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The radio that dodged the blockade of Gibraltar

Soraya Fernandez

The ‘Museo del Istmo’, La Línea presents its exhibition ‘The Radio that Dodged the Blockade of Gibraltar’, a unique opportunity to find out how two fraternal towns were able to keep in touch despite General Franco’s prohibitions.

Museo del Istmo exhibition
Museo del Istmo

A people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. With this in mind, the Municipality of La Línea has organised a varied program of events under the title “50 and let it not happen again” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the closure the frontier with Gibraltar.

The events start with an exhibition which is as surprising as it is poignant, even for those who lived through those years of isolation, separation and intransigence. It is “ The radio that dodged the blockade of Gibraltar”, a display organised with the Citizens’ Band Museum of San Roque which is run by journalist and radio enthusiast José María Yagüe.

The exhibition, which is open for an indefinite period at the Museum of the Isthmus, in the old military headquarters in La Linea, is one of those jewels crafted by passion and respect for a part of our most recent history so that it becomes engraved in the retina of the visitor.

Surprising content

Museo del Istmo exhibition
Museo del Istmo exhibition

Among the exhibits are the sort of transceivers used by radio hams at the time, walky-talkies, press cuttings and photographs which are all explained to visitors in information panels.

It has been no simple task for José María Yagüe to bring together all this equipment, old cuttings and old photos.

“It all came about from a desire to retell our own particular history, that of our very own Berlin Wall, in which David in the form of radio vanquished Goliath, the blockade by the Spanish State. There are many who know nothing of it and I thought that it needed to be told” says Yagüe.

Between 1969 and 1982 not only was transit by land cut, but also air travel and telecommunications between Spain and Gibraltar. At the time CB radio was banned and persecuted in Spain. Telephone lines were cut and travel from one side to the other was prohibited. The only means of breaking Franco’s blockade was CB radio. In the beginning there were few radio enthusiasts and up to about 1974 there were few radio transceivers and the ones that there were, were operated by a select few.

Museo del Istmo exhibition

The human drama inflicted by the closure of the frontier was enormous. Hundreds of families were separated, thousands of workers lost their jobs; broken dreams and a great deal of pain and rage descended on two fraternal populations which had enjoyed close family, cultural and social and economic links.

Radio transceivers became the only hope for those who wanted to communicate with loved ones on the other side of the frontier.

José María Yagüe explains how radio became the first great social network. There are no recordings of those conversations, only the memories of those who had them or listened to them like Yagüe himself: “I remember family chats, especially some in which recipes were exchanged”.

Walky-talkies rung in the changes

At the end of the 1970s the must- have presents for children were walkie-talkies which allowed users to communicate at a range of about 100 metres, which was more or less the distance between stretch of land between both sides of the frontier.

“Someone had the bright idea and soon families at both ends started using walky-talkies. The problem was that they were low quality and all used the same frequency so that there was interference. It was pandemonium. Then there came into the market, especially in Gibraltar, more powerful walky-talkies with more frequencies. That allowed people to talk to each other from a greater distance without having to stand close to the frontier fences.”

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