The Island Called Antigua in the Caribbean

Dickenson Bay beach, Antigua. By Paul Kowalow – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

The island called Antigua is the main island of the independent Commonwealth mini-country in the Caribbean that is identified under the twin title as Antigua and Barbuda. These two islands are located in the northern cluster of the curved row of islands that mark the eastern edge of the Caribbean, and their European colonial heritage was from the Spanish, followed by the English. They gained their independence from Great Britain in 1981, and English is their official language.

Antigua & Barbuda Location Map

As has been the case with a large number of other (and smaller) countries throughout the world, amateur radio provided the first form of program broadcasting in Antigua. In May 1939, shortwave listeners in the United States reported the reception of a series of music programs on 7120 kHz from amateur station VP2AE in the national capital, St. John’s. Nevertheless in spite of their foray into program broadcasting, it is reported that station VP2AE (ex VP2AD) “refused to confirm reports of reception”.

Three years later another shortwave station was reported on the air in Antigua, and we would classify this station as a clandestine operation. Radio Antigua on 7 MHz was noted by the high profile international radio monitor Roger Legge (and others also) in the United States during the first four or five months in the year 1942. This is what happened.

During the first weekend in September 1939, war erupted on continental Europe when Germany attacked Poland, and they then attacked several countries in western Europe. France surrendered to German forces in June of the next year (1940), and the southern half of France became somewhat autonomous under the Vichy government leadership. This placed French colonies around the world in a difficult quandary: Should they be loyal to the informal Free French government in London, or to the officially independent (though in reality the collaborationist) government in Vichy?

1939 QSL from amateur station VP2AD, Antigua.
SSA QSL Archives, courtesy of SM6JSM

The two major French colonies on the eastern edge of the Caribbean, Martinique and Guadeloupe, initially chose to follow the line of leadership with the Vichy government. The United States thus became increasingly concerned about the protection of the Panama Canal.

Then to further compound these international political circumstances, the Japanese naval air force attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii on Sunday morning December 7, 1941. Next day the United States declared war against Japan, and four days later again on December 11, (1941), Germany announced a declaration of war against the United States.

Next month, in January 1942, a new shortwave station which identified itself on air as Radio Antigua was noted in the United States with programming in French (and occasional English) that was directed towards Martinique and Guadeloupe. Each broadcast lasted only about 20 minutes, beginning at 5:00 pm on a variable 7 MHz frequency, ranging between 7060 kHz and 7073 kHz.

The fact that an amateur shortwave channel was in use, and that the transmitted signal varied at times a total of at least 13 kHz would indicate that an amateur transmitter was in use, and that this Radio Antigua was not a professionally operated shortwave station. The authoritative Roger Legge stated that the station was presumed to be located on Antigua Island, and he declared also that the station propagated a strong signal at his home in the eastern United States.

So we could ask the question: Where was this clandestine radio station, Radio Antigua, really located? On air announcements indicated, on Antigua Island. A strong propagation into the United States could indicate a saltwater pathway from Antigua, though the strong signal might also mean that it was actually located in the United States.

The BBC and Deutsche Welle jointly owned a relay station on Antigua from 1976 to 2005. It operated under the name The Caribbean Relay Co. Ltd.

It would be suggested that there was no way that local resources amongst the small English speaking population on Antigua Island could assemble and broadcast a daily news bulletin in French back then. Likewise it is probable that these broadcasts did not emanate from the Spanish speaking American island of Puerto Rico. Perhaps the French broadcasts from Radio Antigua originated in the United States, with the usage of amateur equipment in a cover up pretense fashion.

Interestingly (the late) Roger Legge was associated back then in Washington DC with the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, and subsequently with the Voice of America, under the legendary George Jacobs. Roger was the international radio monitor who released the information about Radio Antigua to the radio world, so perhaps he had some inside information that has never been revealed. The French broadcasts from the station called Radio Antigua were jammed quite frequently, and we would suggest that the jamming transmitters were located on Martinique, where Radio Martinique was already a well known shortwave operation.

As a postscript, we should mention that subsequent to the broadcasts of Radio Antigua, the United States began preparation for an invasion of Martinique as part of an overall plan to protect the Panama Canal. However the Vichy leaning government leadership on Martinique indicated that they were not supporting any form of European collaboration on their island, and so the planned invasion was cancelled before it was implemented.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of October 31, 2021

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