AFRS OUTLETS GO SILENT ALONG ‘ROAD’
By SGT. GEORGE GINGELL
The great pulse of the Ledo Road has slowed down. The thousands of men and machines that manned the incredible supply line to China have gone. The pipeline is no more and the jungle is fast creeping in along the way that once swarmed with platoons, companies and battalions of Service Troops. Among the landmarks to disappear in the wake of departing men were the Armed Forces Radio Stations.
Since 1944, troops along the road had been provided with Stateside radio entertainment by a chain of broadcasting stations known as the India-Burma Network. Men in Chabua, Shinghwiyang, Myitkyina, Ledo and Bhamo were entertained from early morning until late night by the finest radio programs in the world.
Top stars from radio, stage and screen shared the AFRS spotlight with prominent figures from every walk of life. Actors, singers, orchestras, comedians, statesmen, scientists, authors, all were part of one of the moat widespread military morale building programs ever created.
First of these stations to open in the Ledo Road area was at Chabua, in northern Assam Province. Next came Shingbwiyang in Burma in August, 1944. In December stations in Myitkyina and Ledo opened up. And in February, 1945, while combat missions still were being flown from the Bhamo airstrip, another Armed Forces Radio Station went “on the air.” These stations covered all the outposts that worked and rode the Ledo Road.
The story behind each of the stations is much the same. Weather conditions made the maintenance of equipment almost impossible. Fungus and mold crept into intricate machinery overnight; dampness rusted and rotted as fast as new parts were replaced. Still, somehow, through the inevitable ingenuity of G.I.’s the stations kept on the air. The difficulties of procurement provided another stumbling block to decent operation. The “world’s longest supply line” found little space for radio parts.
The majority of the AFRS trained soldiers who manned the stations were former radio and entertainment professionals. At Chabua, under the guidance of Maj. Frank Goss and T/Sgt. Pat Bishop – both former Hollywood news announcers – were T/4 Gene Seyet and T/4 Fergus Steven, in Myitkyina were S/Sgt. Dave Page, T/4 Howard Williams, T/4 Will Jackson and radio, Stage and Screen actor Sgt. Jimmy McCallion. Lt. John Bennett of San Francisco Radio was officer in charge.
The Ledo Station had five ex-radio men S/Sgt. Jerry Sears from WATL, Atlanta; S/Sgt. Bob Spiros of WLW, Cincinnati; T/3 Walter Flint from WQXR, New York; S/Sgt. George Gingell, radio man with Sammy Kaye; and Lt. L. M. George from Cache Valley Broadcasting Company in Utah.
Bhamo boasts of T/Sgt. Les Damon, Chicago and New York radio actor, who created the title role of “The Thin Man,” one of radio’s most popular mystery series.
There’s hardly a soldier in China, India or Burma who has not tuned in on one of the AFRS stations scattered throughout the Theater. Beside the Ledo Road operations, there are at least a dozen others, including Calcutta, New Delhi, Karachi, Agra, Kunming and Chungking.
The programs that are broadcast represent the finest entertainment available. The shows are transcribed in Hollywood and shipped by ATC to all parts of the globe, every week. Most of them are “off the air” recordings of Stateside broadcasts, with the commercial announcements deleted. However, shows like Command Performance, Mail Call, GI Journal, Jubilee and GI Jill are written and produced exclusively for servicemen overseas.
Silent U.S. War Department Bureau of Public Relations film no. 1205.
A sign on a building in this film indicates that this is station VU2ZN, an AFRS station in Ledo. National Archives description: “A soldier-broadcaster selects records from a phonograph library. A band and a vocalist perform in a broadcasting room. Several song-and-dance teams perform before U.S. troops at an overseas base during a U.S.O. show.”
Supplementing the transcribed shows, most of the stations have presented all kinds of local talent in their studios. In Ledo, for example, there were no less than fourteen “in-person” shows per week during the days when Ledo was the bustling “zero” mark of the road. There were bands, quartets, soloists, choruses, hillbillies, speakers, plays, religious services, newscasts, interviews with important personalities and the ever popular record request shows. And there were remote broadcasts that covered everything from a visit to a G.I. Pig Farm to dances at enlisted men’s clubs. The Bhamo station will go down in history for its famous baseball broadcast. The announcer was Kelly. He was also one of the players, describing every minute of the game, even while he was up at bat and running bases.
The G.I.’s who listened to Armed Forces Radio may never recall the work and struggle that went into bringing radio entertainment into the jungle outposts of the Ledo Road.
However, we doubt if they will ever forget that through the miracle of radio, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joan Davis, Roy Acuff, Frank Sinatra and hundreds of other great names in show business helped them to forget the heat and the monsoons and to bring China, Burma and India just a little closer to home.
AFRS stations along the Ledo Road were VU2ZV Chabua, AFRS Shingbwiyang, AFRS Myitkyina, VU2ZN Ledo and WOTO Bhamo. Our introductory feature on AFRS Radio in China-Burma-India is here .
This original article appeared in ‘India-Burma Theater Roundup’ on February 2 1946, a newspaper published in India by and for US Forces.
© These newspapers have been recreated and digitized as part of a large on-line project about the CBI theater of WWII operations by Carl W Weidenburner which can be found at www.cbi-theater.com. We recommend this resource and encourage your support for the project.