Everyone knows Cuba is a bastion of great music — but most people probably don’t consider Guantanamo Bay when they’re thinking of all that great Cuban sound. They definitely don’t think of the Navy base for having a good time rockin’ in Fidel’s backyard — which happens to be the slogan of the radio station on base.
The truth is, there’s an amazing collection of music in that remote corner of the island — and the Navy takes full advantage by playing all of the greatest hits by the original artists.
Radio GTMO houses an amazing collection of some 22,000 pieces of music — some on reel-to-reel tape and many others on vinyl — including a reel-to-reel of the Beatles anthology. The collection is valued at over $2 million and is carefully cataloged in alphabetical order on a series of index cards.
“I believe this is one of the largest, if not the largest, collection in the Armed Services Network,” Kelly Wirfel, base spokeswoman, told Military Times.
Though the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo has been in operation since 1903 (it’s the oldest overseas U.S. Navy installation), Radio GTMO has only been in operation since 1940. Unfortunately, Cubans outside of the base don’t get to hear the Classic Rock and Top 40 songs played by Radio Gitmo — the transmission signal stops at the base’s gate (Cubans get music and news from outside Cuba via another U.S. government entity — Radio Marti, run by the same folks who create Voice of America News).
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Cossel)
The radio station will still broadcast even its oldest vinyl records, even though Adrian Cronauer (a former Air Force DJ played by Robin Williams in the film Good Morning, Vietnam) says they belong in a museum. So, how did such a stash end up in a remote corner of Cuba? The reason for it is that the station never sent its analog collection back to the Armed Forces Network when it was all recalled in the 1990s in an effort to go digital.
Among the station’s other rare offerings are live performances by Chuck Berry, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and John Coltrane — among many, many others. It’s the third largest collection of music on any military base and the pearls of its collection rivals even the Library of Congress.