Saturday, 16 September 2017

Argentine Annie and Radio Atlantico del Sur — A Comparative Study

The post was originally written in September 2017. It was revised in November 2017 and in October 2018.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Mike Barraclough, whose archives were particularly valuable when researching this post.

Note: I prefer to use the name Liberty rather than Argentine Annie, and you'll only see one further mention of the latter in this post (and that's in a footnote). In the remainder of this post I refer to the name of the Argentine radio station as Liberty and to its sole presenter (Silvia Fernández Barrio) as "Liberty".

Liberty v. Radio Atlantico del Sur

If you read a randomly-found article on the internet about Radio Atlantico del Sur there's a good chance that it will at some point mention Liberty/"Liberty" and say that it/she was Argentina's "version" of RAdS.

As the two stations are so often mentioned in the same breath, it's worth comparing them.

It's ironic that for many years more facts were known about some aspects of Liberty, which operated under a military dictatorship, than about Radio Atlantico del Sur, from democratic Britain.

Things we once knew about Liberty, but not about RAdS, included:
  • the real name(s) of its presenter(s)
  • the precise location of its studio
  • exactly how its programmes got from the studio to its transmitting station
The questions about RAdS's studio location and studio-transmitter link have now been addressed in posts on this blog.

But one thing we still don't know for sure about Liberty is its precise transmitter site, a question that is explored below. 

Liberty – Profile of a psychological operation

Summary: An English-language shortwave radio station broadcasting from Argentina during the April-June 1982 Falklands War.

Target audience: There were at least three targets: members of the British Task Force, civilian opinion in Britain and wider English-speaking audiences (including in the USA).

This multiplicity (and therefore confusion) of audiences was a major weakness, not least when it came to the technical targeting of Liberty's signal. The official Argentine news agency Telam on 6 June 1982 quoted a "reliable source" as saying that Liberty could not be heard in the Buenos Aires area because the beaming of its signal "ensured it reached the northern hemisphere with maximum strength".

But by that date, the Task Force had been in the southern hemisphere for many weeks.

This beaming of its signal to the north had the effect in Europe and North America of making Liberty often easier to hear than Radio Atlantico del Sur, which was beamed southwest from Ascension Island. And for British listeners, Liberty's evening broadcasts were more conveniently timed than those of RAdS, which did not come on the air until midnight UK time.

As a result, the content of Liberty's broadcasts is better documented than those of RAdS in English-language websites

Comparison: Radio Atlantico del Sur had a single target audience: Argentine forces in the Falklands.

Objectives: Again, Liberty had too many: to undermine morale in the Task Force, to influence British public opinion and to promote Argentina's cause in the wider world. 

Comparison: Radio Atlantico del Sur had just two simple objectives: to persuade Argentine troops to "hesitate before firing on British troops" and to "consider positively the benefits of surrendering". (These objectives were discussed in an earlier post.)

Operator: Argentine army intelligence. (Source: Interview with Fernández Barrio published in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion in April 2002, in which she added that army intelligence was in conflict with naval intelligence over her work. One is reminded of Radio Atlantico del Sur's own problems with squabbling between rival parts of the British government over its very existence.)

Outline of broadcasting operations: All broadcasts consisted of monologues by a single female presenter, interspersed with music. Fernández Barrio's La Nacion interview said the daily programmes (nominally 45 minutes long) were pre-recorded "very early" each morning in the studios of Radio Ciudad de Buenos Aires (owned by the city authorities and also known as Radio Municipal; it was, and still is, based at 1551 Sarmiento Avenue in central Buenos Aires). 

The tape was then taken by a police motorcyclist to the transmitting station to be put on the air. Each day's pre-recorded programme was given four airings in the afternoon/evening, Argentine time.

Comparison: All of Radio Atlantico del Sur's broadcasts went out live.

On-air identification and location: The female presenter never announced a formal station identification. She also never gave her name on air, only describing herself as "Liberty". [1]

Similarly, no specific place of origin was given. "Liberty" often said that she was "speaking to you from the heart of our Malvinas, Georgias and South Sandwich Islands", though this was probably not intended to be taken as literally as it has been by some radio historians. The latter have sometimes reported that "Liberty" claimed to be broadcasting from the Falklands themselves.

The confusion extends in some cases to confusing Liberty with LRA60 Radio Nacional Islas Malvinas, the name given by the invading forces to the island's radio service (the Falkland Islands Broadcasting Station) after they seized it on 2 April 1982. 

Means of transmission: The broadcasts were aired on shortwave. The most commonly heard frequency was 17740 kilohertz in the 16-metre shortwave band. This channel (high up the shortwave band) is much more suitable for the lengthy path from Argentina to Europe and North America than the much shorter distance to the Falklands. [2]

The transmissions came from an unconfirmed location, though it was without doubt in the Buenos Aires area. See the section below, "Where was the transmitter site?"

Staffing: Although under military direction, the all-civilian production team was managed by Enrique Alejandro Mancini (1931-2008), a prominent broadcaster and journalist.

After the war, the voice that had called itself "Liberty" was identified as being that of TV presenter Silvia Fernández Barrio (born 1952). 

A Google search will easily find photos of Fernández Barrio and her story continues to be told in the Argentine media  see for example this feature in April 2017. 

Still active in public life, as of October 2018 she had 122,000 followers on Twitter  @silviafbarrio. She is also subject to criticism by some other Twitter users for collaborating with the military dictatorship.

Both Fernández Barrio and Mancini were happy later to acknowledge their work on Liberty.

Hours of transmission: Each pre-recorded programme was given four airings: at 1800, 2000, 2200 and midnight GMT (1500, 1700, 1900 and 2100 Argentine local time; 1900, 2100, 2300 and 0100 British local time). The duration of the programmes varied between 35 and 50 minutes.

First broadcast: In contrast to Radio Atlantico del Sur, no announcement was made by Liberty's operators either before or after its launch. The first known documented reception was on 21 April, by British radio enthusiast John Hurn, but the station could have been on the air for a day or perhaps even two before then. [3] 

Liberty's daily broadcasts were covered by BBC Monitoring from 22 April. The first mention of Liberty in the Argentine media also came on 22 April, when the official news agency Telam carried a Madrid-datelined dispatch, reporting that the broadcasts were being heard in Spain. My guess is that this Telam report was a "plant" by Liberty's operators to publicise news of its existence.

Last broadcast: Liberty stayed on the air for more than a week after the Argentine surrender (14 June), though the broadcasts on 19 and 20 June were repeats of the 18 June programme.

A farewell programme went out on 21 June, with repeat airings on the following three days. A farewell programme in Spanish also went out on those days; they were the only occasions on which Liberty was heard to broadcast in Spanish.

Total number of broadcasts: Assuming that the first transmission was on 21 April, and allowing for the repeats in June, a total of 60 unique English broadcasts were made, and aired over the course of 65 days. 

ComparisonRadio Atlantico del Sur made 47 broadcasts, over the course of 28 days.

British counter-measures: 
Beyond mocking comments by officials in response to questions from the press, there were no specific British counter-measures. Contrary to some Argentine claims, Britain did not attempt to jam the station. 

There is no documentary evidence for the suggestion that Liberty's appearance was the trigger for the UK government to set up Radio Atlantico del Sur

Where was the transmitter site?

There are two obvious candidates:

The first is the Buenos Aires facilities of Transradio Internacional. This enterprise, established in the 1920s, was what we would now call a transmission services company. Its work was mainly carrying commercial radio traffic. 

In the above-mentioned 2002 interview with Fernández Barrio, she specifically named Transradio Internacional as the transmitting station used by Liberty.

However, an excellent Spanish-language article by Horacio A. Nigro Geolkiewsky, while noting the suggestion that Transradio Internacional aired the broadcasts, also cites a claim by Argentine radio historian Daniel Camporini that by 1982 this site had closed and was "a ruined field". 

So, two good sources giving contradictory versions!

The second candidate is the state broadcaster's main shortwave transmitting station in the Buenos Aires suburb of General Pacheco. 

The problem here is that is not clear that there were any free transmitters available at this site during the 1982 war. Another excellent reference source, the Transmitter Documentation Project, says there were only a maximum of three shortwave transmitters at the General Pacheco station. The same figure of three transmitters is given by the 1983 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook.

BBC Monitoring's records show that during much of the 1982 war all three transmitters were in use more or less around the clock carrying state radio's external service RAE and relays of various domestic stations. [4]

Is there a third possibility? An article by Don Jensen in the November 1983 edition of Popular Communications magazine reported that "Argentine broadcasting insiders" had confirmed that Liberty "broadcast from a secret transmitter at a military base in the northern part of that country".

I'm unconvinced. It seemed to listeners in Europe and North America that Liberty was aired by a reasonably powerful (50 or 100 kilowatts) transmitter operating in AM mode. Military communications facilities tend to have transmitters of lower power, and don't normally use the AM mode.

So, in the absence of other definitive evidence, the exact transmitting site used by Liberty must be considered unconfirmed.

Strengths and weaknesses

One of Liberty's strengths was that it came on the air relatively quickly – less than three weeks after the invasion. Meanwhile, Radio Atlantico del Sur wouldn't launch for a further four weeks. This was a major regret for RAdS's manager, Neil ffrench-Blake, who said in his memoirs that "we didn't have sufficient time to build up our credibility".

A serious weakness of Liberty was the technical quality of its transmissions. This was not their signal strength, which was often good. It was the quality of the audio.

Part of the problem was that "Liberty" consistently used a decidedly soft tone at the microphone, with her voice described as sultry, smooth and sexy. But such a technique is ill-suited to shortwave.

In contrast, Radio Atlantico del Sur's presenters spoke boldly and distinctly.

"Liberty" was also let down by her engineers. Whether it was a faulty microphone, tape recorder or transmitter, the signal put on the air sounded muffled and woolly. For those who remember the days of magnetic tape, it may have been something as simple as dirty or misaligned playback heads in the tape player at the transmitting station. 

Whatever the cause, on many occasions, although the signal was strong, and one got a clear sense of the tone of "Liberty's" messages, their precise content was impossible to make out. 

In the stock phrase of shortwave-era BBC Monitoring, there were an awful lot of "words indistinct".

Finally, as discussed above, there was the problem of Liberty's multiple target audiences. Attempting to target the British Task Force was far too ambitious as an objective, both in practical and psychological terms. Members of the British armed forces would have been immune to such Argentine influencing efforts. 


[1] "Liberty" also used a number of oft-repeated phrases about herself, notably (with minor variations): "I am a voice, a spirit, a country. I am now, as ever, a woman who is proud that the world listens when Argentina speaks."

[2] Throughout its life, Liberty used 17740 kHz in the 16-metre shortwave band (the frequency had drifted down slightly to 17738 by mid-June). Initially, perhaps for just a few days from 21 June, it was also using 25680 kHz (in the 11-metre band).

There appear to have been no confirmed reports of reception on 15110 kHz (in the 19-metre band), mentioned in BBC Monitoring's archives as a possible replacement for 25680 kHz.

[3] A number of press reports at the time (notably in newspapers published on 24 April 1982) cited Hurn as saying that he first heard the station on Thursday 22 April. However, a report in the 22 April edition of Hurn's local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post, quoted him as saying that he heard it the previous night, and it is certainly my own recollection that Hurn beat us at BBC Monitoring to this scoop.

The press reports of the time attribute Hurn with having named "Liberty" as Argentine Annie.

"Liberty" even sent greetings to Hurn ("dear John") in one of her early programmes. (Source: Mike Burden in the World DX Club's magazine Contact.) Hurn's story appeared in many newspapers around the world, so it's no surprise that "Liberty" had heard of him.

[4] Interestingly, this round-the-clock broadcasting started at more or less the same time as Liberty appeared. The Telam news agency reported on 23 April (i.e. perhaps only two days after Liberty started) that three shortwave frequencies would be used to relay Radio del Plata (on 11710 kHz), Radio Rivadavia (9690 kHz) and Radio Continental (6060 kHz) at certain times of the day, with RAE (Radiodifusion Argentina al Exterior) aired on all three channels during the rest of the day.

Disclaimer: I was employed by the BBC at the time of the 1982 war, and continue to be so. However, this is an entirely personal blog post, reflecting only my views.

© 2017-2018. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and any original source.

1 comment:

  1. As I said at that time, the Radio Liberty programs, in total 69, were recorded in one of the LS1 Radio Municipal studios and broadcast from the General Pacheco transmission plant. The frequencies were several to avoid jamming, but the 17740 kc / s frequency is always mentioned, but Argentina had at that time several shortwave frequencies that were not used but free for reactivation from any transmitter, for example, in that At that time the General Electric 100 Kw transmitter was able to use ten different frequencies.