If you want to meet self-declared prophet James Lloyd in person, you have to drive twenty miles up winding dirt roads deep into the Oregon mountains. But there's no real need to make the trek. With the right equipment, you can hear his message anywhere in America.
The biblical soothsayer produces a seven-hour daily radio program called Christian Media Network in a converted barn a pebble's toss from the one-room cabin he calls home. On the show Lloyd and a few like-minded collaborators warn that corporations are "fascist," the church is "in bed with the Devil," grocery stores sell "poison," media and the government are "evil," and all of these knaves are conspiring to bring about our ruin.
Lloyd also tells listeners that former United Nations chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali is the Antichrist and that he'll take the organization's helm again by next November, ushering in a nuclear apocalypse.
In the late Nineties, Lloyd's show aired on FM stations in Fresno and Pensacola. But both dropped him when angry listeners began clogging their phone lines. So five years ago he moved the show to Radio Miami International (WRMI).
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The little-known local station is one of only four commercial U.S. shortwave broadcasters. All of them air a staggering mix of programs while flying beneath the radar of federal regulators. But WRMI's blend may be the most potent.
Over the past decade, CIA moles, Holocaust deniers, survivalists, white supremacists, fringe Christian sects, and an exiled president have beamed their messages from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego on its transmitter all for as little as a dollar a minute.
Such groups have continued to turn to shortwave even in the Internet age because it is scantly regulated and more difficult to jam than other media. It is also able to reach remote locales without the help of local service providers and relay stations. "Shortwave remains the only form of getting directly from the station to the listener," explains WRMI owner Jeff White. "And this means one thing: When everything has gone to hell and no other medium can get in, shortwave can."
It's 3:12 a.m. when White's royal blue Thunderbird rumbles up the road to WRMI's transmitter station on the western fringe of Hialeah. It's a low-slung, cinder-block building slathered with splotchy stucco and surrounded by overflowing garbage bags.
A bear of a man, White heaves himself from the car. Then he lumbers around to the back of the building. "This is the big antenna that goes south," he says, pointing toward a series of 60-foot-tall electrical poles arranged into a massive V and connected by a curtain of wires. "It creates a directional toward Barranquilla, Colombia."
White sweeps his arm left toward another antenna, a squat three-sided tower covered with a lattice of metal. "That one," he explains, "points toward Vancouver and takes in all of North America." When atmospheric conditions are right, he adds, the signal can be heard as far away as Europe and Asia.
With that, White heads back to the front of the building and unlocks the door. Inside, the place is cluttered with gutted machinery, stray wrenches, and rusty shovels. Black and orange cables snake over the linoleum floor.
In the center of the main room is a hulking metal cabinet. "That's the primary transmitter," White explains as he punches the cobalt blue start button.
The machine rumbles into action. And White scurries around, making last-minute adjustments. Then at 4:00 a.m. he clicks a play button on a computer perched near the entrance, and the morning's programming begins.
Finally he takes a deep breath, pulls a hanky from his pocket, and mops his brow. "I have no life but this," he says later. "I've been going to bed at midnight and getting up at 2:00 a.m."
This is hardly the existence White, now age 46, envisioned when he stumbled onto shortwave as a teenager in the early Seventies. An Indianapolis native, he was fiddling with his father's tri-band radio and found himself listening spellbound to the Voice of Germany in English. "I was living in this isolated Midwest town," he explains. "You didn't really have any international contact. But shortwave brought Berlin to my living room."
Before long, he was hooked. He spent hours a day listening to South Pacific music on Radio Tahiti, and Soviet propaganda on Radio Moscow. When Richard Nixon made his 1972 China visit, White tuned in to live coverage on Radio Peking.
By the late Seventies, White had become one of those voices sought by shortwave hobbyists worldwide. A radio reporter, he produced segments about Latin America for Christian Science Monitor Radio, the BBC, and Radio Netherlands. And he became something of a celebrity. Dino Bloise, a Dominican-born Broward County resident who spends 20 to 30 hours a week listing to shortwave, named his first son after White. "Jeff was simply the first name that came to my mind because I'd heard his voice so much," Bloise explains in Spanish. "To me he was like Peter Jennings."
In the mid-Eighties, White began branching out and doing research on shortwave listenership. Then in 1989, he caught wind that Jorge Mas Canosa and his powerhouse anti-Castro group, the Cuban American National Foundation, were looking to launch a shortwave radio program. So he contacted the CANF office and offered to help find them a transmitter.
Mas Canosa was the kingpin of expatriate broadcasting. He had been a commentator on the CIA-backed Radio Swan, which broadcast coded messages to invading forces before the Bay of Pigs in 1961. He was also instrumental in launching Radio Martí the U.S. government station that has lobbed shortwave sallies at Cuba for the past two decades and he chaired its advisory board. But he had only so much influence over its content. "Radio Martí has strict government guidelines about what kind of programs it can put on," White explains. "And the Cuban American National Foundation wanted a forum where it could promote its own agenda without limits."
White found Mas Canosa's program, Voz de la Fundación a spot on Radio Clarín in the Dominican Republic and the calls for anti-Castro revolt began. The following year White was approached by Diego Medina, propaganda director for Alpha 66 an organization that was, at the time, proudly bringing violence and mayhem to Cuban soil. White also helped Medina beam his appeals for bedlam directly to the island.
Before long, White was flooded with requests for airtime from prominent Cuban exiles who believed Castro's regime was on the verge of crumbling and that their words might nudge him toward ruin. At the time, most Cuban radios received shortwave.
White eventually teamed up with Voz de la Fundación's technical advisor Kiko Espinosa and two other partners to launch WRMI in June 1994. "Since then," says White, "just about anybody who wants to broadcast to Cuba comes to us."
WRMI's Cuban clients have spanned the gamut from the CIA-backed La Voz del Cid to Radio Roquero, which beamed heavy metal to the Caribbean isle. Castro's regime has responded to such fare by trying to jam the station. But WRMI's signals have continued to reach large swaths of the island.
Within months of WRMI's opening, right-wing extremists and radical Christian sects were lining up behind the Cubans to buy airtime. Most were seeking a platform where they could flog their conspiracy theories without interference. "These people think the government is trying to control everything," explains Glenn Hauser, who hosts World of Radio, a program focused on shortwave broadcasting. "They like shortwave because you pick the signal up directly from a transmitter, which means there's less chance for it to be controlled."
One of the first programs to air on WRMI was Voice of Freedom. The host, Ernst Zündel, penned books with titles like The Hitler We Love and Why. On his show he claimed that few, if any, Jews were killed by the Third Reich and that SS officers were poisoned by American and Israeli soldiers. White kicked Zündel off the air in 1995. "He was offending a significant number of people," White explains. "We decided it just wasn't good PR although we got almost as many comments from listeners saying we should keep him on as we did saying he should go."
Around the time Zündel left, WRMI picked up the Overcomer, a program produced by South Carolina cult leader R.G. Stair, which has aired sporadically on the station ever since. From his shortwave pulpit, Stair rails against gays and calls the pope "the great whore." He has also warned that a nuclear holocaust is looming, and urged listeners to sell their belongings and seek refuge at his 74-acre Walterboro farm. And many have.
Stair was followed by Pete Peters, who called for homosexuals to be executed; Mark Koernke, who believed the U.S. government was corralling people into concentration camps; and William Cooper, who said President Dwight Eisenhower had signed a treaty allowing aliens to abduct humans.
But none of their programs raised quite as much of a ruckus as Herald of Truth, hosted by Bob Hallstrom, a leading voice of the racist Christian Identity movement. One eight-part Herald of Truth series, called the Esau/Edom Connection, aired on WRMI several times over the years.
Hallstrom kicked off the first part by saying, "As we look at the kingdom of God, we need to understand that there is a war going on between God's people and God's enemies." He then spent the rest of the show plodding through arcane biblical passages.
Only later did it become clear that the enemy was, as Hallstrom once put it, "the satanic Cainite Jews and their ill-witted followers [who] lie to you, cheat you, and cloud your racial vision so that you fail to see the enemy that walks among you and ... afflicts you with all of your grief and woes...."
During the final Esau/Edom show, Hallstrom quoted from a volume called A Racial Program for the Twentieth Century, which details a plot by Jewish Communists to destroy America by helping blacks "rise in prominence" so they can "intermarry with the whites."
Hallstrom, who told listeners the book was written by a man named Israel Cohen in 1912, seemed unaware it was an anti-Semitic forgery. "Now I don't know about you," he groaned, "but I find that kind of blood-chilling."
Mike Hallimore, who leads the Christian Identity movement and directs Herald of Truth's production, says he turned to shortwave after trying out AM stations. "It's less expensive, and we're reaching more of our people," he explains. "We can also air our ideas openly, even if they're not PC."
Herald of Truth might still be on WRMI today if it weren't for James Lloyd the mountain-dwelling prophet who dubbed Boutros Boutros-Ghali the Antichrist. His show, which has been expanding for the past five years, pushed Hallstrom's program off in 2004. Today Lloyd's Christian Media Network airs seven hours a day five days a week, more than any other right-wing program in WRMI's history.
Lloyd himself hosts the flagship segment. Called the Apocalypse Chronicles, it runs three hours daily. The rest of the time is farmed out to other prophets, conspiracy peddlers, and paranormal buffs. Among them is Lloyd's wife, Susan, a college-educated geologist. When she isn't shoveling manure at their Oregon home, she hosts a program about unconventional healing techniques called Sound Body. "We're trying to give people an alternative to those fascist drug companies," Lloyd explains. "They don't want to heal. They just want to take your money."
White has never much liked the right-wing harangues that have become a staple of his programming. "We air a lot of commentaries we don't agree with," he says. "We're a commercial station. And we've never made that much money to begin with." In fact WRMI is often just able to cover its operating costs, which run about $20,000 per month. This is in part because, over the past decade, the price of airtime has dropped from about $30 an hour to a buck largely because of competition from AM stations.
As for the government-issue programs that initially drew White to shortwave, he airs those as filler when he can't find a buyer for a slot. Among them is Radio Netherlands' program Euroquest a quirky show reminiscent of This American Life which crackles across WRMI's airwaves each weekday at 8:00 a.m. The November 22 episode led with a piece about old public-service films that the British National Archives recently placed online. One from the Forties can best be described as Handkerchief 101. The protagonist is a sorry chump who guzzles beer expertly but can't manage to cough without showering his friends in saliva. So a kindly old chap with a prim British accent instructs him. "Close your eyes. Now handkerchief.... Sneeze!" he coaxes as his pupil hacks.
A Seventies film soundtrack instructs people how to survive a nuclear attack. "If anyone dies while you are in your fallout room," the narrator warns, "move the body to another room in the house, label the body with name and address, and cover it as tightly as possible...."
Euroquest is followed at 9:00 a.m. by The Tubridy Show from Ireland's international service, RTE, where the talk today revolves around the "hugging saint" who visited Ireland recently. "Fifteen thousand people queued up to hug her!" the host grouses. Then comes NewsLink from the Deutsche Welle the German international service which features a newscast and a pair of NPR-style documentaries: one about the country's outgoing chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the other about his replacement, Angela Merkel.
White would like to fill his airwaves with this kind of lively commentary, quirky features, and hard-hitting news. But he simply can't afford to do so. As he puts it: "The stuff I like doesn't pay."
In some cases the filler programs and the paying clients create jarring combos. At one point Radio Israel sat cheek-and-jowl with Jew-bashing Herald of Truth on WRMI's airwaves. And Vatican Radio aired alongside Catholic-loathers like the Overcomer. "Shortwave," says White, "makes strange bedfellows."
It's Saturday, November 12, at WRMI's headquarters, a tiny office tucked into the back of the drab Fontainebleau Park office park. Inside, the walls are plastered with maps and postcards from listeners. There's a shot of tourists atop the Great Wall of China, a foal grazing on rock-strewn Irish hills, a bee hovering over a Nicaraguan orchid.
Allan Gonzalez is sitting at a collapsable table in the cramped studio, three microphones perched in front of him. The soft-spoken, middle-age Peruvian looks as if he's just gotten out of bed. Sprigs of his dark hair poke over the frames of his clunky bifocals. And his rumpled gray shirt is only partially tucked into his pants.
Gonzalez comes every Saturday to record his show VIP Peru, which consists mainly of interviews with prominent compatriots. Today he tugs a phone card from his pocket and dials Fernando de la Flor Arbulú, Peru's ambassador to the Organization of American States. Arbulú answers and talks about what it would take for his nation to develop. His key suggestion: Increase access to the Internet. "We need an electronic revolution," he says. "The problem is the lack of political will to do things well in a country where there is so much corruption."
After ten minutes, Gonzalez hangs up, scribbles a few notes, and dials "Doctora Lucy," a Peruvian university professor. They discuss former President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan to evade corruption charges in 2000. This past November Fujimori tried to return to Peru, but police nabbed him in Chile. "It's a game," Lucy remarks. "He's trying to look like a political prisoner, when he's nothing more than a crook."
VIP Peru was founded six years ago by a Peruvian opposition party called Fuerza Democrática (Democratic Force). At the time, Fujimori was in office and had a stranglehold on the media. "We wanted to create something different, something credible," explains Gonzalez. "WRMI gave us the platform.... And it can be heard by people in the mountain and the jungle places where many Peruvian media don't go."
Fuerza Democrática has kept the program alive, though it has been a half-decade since Fujimori decamped. Gonzalez contends that's because the media still aren't free. "Now they're moved by money," he says. "Whoever pays gets covered."
Gonzalez's story is similar to those of many who have turned to WRMI over the years. In addition to pumping out far-right programs, the station has given voice to those who can't get their message in the media in their own country. Some of the nations targeted by White's station are remote. For the past several years, WRMI has partnered with a German company to help Somalians, Gambians, and Maldivians beam messages home.
But most expatriate clients have been from Latin American and Caribbean countries. Among them: former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who enlisted the Miami station to beam his three-hour daily program back home while was living out his exile in Washington, D.C., during the early Nineties.
Such people turn to WRMI because it reaches Latin America and the Caribbean better than other commercial U.S. stations WWCR in Nashville; WBCQ in Monticello, Maine; and WWBS in Macon, Georgia. Latin America is home to 13 million shortwave listeners, according to BBC research. That's approximately four times the number of North Americans who are tuning in. But it's a marked decline from decades past, when the region was dominated by dictatorships that cracked down on indigenous media.
Of course, there is one Latin American country where the media remain firmly in the government's grip: Cuba. And many of WRMI's shows continue to target the island nation.
A handful of them are recorded on Saturday, along with Gonzalez's show. First comes Conversando Entre Cubanos, produced by the Club of Ex-Political Prisoners. The three dapper hosts huddle around the collapsable table in the recording studio, thumbing through piles of crumpled notes and roaring their anti-Castro tirades.
Among them: Teresa de Cuadra, who reels off a list of grisly suicides that have taken place in Cuba. One man, who threw himself from a sixteenth-story window, left a note that read, "I killed myself because Castro deceived me," she says.
When the Ex Club's half-hour studio stint is done, the Voz del Escambray hosts, who have been lolling around the waiting room and sipping coladas, filter in. Aged veterans of the first armed uprising against Castro, they begin by playing a cassette of their deceased leader, Evelio Duque, a gravelly-voiced man who calls on the Cuban military to turn weapons on Castro and "put things in their proper place."
Such shows are the relics of an era when any Cuban exile organization with a political agenda and a few dollars put a show on the air. Over the past few years, many such shows have disappeared. Even Voz de la Fundación, the Cuban American National Foundation program that long dominated WRMI's airwaves, is gone. It went off the air without notice in 2001.
Perhaps these radio renegades realized their messages were missing the target. At least half of Cuban homes still have at least one shortwave radio set, according to Graham Mytton, former head of audience research for the BCC. But only about three percent of the adult population actually tunes in during any given week.
This is in part because the Internet has helped break Castro's lock on information (although he has recently begun trying to block it). And in many areas of the island, people can pick up stray signals from U.S. television and FM radio stations. This provides a lively alternative to the exiles' dry harangues.
John Nichols, a Penn State professor and Cuban broadcasting expert, likens the situation to that of Fidel Castro's ragtag guerrilla army in 1957. They had scant funds, rickety weapons, and little to eat. But they decided they needed a propaganda operation. So they bought a shortwave transmitter and launched Radio Rebelde. This changed the way the guerrillas operated entirely, because instead of roving through woods, they had to establish a base camp. Then, when the station had been on the air for a few weeks, someone came up with the idea of taking a receiver into the field to check the signal.
It couldn't be heard at all. "That's the way it is with many of these broadcasts," concludes Nichols. "They jimmy the troops and help raise money. That is, they've tended to do far more for the sender than the receiver."
But it's not quite time to sound the death knell for shortwave broadcasts to our southern neighbors. This past October the Czech government enlisted WRMI to air Radio Praga, the Spanish-language version of its international service. A key goal of its programs some of which are delivered in Czech-accented Spanish is to send pro-democracy messages to Cuba.
And around the some time, an anti-Castro group called Directorio Democrático Cubano launched a show called Radio República. It airs ten hours a day Monday through Friday. That's two more hours than former heavyweight Voz de la Fundación at its peak.
Radio República is broken up into a number of segments. Among them: Libro Prohibido, which features readings from banned books; Secillamente Mujer, which offers cooking and parenting tips; and Despierta Cuba, a hip morning show that explores all things cultural. One episode featured a tour of the Louvre; another, Miami Book Fair International. And the talk is spiced with rousing music that blends Afro-Cuban riffs with hip-hop, electronica, and R&B.
The one Radio República segment that concentrates exclusively on politics is Alternativa. But it's a far cry from the majority of exile-hosted political programs. "They don't call on people to burn fields or put sugar in gas tanks," explains White. Instead the talk revolves around topics like "Democratic Marxism" and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. "We believe in a nonviolent struggle where you never cut off dialogue with your opponent," says host Orlando Gutierrez, who also heads the staff of Directorio Democrático.
Gutierrez and company hope this fresh format may draw back some of the Cuban shortwave listeners who have trickled away over the years. Nichols of Penn State believes there's a chance they might succeed. "A message like that might carry better with the Cuban youth," he says. "Perhaps it could even make shortwave relevant again."
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