by Jeff White

October 30, 2002
As most shortwave listeners and broadcasters are aware, Cuba has one of the highest shortwave listenership rates in the Western Hemisphere. This is because the domestic Cuban media are all government-owned, and Cubans are seeking independent news and information from outside the island. In addition, religious/evangelical broadcasting is not permitted on domestic Cuban media, so Cubans often listen to foreign shortwave stations for religious programming.

There have been many press reports in recent months about the efforts of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to distribute shortwave radios in Cuba free of charge. This has caused diplomatic flaps between the U.S. and Cuba because these radios can be used to hear the U.S. Government's Radio Martí broadcasts. There was even some speculation that these radios might be fix-tuned to Radio Martí frequencies. But none of the dozens of press reports has given much technical information about the receivers, so we decided to find out for ourselves.

A source at the U.S. Interests Section, which operates out of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, has confirmed to WRMI that the radios being distributed are Chinese-made Tecsun brand, model R9701, which come with "external antenna, earpiece, batteries and battery charger." Some investigation on the Internet reveals that Tecsun has a marketing office in Hong Kong. The manufacturing plant is somewhere in China, and it also makes
certain models of shortwave radios for the well-known German company Grundig. As with most Chinese-manufactured shortwave receivers, there have apparently been some quality control issues with certain Tecsun products, but it is likely that Grundig is fairly demanding in that respect.

The model R9701 has AM, FM and seven shortwave bands. A photo on the company's website (www.tecsun.com.cn) showed the radio, but it is not clear enough to distinguish the exact coverage of the seven shortwave bands. It is clear, though, that the radio covers most of the major shortwave bands. The R9701 has analog readout, is dual conversion and measures 115 x 75 x 29 millimeters. It uses two AA batteries and has an earphone jack. The website does not mention a price, but an Oct. 23 article in USA Today indicates that the radios cost $10 each, and that the U.S.
Interests Section
has distributed more than 1000 of them so far. The U.S. Interests Section told WRMI that "we are not locked in on this model and may be receiving others in the future," which seems to indicate that they intend to continue giving away radios on the island.

While the Cuban government has criticized the U.S. for distributing the radios (and in fact has threatened unspecified consequences if the U.S. does not quit distributing them), the U.S. Interests Section points out that these radios are not fix-tuned to Radio Martí frequencies; they can be used to hear shortwave stations from all over the world, including Castro's own Radio Havana Cuba. And they have AM and FM bands to pick up all of the local Cuban government-owned stations.

The Tecsun R9701 is obviously a simple, cheap shortwave receiver, but for listeners in Cuba who are struggling to get information from abroad, something is better than nothing at all. These radios will literally bring the world to Cuban listeners, and while the main objective of the U.S. Interests Section may be to get people to listen to Radio Martí or the Voice
of America, clearly all shortwave broadcasters who target Cuba will benefit from the distribution of these radios.

Jeff White is the General Manager of WRMI "Radio Miami International". Thanks to Jeff for permission to post this article.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This isn't the first time shortwave radios have been given away by a government agency or non-governmental organization. Most recently radios were given away in Afghanistan. Glenn Hauser reports in DXLD #2005 via UPI article that Kchibo KK-12 were given away by the International Organization of Migration in Afghanistan, a non-governmental organization with close relations to the United Nations. The Kchibo KK-12 is not listed on their web page. Perhaps it was the Kchibo KK-9912L? or something similar.



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