Marc Phillip Yablonka. Amazon US $22.99, (346p) ISBN-10 : 1990644708
Release date: 09/12/2023
Aired Dec. 31, 2023
NEW YORK POST
By Eric Spitznagel
Published Nov. 11, 2023
“Gooooood morning, Vietnam!”
The memorable greeting, immortalized by Robin Williams in the 1987 film of the same name, wasn’t a creation of Hollywood.
It was inspired by the true story of DJ and Air Force Sgt. Adrian Cronauer, who hosted a morning radio show on the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) in Saigon during the Vietnam War.
Cronauer, who died in 2018, originated the phrase, but there were at least 17 other military DJs who hosted that the radio network’s morning program — “The Dawnbuster” — between 1965 and 1973, including “Wheel of Fortune” legend Pat Sajak.
“Whether the catchphrase was required or not, I can’t really say,” said Rick Fredericksen, a onetime newsman at AFVN Saigon and the co-author, along with Marc Phillip Yablonka, of the new book “Hot Mics and TV Lights: The American Forces Vietnam Network” (Double Dagger Books).
“It was just a well-established and catchy phrase to start a morning show,” he told The Post. “Imagine the troops groaning when they were greeted with ‘Goooood morning, Vietnam.’ ”
The legacy of AFVN is far bigger than what was captured in one Hollywood movie.
The original station was founded in 1962 by Chief Petty Officer Bryant Arbuckle, often called the “Father of Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam,” who ran the operation alone for three months before being granted a small staff.
It soon expanded “into a sprawling network of nationwide radio and television stations,” the book notes. Its mission wasn’t just to entertain but to give the more 500,000 enlisted listeners a reason to feel hopeful.
Before he died, Cronauer told the authors he thought the radio station’s mission was to be an “antidote to homesickness.” And the best way to do that, according to the now 77-year-old Sajak, was to “program it like a stateside radio station.”
“We played Top 40 music,” Sajak says in the book. “We didn’t have commercials, but we did have snappy PSAs: ‘Be sure to keep your M-16 cleaned.’ That kind of stuff. We produced our own jingles and ran tight shows.”
They also had a captive audience. “AFVN was the only game in town,” Yablonka recalls. Listening to the radio was a shared experience, one that made every enlisted officer feel a little less isolated from the outside world.
It also reached “a vast Vietnamese shadow audience,” says Yablonka.
Anybody who could pick up the signal, and that included enemy combatants, could tune in and hear every broadcast.
“I think there was something about the American way of life that the Vietnamese caught on to through the music that the AFVN deejays played,” Yablonka tells The Post.
The “Good Morning Vietnam” movie got a few details wrong but accurately depicted how dangerous Saigon could be during the war, even for an unarmed military deejay.
Yablonka recounts that a taxi full of explosives blowing up outside the AFVN studios, “causing major damage while the station was on the air.” Rick Bednar, another AFVN radio personality, still has vivid memories of showing up for his first day at the studio just after the blast.
“I remember walking into the lobby and seeing large pieces of glass embedded in the wall opposite where the front windows had been,” he says in the book. “It was an instant reminder that I was in a war zone. Everyone was on edge.”
Despite the constant threat of danger, Sajak insists he never felt in harm’s way during his tour as an AFVN morning man in Saigon.
“It was funny and strange,” he remembers. “There was a war going on. Barbed wire was everywhere, and I was playing records and going to restaurants every night. It was a fairly normal life. And given the circumstances, mine was a pretty lucky duty.”
These DJs entertained soldiers not just with music, but reminders of home.
They recreated “live” baseball games, improvising the play-by-play based on teletype updates on each batter that came in over shortwave,” the authors write.
They even performed a “blow-by-blow” broadcast of a 1963 boxing match between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, which was so realistic that “many GIs asked how we got to go to Las Vegas for a prize fight,” according to Air Force Lieutenant (and AFRS’s first officer in charge) Donald Kirtley.
It wasn’t all victories for the AFRS deejays.
When President Richard Nixon delivered a Christmas television address to the nation in 1969, which (due to the time difference) was simulcast during the “Dawnbuster” morning show, Sajak — who was hosting at the time — accidentally cut away to music before Nixon gave a special Christmas message to the troops in Vietnam.
“I could have admitted my mistake and gone back to the speech, but I figured there was no point in doing that because I was the only one in the world who knew that Richard Nixon was directing his comments to only one soldier: me!” Sajak says. “So, if you were in Vietnam at Christmastime in 1969, allow me to wish you a belated merry Christmas from Richard M. Nixon!”
BY RADIO WORLD Magazine
Published: September 27, 2023
A newly-released book titled “Hot Mics and TV Lights: The American Forces Vietnam Network” tells the story of the military broadcast network that served U.S. service personnel during the Vietnam War.
At the height of American involvement in the war, Armed Forces Vietnam Network served more than 500,000 fighting men and women at one time — first with radio, then with a number of television stations.
The author, military journalist Marc Phillip Yablonka, said much of what has previously been written about the American Forces Vietnam Network “has been overstated and far from comprehensive, including the most famous work: the movie ‘Good Morning, Vietnam.'”
Hot Mics and TV Lights shares the perspective of 37 individuals who served with AFVN over the course of the war.
“Although many of the stories are humorous, AFVN suffered significant casualties,” wrote Yablonka. “Five broadcasters were taken prisoner, and at least one radio announcer earned a Purple Heart while on air. But typical war stories do not dominate this book.”
Instead, Yablonka said readers will hear the memories of “Bobbie the Weathergirl,” Vietnam’s biggest TV celebrity, and Wheel of Fortune game show host Pat Sajak when he was an AFVN deejay.
Yablonka said Hot Mics and TV Lights gives readers a broad sense of what those serving with the network experienced.
“[It’s] not just another book about the Vietnam War, but rather the chronicle of a storied broadcast network and its personnel who did their jobs as a costly war was being waged, often just outside their studio doors.”
VVA VETERAN Magazine
Hot Mics and TV Lights by Marc Phillip Yablonka with Rick Fredericksen
Posted on October 2, 2023
Hot Mics and TV Lights: The American Forces Vietnam Network (Double Dagger Books, 346 pp. $22.99, paper; $6.99) is a really cool look at the institution of radio and TV broadcasting during the American war in Vietnam. American Forces Vietnam radio and TV was the troops’ main connection with home, even more reliable than mail from family with its consistency and information provided.
Author Marc Yablonka is a California-based military journalist and the author of several Vietnam War-related books, including Vietnam Bao Chi, a look at military journalists in the war. Rick Fredericksen served in the U.S. Marine Corps with AFVN in Saigon during the war. He later became CBS News’ last Bangkok bureau chief.
Beginning in 1962, the military’s Armed Forces Radio Service expanded into a network of radio and television stations. More than a thousand men and women worked at the stations during the Vietnam War. Television was introduced in 1966. At its peak, 1968-69, there were 25 AFVN radio and TV stations in South Vietnam.
The most famous AFVN alum is the late Adrian Cronauer, famously and hilariously portrayed by the late Robin Williams in the movie, “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Cronauer was on-air for the popular early-morning Dawnbuster radio show and, yes, he did begin each broadcast bellowing out, Gooood morning, Vietnam!”
The movie was a mixture of true and made-up plot lines. Yablonka notes that some of the movie’s themes ring true: censorship of the news, disagreements over what kinds of music to play, and dangers found in Saigon.
The other famous radio personality to come out of AFVN is Pat Sajak of “Wheel of Fortune” fame. During his time at AFVN Sajak also hosted the Dawnbuster show, playing Top 40 songs from 6-9:00 a.m. He too opened each show with the words Cronauer made famous. Sajak, who received VVA’s Excellence in the Arts Award in 2009, enjoyed his job so much that he extended his in-country tour by six months.
There’s much more in the book than the stories of two guys who later became famous. Yablonka, for example, covers the POW release of February 1973, which included five AFVN troops who had been captured during the Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive. He also reports on the only military broadcaster to receive a Purple Heart for being wounded while on the air.
Covering news of the war, events from around the world, and playing popular music, AFVN was possibly the troops’ best friend. Some Vietnam War veterans have said that listening to the station helped them stay sane in the war zone.
In this wildly interesting book Yablonka and Fredericksen give us more than just a peek behind the curtain. They include dozens of great stories covering the entire Vietnam War from the Delta to the DMZ.
Hot Mics and TV Lights is a great addition to the Vietnam War literary canon.
You can find Hot Mics and TV Lights now on Amazon.
Hot Mics and TV Lights
By Marc Phillip Yablonka with Rick Fredericksen
Double Dagger Books Ltd (September 12, 2023)
By Jim Morris
There’s scarcely a single Vietnam vet who cannot remember starting more than a few days listening to Adrian Cronauer or Pat Sajak or a couple of other DJs shout “Goooooooood Morning, VIETNAM!”, leading into the news and Top 40 music. My first dose was shaving in the latrine at Camp Goodman, in Saigon for a meeting at the Embassy at which I learned that my best Montagnard buddy had just been killed. That’s not the point of this review, but I’ll never forget it, and I bet more than a few readers will have similar memories.
Marc Yablonka, who has written quite a bit for the Sentinel, and Rick Fredericksen, a Marine, and an AFVN broadcaster who went on to a career in broadcast journalism have done a great service to the participants and history of that conflict with this terrific story of AFVN. It is well worth a read by anyone who fought in Vietnam or has an interest in broadcast journalism. It’s a crazy story and a lot of it is very funny.
It also has its share of sudden death and bureaucratic frustration.
AFVN started in 1962, and its daddy was Navy CPO Bryant Arbuckle, who was also the entire staff for the first three months of its existence.
But when other people joined it that staff became a most interesting mix of professional broadcasters, like Sajak, who had been drafted and somehow properly assigned. The “Somehow”, in Sajak’s case involved writing his congressman, who also owned the radio station where Sajak worked prior to being drafted. He was a finance clerk at Long Binh who wanted to work in his actual field and got it. He also extended six months in Saigon to finish out his time in the army doing work he loved and living a relatively cosmopolitan life, as opposed to policing up pine cones Stateside.
There weren’t supposed to be any servicewomen in Vietnam, but there was one, Air Force sergeant Laurie Clemons, who volunteered and somehow made it through the culling process. She wasn’t supposed to be there, but there she was. She loved it, went to the range with the guys, and proved to be an excellent shot with both rifle and pistol.
There were other women who volunteered for AFVN, Bobbie Keith, the weather girl, who worked for USAID, and Donut Dollies like Bobbie Lischuk and Barbara Dorr. Dixie Ferguson was another Donut Dolly, who has a couple of pix in the excellent photo section. I didn’t know Dixie in Vietnam, but she was on staff at the Red Cross Rec Center at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Aurora CO when I was a patient there, and a great chick she was.
The best known AFVN DJ was Adrian Cronauer, played by Robin Williams in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. He and Bob Moses wrote the story from which the movie was made.
The book’s chapters are laid out chronologically and told as the staffer’s individual stories. Cronauer was almost blown up in 1965 in a terrorist bombing at the My Canh floating restaurant in which more than a hundred casualties, Dick Ellis worked full shifts as a producer, and volunteered to fly on gunships on week-ends to interview the crews, and bootleg time on the guns.
These are stories well told by people with stories to tell.
WAR HISTORY ONLINE
Mention the “Armed Forces Network” to most veterans or military families who served overseas and you’re sure to get a reaction. Say it to a Vietnam veteran and they’ll more than likely light up a little bit. That’s because, to those who served in Vietnam, “AFN” brings back memories of hearing – and if they were lucky – seeing a slice of home when they were so young, so far away and often in danger daily.
Going back to the Second World War, the idea of bringing morale-bolstering entertainment, especially the top music of the day, to the millions of citizen soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen engaged in combat across the world was a priority, right along with beans and bullets. Portable radio studios staffed by military personnel followed the combat troops to every front.
Around the time US military involvement in Vietnam cranked up in the early 1960s, the transistor radio was changing how the American public listened to music and sports, and how they got their news. Radios no bigger than a shoebox could be found in every kitchen and garage, as well as offices and shops. Smaller battery-powered radios that could carried in the palm of one’s hand became the smartphones of the early 1960s.
Now, even GIs in frontline areas could tune in anywhere there was a signal.
That signal was provided across Vietnam and the surrounding waters by the military personnel and civilian staff of the American Forces Vietnam Network – or AFVN. When US Air Force DJ Adrian Cronauer belted out his signature “Good morning, Vietnam,” it was over the airwaves of the network.
Despite the extremely popular and phenomenally successful movie, Good Morning, Vietnam! (1987), not much had been widely written or produced about AFVN. That situation has now been rectified with the publication of Hot Mics and TV Lights by Marc Phillip Yablonka, with Rick Fredericksen.
Yablonka is the author of an outstanding previous work, Vietnam Bao Chi, which documents the individual stories of service members working as military correspondents and combat cameramen in Vietnam, including famed actor and film consultant, Dale Dye, and The 13th Valley author, John Del Vecchio.
Like Yablonka’s previous book, Hot Mics and TV Lights tells the individual stories of more than 30 military on-air personalities, including Cronauer and a young US Army enlisted man by the name of Pat Sajak. The stories of these individuals span the arc of AFVN’s existence, from its beginnings in the early 1960s as a station set up in a Saigon hotel supply closet to the last broadcast as American troops departed Vietnam in 1975.
During that time, radio studios spread out across the theater, and a fleet of large transport aircraft were converted to flying television studios to broadcast all over South Vietnam until adequate TV broadcast facilities could be constructed.
In addition to the long hours of broadcasting (seven days a week and practically around the clock), the often-isolated AFVN GIs endured frequent “hit and run” attacks on American installations by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). In fact, the outsized AFVN broadcast antennas made ideal rocket or mortar aiming points for the enemy.
In addition to the injuries and occasional deaths of AFVN service members, during the Tet Offensive, three AFVN personnel were killed (one of them during the siege) and five were captured. The remaining five were liberated with other American prisoners of war (POWs) five years later, in 1973.
Several other chapters of Hot Mics and TV Lights are devoted to some unusual occurrences and personalities that made it onto AFVN’s airwaves.
AFVN broadcasters weren’t immune to the social upheaval and growing opposition to the war faced by those serving in Vietnam from 1967 onward. The book takes on the issue of news and musical censorship and details how they addressed it. Here’s a three-word hint: pirate radio station.
Hot Mics and TV Lights will be of great interest to Vietnam veterans, as well as those interested in the war and the history of US Armed Forces media and entertainment.
Written by Terry Lloyd of Orlando, Florida.