Monday, August 31, 2009

Broadcast Radio In Vietnam

After graduating from my army radio repair class, I spent a few months at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; then I was sent to Vietnam for one year to be a radio repairman for the military police. When I arrived in Vietnam, one of the first things I did was scan the AM and FM broadcast bands for English speaking stations. I was at Long Binh which was located close to Saigon. I found AFVN at 540 Kilocycles running 50,000 Watts. They played a lot of oldies, but they never told us the temperature. Maybe they figured we were already miserable enough from the heat, so why rub it in. On FM I found a station with Cousin Brucie of WABC. I thought it was a satellite relay of WABC in New York, but it turned out to be a low power station at Bien Hoa Air Base just playing a tape of WABC.

Shortly after that, I found one could check out tapes such as what I heard from the USO. I wrote to WCFL in Chicago to request a tape, and I was informed I could deal only with the USO. My trip to the USO yielded no results. It seems many of the larger stations sent one hour shows on tape to Vietnam. It is my guess KAAY did the same thing. They were probably aired on some of the low power stations throughout the country.

After being there awhile, I became bored with listening to AFVN. I found a couple of Vietnamese stations playing American oldies. One station announced in Vietnamese, but every few minutes they would say, “Flashlight Club.” I never figured out the significance of that. The FM station at Bien Hoa seemed to play nothing but tapes, but most of them were pretty good. Would you believe I actually longed to hear some real commercials? It seemed to me there had to be a way to hear something from the USA such as KAAY or KOMA, and I was the one to do it.

I had decent equipment in my communications shop, so I decided to string-up a long wire antenna. What a disappointment! I heard the Philippines and some other armed forces stations, but I never heard anything from the USA mainland on the AM broadcast band. Then I reasoned it wasn’t too likely I would. Since some of the stations in other countries were running higher power than our stations at home, why didn’t I ever hear a listenable signal from them at home near Chicago? If I actually could pick-up a signal from the USA, would it be strong enough to actually listen to it for pleasure. I heard a lot of static from lightning crashes. I heard some California hams on the forty meter ham band. Soon after that, the FM station at Bien Hoa started some live programming, but the prerecorded shows they were playing were funnier than one could imagine. I’ll write about that next. They were my inspiration.

I would like to hear from somebody who actually heard a listenable signal from KAAY in Vietnam. I’ll bet there were a lot of Beaker Street tapes making the rounds throughout the country.

The station at Bien Hoa was run by a gentleman in the air force; his name is Phil Lenz. More to come.

Ron Henselman W9FT


  1. Hi Ron, I also tried to receive KAAY when I was in Vietnam, and was unsuccessful. Part of the reason, I think is that outside north america, AM stations are not spaced 10khz apart. Here's a chart of Vietnam radio frequencies in use today - I am reasonably sure many of these frequencies were in use when you and I were there.

    The closer spacing of the frequencies would undoubtedly contribute significant additional adjacent channel interference, making KAAY's signal even more difficult to dig out of the "mud".
    Dave M//

  2. Hi Dave,

    You are correct about the spacing. When I wrote the post about AM modulation and frequency response, I think I mentioned other parts of the world use 9 KHz spacing between channels. Many of us would have done just about anything to hear a signal from home. I didn't talk to my friends or family back in the USA for a year. My only communication was by way of mail or one of those small reel-to-reel tapes. At least our troops overseas now have some real-time communications. I never did make it over to one of those MARS stations to try to talk to my family via shortwave radio. If you did, can you tell me what it was like?

    I heard many signals on the AM band, but I didn't have any means of identifying them. I was sleeping or on duty when there was darkness between Vietnam and the USA. I'm guessing 5:00 or 6:00 AM Central Standard Time would have been the perfect time to try to hear something from the states. I was just waking up about that time. What do you think?

    I wonder what some of those foreign stations used for frequency control. Do you think they had the same plus or minus 20 Hz legal tolerance like in the USA? My guess is many of them were lucky just to have any signal on the air. My boss was telling me about when he worked at WMAQ as a summertime replacement, he saw a crystal oven in use and a spare sitting next to it. I never gave a second thought to an oscillator failing.


    Ron Henselman

  3. I'D like to correct my statement about Phil Lenz being in the air force; he was in the army. He was stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base.

    Ron H.