Military Radio – Armed Forces Network

1943 ‘G.I. Jive’ sheet music by Johnny Mercer

ARMED FORCES NETWORK

Although American Forces Network Radio has officially been on the air for 60 years, listeners began tuning in at the end of World War I.

A Navy lieutenant in France broadcasted information and live entertainment to troops accompanying President Wilson to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.  Radio was a novelty then, and little equipment was given to overseas military broadcasting until the United States started gearing up for World War II.

playing music for the troops

Bored soldiers in Panama and Alaska created makeshift transmitters and aired records, according to an Armed Forces Radio pamphlet. The U.S. military was unaware of the broadcasts until celebrities wrote asking how to send the stations recordings.

During the first days of the U.S. entry into World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff members set up military radio stations in the Philippines. Their success paved the way for the Armed Forces Radio Service.

In May 1942, the Army commissioned broadcasting executive Tom Lewis as a major and assigned him to create a viable military radio network.

Its primary goal was to keep morale high, a daunting task when the enemy already was broadcasting to Allied troops, in the personas of the infamous “Axis Sally” and “Tokyo Rose.” Playing popular American music, they tried to demoralize troops with talk about missing home.

On July 4, 1943, the Armed Forces Network went on the air, using the BBC’s London studios. With British and Canadian radio stations, it formed the Allied Expeditionary Forces Program. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to ensure the stations worked together and all allies were getting the same message.

“G.I. Jive” disc, 1943

To boost morale, AFRS headquarters in Los Angeles produced shows such as “G.I. Jive,” shipping them to stations on special “V-Discs.” By early 1945, about 300 Armed Forces Radio Stations worldwide were broadcasting. (There are some V-discs available on e-bay)

Then came peacetime.

By 1949, just 60 stations were operating. But broadcasters who remained in Europe with the occupying forces took on a new role. Music and information were broadcast from Bremen to Berlin — giving many Europeans their first exposure to American culture and music.

AFN brought jazz, blues, rock ’n’ roll and country and western to audiences starved for music. The shows were so popular that when the leftist Greens Party urged Germany to quit NATO in the 1980s and called for U.S. troops to leave, it made one exception.

“The U.S. military should go home, but leave AFN behind,” a Greens leader demanded.

When the Korean War started in 1950, AFRS leased several portable trailers and followed the troops as “Radio Vagabond.” The American Forces Korea Network was established in Seoul later that year.

While the organization changed its name to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service in 1954, the focus remained on radio.

The American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was established in 1962, during the Vietnam War, mostly for numerous military advisers there. It served as the backdrop for the 1988 movie, “Good Morning, Vietnam!”

But broadcasting to the troops as the war heated up was no day on a Hollywood set.

During the Tet Offensive, AFVN studios in Hue City were attacked. The staff fought off the Viet Cong for five days before the station manager and several others were captured. They spent five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp.

Recently, Armed Forces Radio quickly mobilized for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

A mobile broadcasting van deployed to Saudi Arabia, where the American Forces Desert Network was established in 1991 and broadcast for the first time from Kuwait shortly after the Iraqi occupation ended. Since then, it has become a fixture throughout the region.

Tech. Sgt. Mark Hatfield, 36, was “out in the middle of nowhere … at a secret base detached from civilization” as a structural maintainer on F-15s, with the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional) during Desert Storm.

About a month after he arrived, AFDN went into operation.

“I remember when they came on line … I had my little transistor radio, and sure enough, there it was,” he said.

Someone also bought a radio for the hangar. “We cranked it because news was coming out left and right about the war,” Hatfield added.

“It was good because that was our only source of real information. You get out in the middle of nowhere, you don’t really hear it from the U.S side of things … uncensored, coming in from the U.S.”

“Good Morning, Vietnam!”

Today, American Forces Radio and Television Service operates about 300 radio and television outlets, serving an audience of 1.3 million listeners and viewers on every continent and U.S. Navy ship at sea.

“As long as there’s military there, we’re going to be there.”

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor –

Marines from Los Angeles

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Farewell Salutes – 

Anthony Bermudez – Dallas, TX; US Army, Kuwait, SSgt.

Edward R. Burka – Washington D.C.; US Army Medical Corps (airborne), BGeneral

Dorothy (Schmidt) Cole (107) – OH; USMC Women’s 1st Battalion, WWII

Hyman Coran – Sharon, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, flight instructor

Michael Domico – Westville, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Sgt., radio/gunner

Veronica Federici – Fulton, NY; US Navy WAVE, WWII

Michael Morris – Cass Lake, MN; US Air Force, TSgt., 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (Europe)

Vincent Pale – Philadelphia, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, POW

Claude Spicer – McComas, WV; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, (Ret. 30 y.)

Robert Wendler – Newport, RI; US Navy, WWII, Navy band

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About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on January 18, 2021, in Home Front, Vietnam, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 115 Comments.

  1. An interesting post. I love radio, one of the best inventions of the twentieth century and how important for troops abroad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for providing so much information about the things that support the military… I’m thinking AFN was what we listened to in military housing in ’69 while my Dad served in the USTDC…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is so important that the truth be broadcast.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post! I didn’t realize it started at the end of WWI. We always think of the radio for our troops starting broadcasting in WWII. Thank you, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great Post GP, And Great Comments Here !! Respect ..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Always interesting, good to read you again. I do get your posts in my cool email acount yet it seems everything is not going right. I don´t know why I have some trouble with wordpress. Either way, hope I get an email from you sir, you could help me out to this one, charlypriest1982@gmail.com
    Nice to read all these bloggers by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goood to see you, Charly!! I’ve been having some trouble myself, like yesterday was a major glitch with my post. I think WordPress is trying to force me to use the Block editor. I have tried it, but I do not like it. I’ll do what I can to help out.

      Like

  7. Nice column (as always). I had the good fortune of serving for three years at the Broadcast Center of AFRTS twenty years ago. Quite a legacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your story! The radio played important role internationally in the past. I remember I listened to the “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “English 900” from “Voice of America” when I was a little girl. Sweet memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the history lessons here! “Bored soldiers in Panama and Alaska created makeshift transmitters and aired records, according to an Armed Forces Radio pamphlet. The U.S. military was unaware of the broadcasts until celebrities wrote asking how to send the stations recordings.” Celebrities knew before the military about these broadcasts??? It is interesting to read how the AFN developed and grew over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good Morning Vietnam one of my favorite movies — didn’t know that about the guys at AFVN being imprisoned. Great history your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Bored soldiers in Panama and Alaska created makeshift transmitters and aired records, according to an Armed Forces Radio pamphlet. The U.S. military was unaware of the broadcasts until celebrities wrote asking how to send the stations recordings.” Let’s hear it for American ingenuity , G! Long may it live. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I always like your history lessons!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You never cease to surprise me, GP! I saw “Good morning, Vietnam!” of course, and I sort of surmised that, if the Russians broadcasted to the troops during WWII, Americans must have done it as well, but I had no idea it has started during WWI. What an impressive glorious history!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. As a retired commercial radio broadcaster, radio history fascinates me. Wartime radio expanded the utility and markets of broadcasting for years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A very interesting post. Most people do not realise just how much influence all of these radio broadcasts had, all over Western Europe. I don’t think many radio listeners had heard of jazz, and “Roll over Beethoven” was a call to arms for many young people who found classical music really quite boring!

    Like

  16. I guess forces radio plays a much greater part in keeping morale up than we may have thought. Certainly in the Second World War it was
    Vital to counter-act the likes of Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw Haw, but it’s now a well established method of supporting those ‘out in the sticks’ too.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What a great way to boost morale. There’s nothing like music to reach the soul during times of trial. So glad they have kept Armed Forces Radio and Television Service going through the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. One of my uncles was stationed in Iceland in the early 1950s, and he used to talk of listening to AFRS radio programs. Entertainment was limited and the radio was a lifeline to home. It wasn’t just music and news. Programs such as “Gunsmoke”, with William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, were very much appreciated. In our connected world, I think we forget how isolated the bases were in which our troops served.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I was so taken with the image on the sheet music, I had to seek out GI Jive on YouTube. I just listened to the Louis Jordan version. It was jumpin’!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Great information, GP. Thanks for sharing. I never knew station personnel were taken prisoner by the VC. Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for another great post and historical glimpse! I always learn a lot when I visit your site. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. My father recounted to me in detail the Tokyo Rose broadcasts that were flooded into China by the Japanese. He was stationed as a code breaker with the Flying Tigers. When I sked him what effect those broadcasts had on U.S. personnel, he just smiled and said they were total BS and taken more as comedy than anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you for sharing this story

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Yet another ‘ancillary service’ that was important to troops, and boosted morale in the firing line. Good tribute, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Interesting and informative post, G.P. I loved the radio when I was growing up since we did not have TV back home. It must be a welcome relief for those soldiers in the middle of nowhere to hear something from home! Love the cartoons too!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Dear GP Cox,
    thanks for sharing the story of the AFN Radio and TV. We always interested in the history of media.
    We are amazed how many station there are but we have to admit we have never listened to one of those stations. As a child I was partly brought up in the British occupied zone and there we listened to BBC network for Germany.
    Keep well, healthy and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for telling us your story in relation to the media back in your youth, Klausbernd.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear GP Cox
        it actually has a funny post-story. The biggest German radio and TV station today was founded just after the war by an officer of the British Rhine Army. That was in Cologne where I was born. When I came to North Norfolk and bought my house here the vendor became a close friend of mine. One evening he told me that he was born just a few miles from where I was born. I was astonished. He told me his father has been that officer who founded that radio station which started as a radio station of the British Rhine Army.
        Keep well, my dear friend, and away from people
        Klausbernd 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  27. Good article. Nice to think back on those times, those motivations.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. While serving in the West German army, I was an avid listener of the AFN. I still remember the moment when the country music was interrupted and then after a short pause the assassination of President Kennedy was announced.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. A nice recap of the history. Wikipedia has a fairly extensive article on the AFN but only from its official inception.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Given all the advances in communication over the years, radio stands strong. So many new things were going to bring an end to radio – none have. This is one reason why,

    Liked by 1 person

  31. “Good Morning, Vietnam!” Great post! And, I did not know the story about the AFN station in Vietnam being taken in Hue City after holding off the VC for five days! Thanks for sharing that. Wow. Just goes to prove the old saying that, when the crap hits the fan, every soldier is 11B!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Wat moet dat hun gemoedstoestand een boost gegeven hebben. Luisterend naar muziek en in hun eigen taal toegang tot nieuws van thuis krijgen. Dat zal voor velen de motivatie geweest zijn hoopvol verder te gaan zo ver van huis

    Liked by 1 person

  33. When stationed in Germany 1962-65 there was no American TV, at least not where we were, so we listened to AFN radio. In addition to music they broadcast great old radio programs like Johnny Dollar, Dimension X, The Green Hornet, The Shadow and Amos and Andy. Sue and I felt like out parents, sitting around on Sundays listening to radio shows. It was great entertainment in an otherwise environment devoid environment except for programs in German. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Such an interesting post, I love radio myself so appreciate what these guys did to get it to their armed forces.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. GP. I love your cartoons. I’m glad you added the Good Morning Vietnam patch because as I was reading this I was thinking of Adrian Cronauer. When I was a volunteer in Hungary in 1997, AFN was the only radio station that broadcast in English. Although I liked the music played by the Hungarian or German radio stations, I had no idea what they were saying. I did hear some military complaining because AFN was sort of like the old BBC in England–the only game in town.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Until I sold most of my record collection a few years ago, I owned a number of official Armed Forces Radio 16 inch (yes, 16 inch) recordings from the 1940s featuring popular bands and vocalists of that time. Those oversized records were too big to fit on many record players, but I had a turntable which would accommodate them. Now, I could kick myself for not keeping them!

    Liked by 2 people

  37. I’d certainly never heard that Vietnam POW story before!

    Liked by 3 people

  38. I remember as a young lad listening AFRS in Stuttgart and Munich to when my father station in Germany. The only other English broadcast we would get was Radio Luxemburg on SW.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Thank you very much!

    Like

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