Radio Swan

swan island


R Swan front

Note the return address; we had to use a prepared postcard to get this one.
R Swan back

the guano paradise, the cia and the bay of pigs…

If you were listening to shortwave or DXing the mediumwave band c.1960, the station of the day was Gibralter Steamship Company's Radio Swan on a guano-based island in the western Carribean near Honduras. The station broadcast both on SW 6000 kHz and MW 1160 kHz. As we all now know, the station was operated by the CIA. Toward the end of 1961 the station changed its name to Radio Americas and remained on the air until May 1968.

On our QSL above, note the use of 6000 kHz, now used by Radio Habana Cuba. Was Horton Heath a real person? I don't remember, but since it was a CIA front…

Swan IslandA media story -- contents unknown to us -- appeared in April 2000, and we had inquiries to delve into our archives. Other than a verification card, nothing was found. Do you have pictures? Let us scan and post them here. Or do you have bookmarks to other Radio Swan sites? A search of the Internet in 2000 turned up the following Web sites.

Recommended reading if you can find it in a library, an old book shop or the internet: The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, Random House, 1964, Library of Congress Catalog Number 64-17933. Chapter 24, "CIA's Guano Paradise", details the history of Great Swan Island (with its three coconut palm trees) and Little Swan Island. Fascinating stuff.

History Timeline

Compiled by Greg Robins

If you have information on or stories or photographs, personal experiences,et al, with uninhabited islands around the world, Greg Robins would like to hear from you. Please e-mail him directly.

The Swan Islands were first visited by Columbus during his forth voyage to The New World but, since no fresh water was found on the islands, they were mostly bypassed and forgotten.
The islands were originally christened Islas de las Pozas by Columbus but, are re-named after a Captain Swan, a pirate known to frequent the area.
Two Cayman islanders named Alley and Page made the first attempt to settle the islands. They harvested enough timber from Great Swan to build a ship, which they christened "Champion" and sailed it back to Grand Cayman. Unfortunately, it sank during the Hurricane of 1876 and they never returned.
Another Cayman islander named Samuel Parsons attempted to claim the islands by placing upon them a number of goats which, over time, multiplied and eventually formed quite a large heard. This was a marked improvement over the efforts of Alley and Page but, when Parsons returned to the islands several years later, he found them occupied by an American phosphate company and all of his goats eaten by the miners.
Much to the dismay of Mr, Parsons, the U.S. Congress passes the Guano Islands Act of August 18th, 1856 and the islands are claimed the following year by the United States.
» As a result of this new legislation, the Swans were promptly "rediscovered" in April of this year by John Valentine White. White was the first to report the existence of guano on the islands and filed his claim with the U.S. State Department.
» Shortly thereafter, In an affidavit dated June 16th, 1857, White conveyed all rights, title, and interest in the islands to Charles Sterns, Joseph W. Fabens, and Duff Green, who later incorporated under the name Atlantic and Pacific Guano Co.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of White's discovery, the U.S. Navy detailed Lieutenant George T. Sinclair and a chemist, Thomas Walter, to survey the deposit in 1858. They estimated that these two tiny islands, which barely cover 3 square miles in area, would yield in excess of 3 million tons of guano.
The New York Guano Co. acquires the rights to the islands and secures title by posting a bond with the State Department on December 30th, 1862.
American ornithologist, Charles Townsend becomes the first naturalist to visit the islands and discovers the White- banded hutia living on Little Swan.
On July 1st, 1902, the islands come into the possession of Albion Chemi Co.
» In the early part of this year, Albion Chemical becomes insolvent so it directs its agent, Alonzo Adams to abandon the islands.
» On February 3rd, Adams did as he was instructed by physically removing all the inhabitants from the islands.
» Realizing the islands were now unclaimed and unoccupied, Adams returned the next day taking formal possession for himself alleging "the discovery, occupation, and possession, of the said Swan Islands. in the name of the United States."
On November 27th of this year, Adams conveys his rights to the Swan Is.Commercial Co.
The U.S.S. Wheeling visits the islands and, in a letter dated November 2nd, 1911, the commanding officer states that the guano deposit had become depleted and that the Swan Is. Commercial Co. was now raising coconuts on the island. He also reported that United Fruit Co. was buying the coconuts and owned a small plot of land on Great Swan from which they operated a radio transmitter.
Great Swan becomes an official U.S. weather station.
» Honduras puts forward a claim to the islands viewing them as a symbol of Yankee imperialism.
» Having little upon which to support their position, however, the Honduran government based its entire argument on the ridiculous assumption that since the islands were originally discovered for Spain, they should belong to the closest Spanish speaking country.
» The claim is recognized by the United States but denied.
Northern cardinals are introduced to Great Swan.
On September 27th, Hurricane Janet devastates the islands.
On the heels of the hurricane, housecats are accidentally introduced to Little Swan bringing the White-banded hutia to the brink of extinction.
» A mysterious development takes place on the islands after they are purchased by the little known Gibraltar Steamship Co. from New York. The Gibraltar Steamship Co. suspiciously owned no steamships but wasted little time in setting up a 50,000 watt radio transmitter on Great Swan.
» All questions were answered about this puzzling turn of events only after the transmitter became operational and the Gibraltar Steamship Co. began blasting anti-Castro propaganda 350 miles to Cuba.
» It quickly became obvious that the Gibraltar Steamship Co. was, in fact, a front for the American CIA.
» Swan Radio, as it became known, regularly called Castro and his lieutenants "pigs with beards" and accused Castro's brother, Raul, of being a "homosexual with effeminate friends." In rebuttal, Havana could only call Swan Radio, "a cage of hysterical parrots."
» Swan Radio also broadcast coded messages prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 but, apparently, interrupting Tito Puente songs with messages like "Look well into the rainbow… The fish will rise very soon… Chico is in the house, visit him" aroused more than just casual suspicion.
» After the assault failed, Swan Radio was phased out and the island went back to weather reporting.
» In an attempt to make good on the Honduran claim and rescue the islands from their Yankee captors, a boat load of angry students set sail from the mainland with the intention of planting the Honduran flag on Great Swan. This potentially tense international incident was quickly diffused only after the students were invited ashore for sandwiches and beer and allowed to raise their flag. The Americans stationed on the island were, of course, invited to attend the ceremony and afterwards, graciously hosted the ensuing victory party.
» Satisfied they had accomplished their mission, the students then said good-bye to their new-found friends and happily sailed home.
The United States eventually relinquished the islands to Honduran President Ramone Ernesto Cruz, who while raising a glass in a victory toast, implied, in his most serious tongue-in-cheek tone, that it was wise for the United States to give up the Swans voluntarily or otherwise he would have resorted to force.
The C.I.A. and other covert government agencies, use the islands as a secret training facility for Nicaraguan Contras.
Honduran president, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, proclaims the islands a protected wildlife area.
Hurricane Mitch passes directly over the islands.

Swan Island (c) Greg Robins
Image © 2000-01 Greg Robins & UnhabitedIslands.com

Greg Robins writes this picture is "… one that I took in [February] 1996. As you can see, the main compound is visible in the right center of the picture and the United Fruit plot is more clearly visible as the overgrown green "square" in the lower right corner. One of the main buildings on the plot is also partially visible. The long brown buildings in the area where the "chapel" used to be are stable-like structures with stalls used for storage."

More Swan History