My eight year old son has been listening to the soundtrack to “Good Morning Vietnam: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” every night before bed for the last two weeks and absolutely loves it. He especially loves the Motown stuff so now he wants to listen to Motown in the car (hey, the teachers teach him the three “Rs” and I will teach him the two “Rs” as in Rock and Roll) and I of course have always loved that album so I lie in bed with him listening to it. As I listened to Robin Williams with that over the top performance that makes me smile every time I hear it, I started to think about what the real “Good Morning Vietnam” radio show was actually like and this is what I found.
Armed Forces Vietnam Network or AFVN was a broadcast service operating both television and AM/FM radio stations all over what at the time was South Vietnam. According to the excellent site “My Year in Saigon with AFVN” by Captain James Wentz, USN (Rtd) “The mission of AFVN was to boost morale through radio/tv/news programming that centered around music, news and sports. Our station IDs identified AFVN as “the voice of information, education and entertainment.” Americans fighting in Vietnam were fighting in a climate that was unlike anything they had experienced in the past both geographically as well as politically and militarily. AFVN existed as a way to not only inform the troops but to reach out to them in the field and offer them a bit of the sights and sounds of home or “the world” as the troops referred to the US. AFVN offered a relatively diverse amount of programming and one of the most popular proved to be the “Dawnbusters” radio show. Adrian Cronauer (yes he was real) started the infamous “Gooood Morning Vietnam” introduction while at the same time started a tradition that was continued by subsequent “Dawnbusters” hosts. To get a good feel for what AFVN was all about, your first stop should be the AFVN Homepage, an extremely thorough site that features articles and additional links on the history of AFVN, photos of the facilities, AFVN radio and TV clips and a whole host of other resources. Airchecks have a fantastic 11-minute plus audio clip of AFVN radio from April 1969 featuring none other than Army Specialist Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune fame hosting “Dawnbusters” plus a bunch of other interesting clips (Real Audio required). The Sounds of Vietnam is another great site where you can hear for yourself the original “Good Morning Vietnam” intro as it actually aired on AFVN plus a bunch of other very cool clips and air checks as well as sounds ranging from the sounds of a helicopter starting up to the sounds of Saigon street life (again Real Audio required).
War is a tragic and brutal thing that Hollywood often glamorizes for the sake of a good story. Nothing will change that fact. The men and women behind AFVN were not there to glamorize or trivialize the Vietnam War, far from it. They attempted to humanize a very inhuman act with as much humor and honesty as they could muster. What they did on the airwaves through AFVN was create an oasis of humanity in a dessert of destruction and one can only admire them for that. They also were responsible for some damn good radio and that is still cool no matter where they broadcasted from. The fact that it was from a war zone on the other side of the world makes this a fascinating story indeed.