Billy Williams, Army AFVN Radio disc jockey
Billy Williams worked at WJAX in Jacksonville before being drafted in the Army. He was trained at Ft. Gordon and received a 35L20 MOS. Of course he was then sent to Vietnam where, in October 1971 he joined Avel Central at Phu Loi. When a slot opened up at AFVN Billy enlisted the help of his CO, Major Joe Matos. Billy got the job and left Avel Central in November 1971. The following is from an article he wrote for the North Florida Amateur Radio Society.
After being drafted away by the Army from a daily shift at WJAX, he wound up doing music radio on AFVN-AM starting at the station on Monkey Mountain near Da Nang then going to network HQ in Saigon, the capital city.
From Saigon for six hours daily, his broadcasts went out over a chain of 50 KW and 10 KW AM transmitters covering South Vietnam from the Mekong Delta at the southern tip of Vietnam to the demilitarized zone bordering North Vietnam.
The Saigon-area transmitter was 50KW on 540 kHz. located in Cat Lo near Vung Tau, a seaside resort area on the South China Sea which was also a popular in-country R&R spot. Its signal strength provided booming coverage over a wide area. At night, signals reached Australia, India, Indonesia and even Hawaii occasionally. They got a reception report from California at least once. Along with other powerful transmitters on several frequencies in the Central Highlands and Da Nang, over 90% of South Vietnam was within AFVN’s beam. AFVN had a staff of military and civilian broadcast engineers to maintain these far-flung detachment sites. Several were also American Amateur Radio operators.
Several AFVN detachments were located near mountaintop Signal Corps sites close to larger towns. These were not huge mountains, maybe 2,000 or 3,000 ft. elevation. Driving a jeep or truck from ground level up a winding clay hardpan road took 20 minutes or so. But the added altitude enhanced signal propagation. Some signal sites and AFVN detachments had occasional danger from infiltrators, snipers, rocket and mortar attacks. Other hazards included mines, booby traps, B40 RPGs and exploding taxi cabs.
MOSTLY A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE
Few aural entertainment alternatives existed for Americans in the Vietnam combat zone. A few soldiers owned short wave receivers. Some listened to records and tapes purchased at the PX or sent from home. But for most, a small AM transistor radio tuned to AFVN was the link to current hit music and to what was happening back in “the world.”
Besides American & Allied military along with civilian contractors, a huge shadow audience of Asians who adored American music listened to AFVN-AM. Close to three million residents lived in or near Saigon and the station sound played everywhere.
BLASTS FROM THE PAST
Besides hosting a daily music DJ program live on AFVN-AM, his shift also included airing prerecorded music program segments from stateside luminaries including Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem.
On AM, we rocked to Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, Animals, CCR, Rolling Stones and the like. The Vietnam War had its anthems which generated requests from the troops and these songs played on AFVN-AM. Hits like We Gotta Get Out Of This Place….Magic Carpet Ride….All Along The Watchtower….The Letter and Paint It Black which also were hits in the United States. Let’s not forget Peter Paul & Mary’s Leaving on a Jet Plane and yes, Barry Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Berets, another favorite that produced numerous requests which were honored often.
Also, popular “regional” favorites. Jimmy Cliff’s 1970 rendition of Vietnam comes to mind along with Cathy Gregory’s After Cambodia and Jaimie Brocket’s Talkin’ Green Beret New Yellow Hydraulic Banana Teeny Bopper Blues–a challenge to say in one breath.
To country music listeners, Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee appealed on multiple levels both to those with pro-war outlooks and others with anti-war sentiments. For comic relief, AFVN-AM transmitted daily short serials like Chickenman and the Tooth Fairy–Benton Harbor and Newton Snookers respectively.
FINAL YEARS OF AMERICAN RADIO IN SAIGON
By 1972, progress in stabilizing the Thieu administration and South Vietnamese military was minimal at best. The Paris Peace Agreement took effect in early 1973. All AFVN detachments closed. AFVN-AM and TV signed off. AFVN-FM Saigon became the American Radio Service to serve a small residual group of Americans allowed to remain under terms of the peace agreement.
Take a trip back in time and enjoy some of these AFVN radio broadcasts.