This special Veterans Day edition of Off the Beaten Path salutes veterans who served in the military’s broadcast arms.
Armed Forces Radio/AFRTS
The Armed Forces Radio & Television Service dates from 1942 when the U.S. military determined that folks in the military needed “a touch of home.” Since then many broadcasters have gone through the ranks of AFRTS (from Adrian “Good Morning, Vietnam” Cronauer, to Pat Sajak, to many of my own friends ... and even me). Training to become a “DINFOS trained killer” happens in the Defense INFOrmation School after enlisting in one of the service branches. There are also civilian positions but most people on the air (radio & TV) in the military are enlisted. Here’s a great Web site on the history of AFRTS (which some know under the regional names: AFN: Armed Forces Network — Germany; FEN: Far East Network; EBS: European Broadcast Squadron; AFVN: Armed Forces Vietnam Network; AFTN: Armed Force Thailand Network; and others past and present).
Goooood Morning, Vietnam!
One of the best “advertisements” for those not familiar with Armed Forces Radio came with the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam” with Robin Williams playing the real-life AFVN DJ Adrian Cronauer. When I worked for AFRTS in the 1980s, I asked an “old timer” who was still in the Air Force and had served in Vietnam about the network, Cronauer and the people. His stories painted a picture more grim than what we saw in the movie (though the bombing aspects true). He told a story of a bomb being detonated outside the station. His words were “we were able to get an eight-pot tube-type board to give us two or three working channels” and “the longest piece of wire left in the building was probably three feet long.” By watching the movie, you also wouldn’t know that AFVN included TV and not just radio.
Here’s info from Cronauer about the movie and Williams (as written after Williams’ passing).
And anyone in the military knows the oath about being taken prisoner. AFRTS, though generally not considered one of the more dangerous jobs, HAS had members given the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country. During the Tet holiday in Vietnam (Feb. 1968), one station was overrun and numerous members killed or taken prisoner (including a civilian with the station). Here’s a link to an incredible story of bravery and sacrifice.
And here’s a link to the history and related information of the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) should you have further interest.
On April 10, 1970, tragedy struck the AFVN AFRTS station in Udorn, Thailand. A severely damaged F-4 jet tried to return from a combat mission. The pilot ejected after not being able to safely land, but the jet went right into the front of the radio/TV station killing all nine broadcasters and engineers. I invite you to read more about Udorn and remember the sacrifices of all who have served in our military.
If you stumble across a good or unusual web site that might be of interest, please don’t hesitate to send me the link and any info you might have about it. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was Control Room A of the Udorn AFVN AFRTS facility, 1967.