From Radio to Internet in Cuba / Dimas Castellano

Immediacy, a longstanding Cuban tradition in the introduction and democratization of scientific-technical advances in Cuba, had a memorable episode in 1922, when a string of inventions and discoveries in the nineteenth-century — the theory of electromagnetic waves from the British physicist Maxwell; the demonstration of the transmission of electricity in the form of electromagnetic waves by the German physicist Hertz; the development of transatlantic communication by Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi, among other advances — made it possible for the first radio station in the world to go on the air in Pittsburgh, USA, on November 2, 1920.

In Cuba, two years later, the lieutenant and deputy director of the Army General Staff Band and the creator of the criollo genre, Luis Casas Romero, after installing an amateur radio station, built the 2LC station, which went on the air with a signal played on a toy horn at the moment when Havana’s nine o’clock canon fired. At that moment 2LC began to transmit a bulletin on the weather, which was the first Cuban radio newscast.

Two months later, at 4 pm on October 10, 1922, the Cuban Telephone Company’s PWX station was officially inaugurated, airing from its towers a program on the anniversary of the Cry of Yara. That day, through a telephone line that connected the president’s office with transmitters in Aguila Street, Alfredo Zayas gave a speech in English addressed to the American people: the first remote control of the national radio broadcasting.

For the first time a head of state went to another country on the radio, an artistic program was transmitted from one country to another, transmission was established between two stations in countries separated by the sea, Cuban music was heard on a ship at sea and a danzón was danced to it in Ciego de Avila, 461 kilometers from the capital. The radio burst into life changing tastes, ideas and interpretations that accelerated social modernization. Cultural, labor, economic, political, scientific and sporting events arrived simultaneously to hundreds of thousands of Cuban homes and establishments, which even the illiterate enjoyed, though not the deaf.

The role played by the family of Luis Casas Romero was outstanding. Among other contributions, 2LC was the first station in Latin America that had a woman announcing the musical numbers, for which their daughter Zoila Romero, who read stories from 1923 in a program for children, is considered the first Latin American woman broadcaster.

In 1941, child auditions were aired by COC (the first shortwave mounted in Cuba) and on CMKC, Luis Angel, a grandson of Luis Casas, played the role of Pinocchio on the radio version. His son, Luis Casas Rodriguez, was visited by the American engineer E.D. Mille when he came to Cuba, who invited him to visit the PWX plant and he became part of the technical team that was sent to Key West to install the loudspeaker system connected to a receiver that brought the inaugurations of this station.

Based on the freedoms established in the Constitution of 1901, radio associations expanded from 1923 and stations multiplied to transmit alternative programs. Eight years after its inauguration, there were 61 radio stations in Cuba, proportionately higher than those in New York. The station 2EP opened, the first radio press, and Voice of the Air, the first radio newspaper. These data placed Cuba fourth in the number of radio stations, after the United States, Canada and Russia. In turn, the massive acquisition of radio receivers allowed in 1953, the year of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, meant that 80% of Cuban households had such equipment; so together with the press and television, the assault was known immediately across the nation.

The written press, which initially saw radio as a rival, ended in contacts between newspapers and radio. If it’s true that in 1931 radio broadcasts began of the journalism of the Parisian newspapers Le Figaro and Le Monde, it is also true that in 1923 2LC announced in the Cuba Herald that it would release breaking news hourly. On 2AZ the Diario de la Marina was the first newspaper to begin an informative news on the radio; in March 1925, the newspaper El Pais opened 2EO and late in 1932 the station CMBZ read what was published in the newspaper El Mundo.

With the Internet, officially inaugurated in October 1996 — more than ten years after its inauguration elsewhere — thetradition of immediacy and democratization was lost. The current constitution does not recognize rights and freedoms other than for the defense of the current political system.

Ninety years after the inauguration of radio in Cuba, Internet, the information superhighway network that is radically transforming conceptions of life, communications, information, space and time, is unavailable to the vast majority of Cubans. As are the thousands of radio stations that broadcast over the Internet, which we cannot listen to in this way because it is necessary to have a computer that supports audio formats and an affordable internet line.

These developments are occurring in Cuba just as the extent of the information highways around the world set the tone in a way, that prevents modern man living outside the new technique, which constitutes a mockery of the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action adopted at the Summit of the Information Society, held in 2003 in the Swiss city of Geneva and signed by the delegation representing the government of the Island there.

Cuba is the country in the Western Hemisphere with least connectivity to the web. Several studies have shown that the rate of network connectivity is even lower than for countries like Haiti. The number who access the Internet only reaches 1.6 million, a figure that does not exceed 14% of the Cuban population, not to mention that many of them are limited to an account that only allows state-controlled local intranet browsing.

In late 2007 it was reported that Cuba would connect with Venezuela through a fiber optic cable that would multiply by thousands of times theconnection capacity. However, nothing has been published in the media about the facility, which was finished about a year ago, demonstrating the willingness of the State to maintain a monopoly on information and making Cubans long for the days when radio began in Cuba.

Published in Diario de Cuba.

October 22 2012