Radio Freedom: Tourist hotspot in Spain’s Costa Brava hides Cold War history

(CNN) – March 23, 1959. Radio waves are cracking and broadcasting begins: “Govorit Radio Svoboda” (Говорит Радио Свобода – “This Radio speaks Liberty …”)

Radio broadcasts of Radio Liberty, funded by the USA, from the other side of the Iron Curtain, have reached the depths of the Soviet Union. This was an opening line to enter the Cold War folklore.

What most of these hidden settings cannot imagine is not where the streams come from.

This quiet beach resort of Platja de Pals, SpainTucked between the Mediterranean and the greenery of pine gardens and rice fields, it creates an unexpected Cold War frontline, but this is the role it has played for almost half a century.

At this point 150 kilometers north of Barcelona, ​​Catalonia’s rugged Costa Brava opens to a large bay covered with a long beach, which is the perfect place to become one of the world’s most powerful broadcast stations.

Strategic location

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

In this new Cold War context, Washington was interested in Spain’s strategic position. General Franco, a loyal anti-communist himself, was happy to be obliged. In a landmark deal, the United States was provided with a number of bases on Spanish territory, Franco’s dictatorship would see their relationship with the West reestablished.

The establishment of Radio Liberty’s broadcast station in Pals was a side effect of this new geostrategic reality.

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From 1959 to 2006, this beach hosted 13 large antennas (the largest is 168 meters high or more than half the Eiffel Tower). This point was chosen not only because of the availability of the area – the antennas were placed on a line parallel to the shore, but also because it provides direct and unobstructed access to the sea. A physical phenomenon called tropospheric propagation makes it possible for radio waves to move more on water.

Radio Freedom, Costa Brava, Spain

Radio Liberty’s antennas are gone, but the transmitter remains.

Miquel Ros

Broadcast by the beach

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

At the summit, about 120 people worked, some Americans, but also a few locals. The radio station was a mysterious border world, though physically detached from its surroundings. Still, the rising antennas of Radio Liberty, brightly lit at night, are always evident for many vacationers flocking to nearby beaches every summer.

The broadcasts of Radio Liberty were several ways for Soviet citizens to receive uncensored news from abroad for decades. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, stated that he had Radio Freedom informing him What happened during the putsch attempt in which he was briefly detained at his summer house in Crimea in August 1991


However, this historic moment turned out to be Gorbachev’s swan song by Radio Liberty. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Pals plant lost its reason for existence. He was a soldier in the 1990s, but was finally closed in 2001.

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This started a public discussion about what to do with the site.

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

The second group finally prevailed – but only when it comes to antennas.

On March 22, 2006, five years after the last broadcast, about 700 tons of 13 antennas were reduced to a simultaneous controlled demolition.

When the antennas were gone, the area where they once stood was turned into a nature reserve.

Decades of use

Today, most of the buildings within the perimeter of the radio station remain in place. They are dismantled and exposed to elements, especially to the galleries in the north, which whip this beach in the winter, they crumble after almost twenty years of inactivity.

The place has acquired a dilapidated aspect that is very familiar to those visiting other abandoned Cold War regions: the feeling of stepping into a time capsule.

This atmosphere inspired Catalan artist Marina Capdevila, known for his large murals.

In the summer of 2018, he worked on the roof of Radio Liberty’s main building for a period of 12 days. The result is an eye-catching, colorful, mural that covers an area of ​​about 2,000 square meters.

“When I discovered this place, I was very surprised by its potential for its potential to turn abandoned, rotting buildings into something beautiful. My wife from the region brought a small drone with her, and this came to us the idea of ​​doing something that could only be seen from a bird’s eye view,” explains Capdevila. “It was a difficult task in the middle of summer; we had to carry a lot of paint up to the roof. Fortunately there were other people who helped me.”

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A year later, the painting is still there, mostly for the birds to enjoy. One last respect to this forgotten Cold War hotspot.

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