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Nervous Broadcasters Say Castro Hasn’t Fired Back - Yet

April 4, 1990

ATLANTA (AP) _ Radio broadcasters are increasingly worried that Cuba will retaliate for the U.S. propaganda channel ″TV Marti,″ especially since a warning shot three weeks ago that was heard as far away as Utah.

Radio station operators and engineers at this week’s National Association of Broadcasters convention have done much talking about TV Marti and, more specifically, about the threat that Cuba might jam U.S. radio broadcasts in retaliation.

It is widely believed that Cuba has radio transmitters capable of 1 million watts or more, 20 times the strength of the strongest U.S. AM stations.

TV Marti is broadcast from a balloon high above the Florida Keys, and is designed to beam a pro-democracy message into Castro’s Cuba.

Cuba has been jamming the Voice of America broadcasts since they started March 27 and Cuban President Fidel Castro warned Tuesday that any U.S. attempt to interfere with the jamming could lead to war.

He told reporters in Havana that TV Marti was a ″gross instrument of subversion.″

The warning shot that has broadcasters worried came on March 23, four days before testing of TV Marti began.

Federal Communications Commission monitors heard Cuban radio signals on six separate clear-channel frequencies on the U.S. AM radio dial, said Walter W. Wurfel, senior vice president of the NAB.

Half a dozen AM stations in Florida battled with the interference, and stations in Red Springs, N.C., and Donelson, Tenn., filed complaints, Wurfel said.

The interference even turned up in Salt Lake City, said John Dehnel, chief engineer at that Utah city’s clear-channel KSL-AM.

″It was definitely there, no question about it,″ Dehnel said. ″And we believe it was not their highest-powered transmitter.″

″Castro delivered his message,″ said Patrick Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters.

″If Castro fires up his AM radio transmitters, it poses a substantial potential to interrupt and cause interference to a lot of radio stations in the United States - perhaps 1,000 to 1,500,″ Wurfel said.

Broadcasters at an NAB seminar on TV Marti heard an example of apparent Cuban jamming, taken from KSL; it blended the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the unmistakable sounds of mariachi music.

President Bush asked the broadcasters Monday to ″stand for freedom″ and support TV Marti. But NAB President Edward Fritts said his group remains concerned about TV Marti interference and Cuban retaliation. He also complained that the administration refuses to allow broadcasters any input in the TV Marti testing.

″I have an AM station in Tampa that has been interfered with since Radio Marti began″ in the mid-1980s, said Michael Osterhout, president of Edens Broadcasting, which operates WRBQ-AM. ″We’ve had some minor interference at night.

″I just don’t believe this is a feasible way to get programming into Cuba. ... The system doesn’t seem to work.″

″We’re somewhat opposed to TV Marti,″ said Thomas L. Goodgame of Westinghouse Broadcasting, chairman of the NAB’s Television Board. The $22 million effort may not work anyway, and if the Cubans jam U.S. radio broadcasts, ″it’s definitely not worth it,″ he said.

So far, it appears that Cuba has left U.S. AM radio alone since the events of March 23. ″We are not aware of any specific, new interference to American AM broadcasters by Castro since the (TV Marti) tests began,″ Wurfel said.

Broadcasters also fear that the TV Marti transmissions might bleed over and disrupt Florida TV stations - chiefly in Tampa, where a station already broadcasts on channel 13, the same used by TV Marti, Wurfel said.

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