Radio Liberty: A tourist spot on the Spanish Costa Brava that has a secret Cold War past

Radio Liberty: A tourist spot on the Spanish Costa Brava that has a secret Cold War past

(CNN) – It is on March 23, 1959. Radio waves start to jam and broadcast begins: “Govorit Radio Svoboda” (Говорит Радио Свобода – “This is Radio Liberty speaking …”)

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, radio broadcasts from US-funded Liberty Radio have reached depth within the Soviet Union. This was an opening line for the entry of folklore into the Cold War.

What most of those who secretly secretly secreted could not have imagined is the unlikely location from which these programs came.

This quiet beach resort in Platja de Pals, SpainNestled between the Mediterranean and the greenery of pine groves and rice fields, making it an unexpected frontline for the Cold War, but that’s exactly the role it played for nearly half a century.

Here, about 150 kilometers north of Barcelona, ​​the rugged Costa Brava in Catalonia opens onto a large bay lining a long sandy beach, and is the ideal location for what was supposed to be one of the most powerful broadcast stations in the world.

Strategic location

In the mid-1950s, after nearly two decades of international isolation from the Franco Francisco Franco dictatorship, increasing tensions in the Cold War provided the background for a rapprochement between Spain and the United States.

In the context of the new Cold War, Washington was concerned with Spain’s strategic location. General Franco, himself a strong anti-Communist, was happy to oblige. In a historic deal, the United States was provided with a series of bases on Spanish soil, while Franco’s dictatorship would witness the restoration of its relations with the West.

One of the side effects of this new geo-strategic reality was setting up of Radio Liberty Radio in Pals.

From 1959 to 2006, this beach was home to 13 massive antennas (the largest being 168 meters high, or more than half the size of the Eiffel Tower). This place was favored not only because of the availability of space – the antennas were placed along a mile longline parallel to the beach – but also because it provided direct and unobstructed access to the sea. A physical phenomenon called tropospheric propagation of radio waves allows more travel through water.

Liberty radio antennas have disappeared but the transmitter is left.

Michael Ross

Beach broadcasting

Pals Station was part of the larger Radio Liberty network headquartered in Munich. The content was also produced in West Germany, translated into various languages ​​of the Soviet Union, and then sent to Pals for broadcast.

At its peak, about 120 people worked on the site, some of them American, but also quite a few locals. The radio station, virtually cut off from its surroundings, was a mysterious world beyond the borders. However, at the same time, the towering antennas of Radio Liberty, which were brightly lit at night, were always present on the horizon for many vacationers flocking to the nearby beaches every summer.

For decades Liberty Radio broadcasts were one of the few ways Soviet citizens had to get unsupervised news from abroad. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, then-President of the Soviet Union, He stated that Radio Liberty was the one that kept him informed What was going on during the coup attempt in August 1991, when he was briefly arrested at his summer residence in Crimea.

Out of air

However, this historic moment Gorbachev hinted that it is the song Swan Radio Liberty. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Pals facility lost its existence. It lasted until the 1990s, eventually closing in 2001.

This opened a public debate about what to do with the site.

Some have suggested turning it into a museum and preserving at least one of the antennas as souvenirs; Others wanted to get rid of it completely.

The last group finally prevailed – but only regarding antennas.

On March 22, 2006, five years after the final broadcast, the 13 antennas, with a total weight of 700 tons, were shot down in a controlled and simultaneous demolition.

As the antennas disappeared, the area they were standing in turned into a nature conservation area.

Decades of non-use

Today, most buildings within the vicinity of the radio station are still in place. Not enthusiastic about the elements and their exposure, especially the northern storms that strike this coast in winter, they collapse after nearly two decades of neglect.

The place has acquired a deteriorating side that is very familiar to those who have visited other deserted Cold War sites: the feeling of entering a time capsule.

This ambiance inspired the Catalan artist Marina Capdevila, known for her huge murals.

In the summer of 2018 she worked on the roof of the main building of Radio Liberty for 12 days. The result is an eye-catching color mural covering nearly 2,000 square meters of surface.

“When I discovered this place, I was surprised very quickly by its potential, by the ability to transform these abandoned and degraded buildings into something beautiful. My partner, who happens to be from the region, brought with him a small drone and this gave us an explanation of the idea of ​​doing something that can only be seen from Point of view “. “The work was hard in the middle of summer; we had to carry a lot of paint all the way to the surface. Fortunately I had other people helping me.”

One year later, the painting is still there, most of which can be enjoyed by birds. A final salute to this forgotten hotspot of the Cold War.

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