American Forces Vietnam Network inspired Robin Williams

Photo of author

By Dan Sears

“Gooooood morning, Vietnam!”

The memorable greeting, immortalized by Robin Williams in the 1987 film of the same name, wasn’t a creation of Hollywood.

It was inspired by the true story of DJ and Air Force Sgt. Adrian Cronauer, who hosted a morning radio show on the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

Cronauer, who died in 2018, originated the phrase, but there were at least 17 other military DJs who hosted that the radio network’s morning program — “The Dawnbuster” — between 1965 and 1973, including “Wheel of Fortune” legend Pat Sajak.

“Whether the catchphrase was required or not, I can’t really say,” said Rick Fredericksen, a onetime newsman at AFVN Saigon and the co-author, along with fellow AFVN alum Marc Phillip Yablonka, of the new book “Hot Mics and TV Lights: The American Forces Vietnam Network” (Double Dagger Books).

“It was just a well-established and catchy phrase to start a morning show,” he told The Post. “Imagine the troops groaning when they were greeted with ‘Goooood morning, Vietnam.’ ”

Robin Williams won a Golden Globe for “Good Morning, Vietnam.”
©Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

The legacy of AFVN is far bigger than what was captured in one Hollywood movie.

The original station was founded in 1962 by Chief Petty Officer Bryant Arbuckle, often called the “Father of Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam,” who ran the operation alone for three months before being granted a small staff.

It soon expanded “into a sprawling network of nationwide radio and television stations,” the book notes. Its mission wasn’t just to entertain but to give the more 500,000 enlisted listeners a reason to feel hopeful.

See also  Kylie Jenner 'skipped' Jordyn Woods' birthday party despite rekindled friendship

Before he died, Cronauer told the authors he thought the radio station’s mission was to be an “antidote to homesickness.” And the best way to do that, according to the now 77-year-old Sajak, was to “program it like a stateside radio station.”

A young Pat Sajak hosted a radio morning show in Vietnam.
Courtesy Pat Sajak

“We played Top 40 music,” Sajak says in the book. “We didn’t have commercials, but we did have snappy PSAs: ‘Be sure to keep your M-16 cleaned.’ That kind of stuff. We produced our own jingles and ran tight shows.”

They also had a captive audience. “AFVN was the only game in town,” Yablonka recalls. Listening to the radio was a shared experience, one that made every enlisted officer feel a little less isolated from the outside world.

It also reached “a vast Vietnamese shadow audience,” says Yablonka.

Anybody who could pick up the signal, and that included enemy combatants, could tune in and hear every broadcast.

“I think there was something about the American way of life that the Vietnamese caught on to through the music that the AFVN deejays played,” Yablonka tells The Post.

“Hot Mics and TV Lights: The American Forces Vietnam Network” tells the story of the radio broadcast.

The “Good Morning Vietnam” movie got a few details wrong but accurately depicted how dangerous Saigon could be during the war, even for an unarmed military deejay.

See also  Get cheap tickets to Depeche Mode 2023 'Memento Mori Tour'

Yablonka recalls a taxi full of explosives blowing up outside the AFVN studios, “causing major damage while the station was on the air.” Rick Bednar, another AFVN radio personality, still has vivid memories of showing up for his first day at the studio just after the blast.

“I remember walking into the lobby and seeing large pieces of glass embedded in the wall opposite where the front windows had been,” he says in the book. “It was an instant reminder that I was in a war zone. Everyone was on edge.”

Despite the constant threat of danger, Sajak insists he never felt in harm’s way during his tour as an AFVN morning man in Saigon.

“It was funny and strange,” he remembers. “There was a war going on. Barbed wire was everywhere, and I was playing records and going to restaurants every night. It was a fairly normal life. And given the circumstances, mine was a pretty lucky duty.”

Rick Fredericksen, a onetime newsman at AFVN Saigon, is one of the book’s co-authors.
Courtesy Rick Fredericksen

These DJs entertained soldiers not just with music, but reminders of home.

They recreated “live” baseball games, improvising the play-by-play based on teletype updates on each batter that came in over shortwave,” the authors write.

They even performed a “blow-by-blow” broadcast of a 1963 boxing match between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, which was so realistic that “many GIs asked how we got to go to Las Vegas for a prize fight,” according to Air Force Lieutenant (and AFRS’s first officer in charge) Donald Kirtley.

See also  Miley Cyrus mourns 'wild' days in new song 'Used to Be Young'

It wasn’t all victories for the AFRS deejays.

When President Richard Nixon delivered a Christmas television address to the nation in 1969, which (due to the time difference) was simulcast during the “Dawnbuster” morning show, Sajak — who was hosting at the time — accidentally cut away to music before Nixon gave a special Christmas message to the troops in Vietnam.

“I could have admitted my mistake and gone back to the speech, but I figured there was no point in doing that because I was the only one in the world who knew that Richard Nixon was directing his comments to only one soldier: me!” Sajak says. “So, if you were in Vietnam at Christmastime in 1969, allow me to wish you a belated merry Christmas from Richard M. Nixon!”

Rate this post

Leave a Comment