting the Voice of America programs from 11 p.m. until dawn, the period when their signal reaches into Cuba. KAAY asked to join the network ("U.S. Blanket of Words...", Kansas City Star, October 26, 1962).

This was the first time in history that private radio stations in the United States had cooperated with the government to broadcast programs from its own propaganda agency to a foreign country (USIA, 1983).

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