“Good morning, Vietnam!” Robin Williams delivered this classic line playing Adrian Cronauer, a DJ for the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) in the movie of the same name. Pensacola resident Harry Simons did the same job in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969 and shared 14 hours of audio from his radio show with DJ Mike Bates of 1330 AM WEBY. Bates created a 10-hour documentary of original audio and veteran interviews to air October 26 through 30 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with an encore on Veteran’s Day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bates said Simons found his reel-to-reel recordings in a footlocker 45 years after coming home. “The tapes were in pristine condition,” he said. Bates said DJ’s typically served only a year, so 14 hours may not sound like a lot, save for the fact most DJ’s never recorded any of their shows.
The commercial-free show, Bates said, will also air without news interruptions. The 10 hours of programming, he said, will include five from Simons’ tapes and five from interviews Bates conducted with members of every branch of service who had stories directly related to the AFVN show. He said the music will be shortened to give more time for the news and announcements from the original shows.
“The AFVN,” Bates said, “brought the sound of home to GI’s thousands of miles from home.” However, he said, “It would be inaccurate to assume people in radio faced no danger. Radio facilities were the number three target. The first were the soldiers, second the embassy.” He said the stations were attacked with small arms and plastic explosives. “We’ll be airing a recording made of a newscast during which a bomb went off.”
While Simons hosted the evening show, Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak hosted the morning show. Bates has a recording of Sajak delivering the Robin Williams line to start his show in Vietnam. In Bates’ interview with Sajak, the veteran of television tells the story of Nixon’s lost tape, where Sajak ends the recording early by mistake and the troops never hear President Nixon’s Christmas message.
Another story Bates shared is of his interview in Chicago with AFVN DJ Dick Orkin who created the then popular radio satire Chicken Man, a spoof on Batman. Bates said he has an interview with a veteran who is alive because of this show. The soldier was on the verge of taking his own life, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it, according to Bates, because he wanted to hear how the show ended, and it was enough to keep him going.
Bates said Simons has been instrumental in making this documentary happen, not only in providing the audio, but reaching out to the veteran community for interviews and co-hosting the radio show with Bates. The two even visited the old AFVN studio in Vietnam, now used for television, Bates said. With a press liaison and under armed security, the two were able to tour the studio. Simons sat at his old desk where he broadcast out to the troops.
Bates said he hardly had a dry eye during his interviews with the veterans. “This will bring back pleasant memories. War is hell, but this documentary is not about the hell of war. If there’s a positive side to war, this is it.”
“So why are we doing this? The tapes have significant historical value. This is part of the story most Americans are completely unaware of. It’s also a tribute to the Vietnam vets. It’s no secret they were mistreated. Even if you’re opposed to the war, you can’t oppose the troops.”
The sponsors for Bates’ show are Gulf Power, Pen Air Federal Credit Union, Milton Dodge, The Retirement Planners, and Joe Patty’s Seafood. “They’re doing this because they support the vets. There are no commercials. It’s the greatest reason of all,” Bates said.