Television in Cuba

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The first television broadcast in Cuba was in 1950, by the small radio station Union Radio, soon followed by other stations. The broadcasts featured sport, soap operas, news, cooking shows, and comedy. Censorship was imposed following the 1952 coup by Fulgencio Batista. Color broadcasting began in 1958.

Today, Cuba has five national television channels, one digital-only channel and a number of provincial channels, all under the control of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT).



Television arrived in Cuba on October 25, 1950.[1] In the 1940s, Cuba's two largest radio stations, CMQ and RHC-Cadena Azul, announced they would soon start broadcasting television. Since building TV stations and broadcast networks from scratch was extremely expensive and complex, it took longer than expected.

They were both beaten to the air by the tiny radio station, Union Radio. Gaspar Pumarejo, owner of Union Radio, built the new station in the Havana home and garage of a family named Mestre.[2] Pumarejo set the inauguration of his TV station for October 24, 1950, which was Journalists Day in Cuba.[1] After honoring the journalist, Cuba's President Carlos Prío Socarrás was shown mugging it up for the camera and playing the role of cameraman. After this event Union Radio's slogan became Union Radio, primera en televisión, primera en popularidad ("Union Radio, first in television, first in popularity"). Union Radio was quickly followed by CMQ, which began broadcasting December 18, 1950.[1]

Variety of shows[edit]

One of the first shows broadcast was coverage of Cuban Winter League baseball games.

"In late October, the station carried the first of what would be regular Cuban Winter League Baseball Games. A crew drove to the stadium in a remote-control truck. The broadcasts were beamed to the Mestre's house by microwave, where they were rebroadcast. Cameramen were positioned at first base and home plate. The station's third camera remained in the house until newsman Alberto Gandero finished his newscast. After the newscast, the third camera was carried to the stadium by taxi and positioned near third base."[1]

Soap operas ("telenovelas"), news, cooking shows, and comedy groups were shown. After Union Radio TV went on the air, Cuban demand for television sets soared. Luckily Cuban broadcasting coincided with a glut of sets in the US market. Despite the high cost, ranging $350 for a 16" set to $2,000 for a 30" set, the Cuban government's Imports and Exports Analysis Agency estimated that Cubans had imported more than 100,000 television receivers by 1952.[1]

Social and political aspects[edit]

From its inception, Cuban television played a huge part in the social and political fiber of Cuban life. Extensive discussions about television began to unfold in the radio and entertainment sections of Cuban newspapers and magazines in the year leading up to October 14, 1950, the day Union Radio TV became the first television station to broadcast in Havana.[3] Critics believed that US television set a level of excellence that they wanted to uphold. They believed the medium's primary purpose in Cuba would be to enhance the "high culture" education of the Cuban citizen.[3]

Censorship under Batista[edit]

On March 10, 1952 following Fulgencio Batista's successful coup, he sent for representatives of the media and imposed censorship. Though it was supposed to be temporary it wasn't until Journalists' Day, October 24, 1953 that the censorship was supposedly lifted. In truth the censorship became even harsher after Fidel Castro's July 26, 1953 attack on Moncada Barracks. Stations could be fined or shut down for various infractions. On March 14, 1953, CMCH-Radio Cadena Habana permitted a criticism of the coup. The station was immediately occupied by government soldiers.[1]

The media learned to operate within the parameters of the censorship. In late 1957, Circuito Nacional Cubano, a station purported to be secretly owned by Batista, broadcast a fictional program called El Dictador De Valle Azul. It starred Rolando Leyva as the rebel leader Taguary, who, with his group of men, roamed the Blue Valley and helped the people fight the valley's evil dictator in each episode. The comparisons with the dictator Batista and the rebel leader Castro were unmistakable. The government's failure to recognize the satire only made it appear inept as well as tyrannical.[1]

Moral censorship also increased under Batista. There was a move towards more family friendly broadcasts and less sexually provocative variety shows. In particular these were the rumba and mambo-inspired dances and more specifically the female dancers.[citation needed]

On March 19, 1958, Gaspar Pumarejo once more made history at the inauguration of TELECOLOR S.A., on Channel 12, transmitting up to 16 hours a day of color programming. It was a commercial television station with studios located in the brand new and central Hotel Habana Hilton - now Habana Libre, which used the US NTSC system.


The following is a list of all television stations in Cuba:

Provincial stations outside Havana[edit]

The United States Military has a television station to serve the troops at Guantanamo Bay:

  • NBW 8 (AFN), Military station of Guantanamo Bay


Daily listings appear in the newspaper Granma.

Weekly listings appear on the website of Juventud Rebelde.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Salwen 1994.
  2. ^ Pablo Sirvén (2013). El rey de la TV: Goar Mestre y la pelea entre gobiernos y medios latinoamericanos, de Fidel Castro a Juan Perón (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana [es]. ISBN 9789500745345.
  3. ^ a b Rivero 2007.


External links[edit]