Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ron Henselman: Broadcast Radio in Vietnam, Part II

[As a follow-up to previous posts on radio broadcasting and radio reception in Vietnam during the war, Ron Henselman, himself a Vietnam veteran, assembled this material. Thank, you, Ron, for your hard work!]

Broadcast Radio in Vietnam, Part II

After I tired of listening to AFVN, I decided it was time to meet the man with the FM station at Bien Hoa Airbase, so my radio enthusiast friend Paul F. Lebzelter and I drove over to meet Phil Lenz.  Phil showed us his setup.  I was impressed because he actually had a turnstile antenna on a tower.  It looked like two horizontal dipole antennas mounted at right angles to each other.  This gave the station an omni-directional pattern.  This is when I volunteered to build a five hundred watt RF amplifier for the station.   Phil was very mild mannered, and he declined my offer by explaining he needed to keep somewhat of a low profile because he was already competition for AFVN in Saigon. 

Phil Lenz:
"The tower in the picture is the one that belonged to my detachment (Long Lines South) and the dipole on the very top is the WACI antenna. It was part of a "bed springs" assy. I took the dipole off the reflector and had my friend Vance climb to the top and mount it (I don't climb). The transmitter was a TRC-24 (Track 24) which had several plug-in RF heads of course I used the 100 MHZ head. The Air Force assigned me the frequency of 102.25.  The only other antenna on the tower is the microwave dish that was aimed toward Long Binh.

Vance is one of the guys on the tower but I can't really tell who the other guys are, but they are all from my group."

I explained how much I enjoyed the prerecorded shows with the funny announcers and fake commercials.  Phil told us the gentlemen supplying much of the material were Tom Hunter and Lee Hollihan.  Each of them mailed tapes of their shows to Phil for airplay on WACI.  Both Lee and Tom could perform as different characters. My favorite character was Jose’ Meteres, which was performed by Tom Hunter.  Jose’ was a DJ who sometimes screwed up the English language.  There was a time I thought Jose’ was really a Hispanic gentleman.  Lee did Big Lee Baby.  How many of you remember Big Hugh Baby on WLAC out of Nashville?  After my curiosity about Tom and Lee was satisfied, Phil informed me Lee had a station on the air before him.  I wrote to Lee to see if I could get any specifics about his station.  Here is what Lee had to say in his recent email:

"Hi Ron,
Hope you are feeling better.

WACI was at 1200 KC when I was on the air in 1965-1966. The first transmitter was a small 10 watt unit that was under a utility table. There is sort of a picture of it at my WACI Vietnam web site. One is at tent city B. The second is at the Gia-Dinh villa.

The final location was at the main 125th ATC compound at Tan-Son-Nhut airbase. I have been unable to find a photo of that setup. I thought I had some Black and White negatives somewhere, but they seem to be hiding. I hope they weren't in the camera case that was stolen back in 1982.

Anyhow, the transmitter was rebuilt with nav-aid beacon parts and the old crystal oscillator from the 10 watt unit. The final output power was 50 watts... using an 807 PA. I think. The modulator was a copy of a 30 watt Williamson amplifier with push pull 6L6 output tubes. A genuine 50 watt modulation transformer was used, although it only needed 25 watts for 100% modulation. That transformer developed a short, and went up in a glorious puff of smoke. No one was there at the time. It's a good thing the hootch didn't burn down. I was told how the place was filled with smoke. There was quite a commotion. I replaced it the next day with a bad beacon modulation transformer that developed an arc when used at 500 watts. It worked fine at 250 watts, so I figured there would be no problem using it at 25 or so watts. I was concerned that it might sound really bad. But it sounded just fine. It sat on the floor beneath the transmitter that was in a rack made from 2 x 4s. Nothing new about that, eh, Tom?

The antenna was the weakest link in the system. It consisted of a 150 foot long wire that was fed about 40 feet from the transmitter end with a 30 foot -- almost vertical -- hunk of wire. This was also the hot end of the antenna. The transmitter and feed line were in the same area as the studio equipment. It was a miracle we didn't get a lot of RF feedback. The only people who had a problem with RF were the poor bastards who had those Teac recorders that were very popular. WACI used one, too. I had to put bypass capacitors on the playback heads. The record circuit wasn't bothered for some reason. My little Sony 1/2 track worked fine. The antenna was only about 30 feet high. It was strung over the tops of the hootches on the drag strip side of the compound.

Yikes! That's more than I planned to write. I am getting hungry.

See ya later,

If you care to read more about Lee’s early efforts, you should take a look at one of his web pages:
When one can’t find something in the spirit of a station such as KAAY, why not create your own?

It was getting close to the time I would be leaving for home.  Phil Lenz asked if Paul Lebzelter and I could get a day off to help him do his first remote broadcast from a Labor Day weekend party in September of 1968.  We did it, and it was fun.  Phil showed me the proper way to cue a record to start off the show, but I managed to screw it up anyway.  That was the last time I saw Phil because I went home a few days later.  I never realized Phil was in the army, and he was assigned to the air base.  When I returned to Long Binh, I was told the prisoners in the prison compound close to my communications shop had rioted and set fire to what was known as LBJ or Long Binh Jail.  My guys were sent in to rewire the place, and they weren’t happy about me not being with them.  I was home in Melrose Park, IL a few days later.  Phil recently mentioned he had an AM station on the air shortly after I left.

After 9-11, I started feeling sentimental about some of the people I met in Vietnam, so I started searching the Internet.  I saw Phil listed as the chief engineer of a Pittsburgh station on some DX bulletin board.  My favorite fake commercial was for a fictitious product called Zeke’s French Fried Adrovdgas, so I mentioned that in my initial email to Phil.  Soon I received an email from Tom Hunter telling me Adrovdgas were his creation.

[AUDIO CLIPS: Tom Hunter Adrovdga commercials
I had learned how to do analog audio production on my own, but Tom took the time to teach me the finer points of digital audio editing since we first communicated in 2001.  That is why A.J. asked me to edit and improve some of his audio clips.  A.J. said he didn’t have the patience to do some of the things I did for the old blog. I find it interesting how Tom can speak so clearly when he is doing an Adrovdga commercial; then he can be the bumbling deejay Jose' Meteres and be totally silly.  Take a look at Tom’s site --- you will find the items near the top the most interesting, but you will also see he does on-site recording and manages some web pages.  He is man of many talents: .

One might wonder if my friends still do live radio shows.  I listen to Lee and Phil on Sunday nights via the Internet, and you can too: .  Make sure to look at some of the photos on all of the sites I have listed.  I still learn from Tom.  He is a great teacher, yet I have never met him in person.

If Lee reads this, I hope he will give me permission to post his “Daddy Lolo show.”  How about it Lee?  Clean it up so we can provide a link to it!   It has faked out many professionals as being a legitimate Vietnamese station.

---Ron Henselman


  1. Rahhhhh-n, from Chicahhhhh-go? Do you know how long it took me to remember your last name?

  2. hallo from germany,.. nice side and stuff. i remember me i was in my last life pilot in vietnam and listen rons henselmans radioshow..:)

    really good radioschow,...and Im back in 2010 here in germany oh yeaahh crazy .jones danby is back..:=)

  3. MORE!


    Tim Abney
    KLIK Lai Khe