Wartime Radio in the Pacific and Asia

The Radio Heritage Collection is the realisation of David Ricquish’s ambition to bring together radio stories in a readily accesible media. Too often these stories are published in a monthly magazine and thereafter rarely see the light of day.

The Project Begins

When I started this research about 12 months ago, I was inspired by a general desire to record the stories of radio broadcasting in the Pacific, and in particular, the story of the Mosquito Network which was a loose connection of American Forces Radio Stations radiating northwards from Auckland, New Zealand during WWII.

This has become an immensely complex project. Rather than wait even more years for this material to appear, this introductory article tries to bring together what we know so far. I’m indebted to Dr Adrian Peterson who, unknown to me, had been passionately researching much of the same information from sources in Australia and the USA, and who has generously shared his research and original materials with me, and continues to do so.

One of the networks included in this project is known as the Jungle Network, which aptly describes the intertwining stories of radio stations, callsigns, locations and other chapters of a broadcasting era which began nearly 60 years ago. There are still some survivors, ranging from tiny WXLG at Kwajalein to the Far East Network in Japan, and even the ZM-FM rock music network in New Zealand which has roots in Radio 1ZM Auckland.

The Lost Australian Network

What we’ll do here, is simply draw a simple picture of where the strands of this Pacific radio story will take us in future articles. It’s largely an American story, but we also unearthed a long forgotten network of 21 Australian stations in the region, some New Zealand involvement, and some very strange places where you could turn on your radio in the closing days of WWII and hear the best swing bands from New York.

You’ll need a companion map of the Pacific and Asia to follow our story, which begins as the US and its allies prepare to island-hop towards the Japanese mainland in 1943. This was the time when Hawaii was still a territory, when the British and Dutch still colonised much of Asia and the Pacific, and the Japanese had League of Nations mandate over much of Micronesia. The Free French controlled New Caledonia, and even many of the place names have since changed in the intervening years.

San Francisco Calling

To keep morale boosted, and to inform and educate allied forces, the Armed Forces Radio Service from Los Angeles, initally beamed shortwave radio programs into the South Pacific from commercial stations in San Francisco. These were Office of War Information broadcasts, and were also relayed from shortwave transmitters near Honolulu in the Territory of Hawaii. Essentially propaganda in nature, their content wasn’t welcomed by US military forces.

AFRS soon decided to build a network of local radio stations in the area. These can be broadly described as the Mosquito Network, Jungle Network and Pacific Ocean Network although the title network is a misnomer since none actually linked for broadcasts. They did, however, serve different audiences with a common pool of music and other programs, as well as relay shortwave news and sports results from the major American networks.

Mosquito Network

The Mosquito Network included stations in Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, the New Hebrides (a condominium jointly controlled by Britain and the Free French) and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. In Auckland, New Zealand, control of station 1ZM was given to the AFRS for some nine months. The common thread for these locations is they were the marshalling area or close to the front line for US and allied forces as they prepared their move towards Tokyo.

Jungle Network

The Jungle Network began as the forces began their sweep north and westwards. It initially included stations in the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony, parts of the Territory of Papua, the League of Nations mandate of New Guinea, and soon stretched to include parts of the Dutch East Indies in what is now East Irian, Indonesia.

It continued to expand northwards, following Allied victories into the Southern Philippines, northwards to Manila itself, and then continued to open new stations as the islands of Micronesia fell one by one. Eventually, the Jungle Network reached into the Ryukyu Islands, Iwo Jima and southern mainland Japan, and to downtown Tokyo by late 1945.

Pacific Ocean Network

Along the way, it skirted the stations of the Pacific Ocean Network, another loose collection of AFRS stations primarily under US Navy control. These comprised a small group in the Central Pacific on Christmas Island, Canton Island, and Midway, and also stations on Guam. On Okinawa, the Office of War Information also began operating transmitters broadcasting to the local population and to unsurrendered Japanese in the islands between Guam and Japan.

As new stations opened closer to, and eventually in Japan itself, stations to the rear began to close down and move their transmitters, mobile studios and even their callsigns to new locations.

Australian Army Amenities Service (9A stations)

Across this patchwork of Jungle Network outlets, the Australian Army Amenities Service prepared over 20 mobile transmitters for service as well. These stations saw service in the Papua Territory, Dutch East Indies, and former British Straits Settlements such as North Borneo and Labuan, near Brunei. They also broadcast from Darwin and other rear echelon areas in Australia’s Northern Territory.

‘Apache’ and Other Outriders

Along the way we’ve found ‘outriders’, stations that were on air at the same time but don’t fit in any general pattern. These include RAAF stations in North Queensland, a jointly operated Australian/US Forces station in Port Moresby, the New Zealand mobile broadcasting unit centered in Noumea, an RAAF ‘Voice of the Islands’ station in Papua, and the converted Australian naval vessel renamed ‘Apache’ which became a floating radio station and communications center broadcasting as far north as southern Japan.

Far East Network is Born

After the occupation of Japan, the Jungle Network eventually became known as the Far East Network. The immediate occupation also saw former NHK Japanese national radio stations taken over and allocated American callsigns. In Kure, to confuse things further, the Australians and New Zealanders had their own station, but with an American callsign.

By the late 1940’s, the Far East Network began to contract, and many of the former Jungle Network stations had long gone. Private commercial radio stations were back on air in Manila and other parts of the Philippines as the territory regained independence from the USA.

American Forces Korea Network Spins Off

Then the Korean War broke out. At first FEN transmitters on the western side of Japan broadcast programs across the strait, but almost immediately, a small group of mobile stations were sent to Seoul and other locations and began broadcasting. From this very small and fragile beginning, was born a new network, which became independent of the FEN headquartered in Tokyo. The American Forces Korea Network came on air, and was soon followed by radio stations under United Nations auspices operated by both Australia and New Zealand.

XONE Peking and the China Network

Before returning to occupied Japan and embattled Korea, the Armed Forces Radio Service had been busy setting up even more stations, and three other distinct networks were operating by 1945.

These were in China, where a relatively large number of stations broadcast in the period immediately after Japanese surrender and before the Communist revolution. These were located in strategic cities, such as the port of Shanghai, major munitions and communications centers, along the border with Burma and even in Peking (as it was known then) itself.

American forces were not so much fighting the Japanese, as also getting drawn into a civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, and the stations were generally only on air for a relatively brief period. It was a dangerous time and place. This is the only country where the AFRS lost a complete station to enemy action, in this case, the Japanese. They used Chinese callsigns.

AFRS Myitkyina and the NE Burma Network

They were in Burma and the disputed borderlands near where the present countries of Burma, India, Bangladesh and Tibet (China) meet. The stations were generally built along the Burma-China Road, which was bulldozed and blasted through the jungle to carry supplies from British India to China. The nature of the terrain saw small stations being opened less than 50 miles away from each other.in what was, technically, British India.

VU2ZY Delhi and the British India Network

Indeed, the AFRS were also in British India itself, with a network of stations centered on Delhi, and including ports of Calcutta and what was to become East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, at Dacca, and many other Indian cities in eastern India. Even Ceylon and its old capital, Kandy, hosted an AFRS station.

The programs were very popular with British and Indian listeners alike, and the British were pleased to have American forces in the area whilst they wrestled with the future of their Indian Empire even if it meant letting them operate their own radio network. These stations all used Indian callsigns.

With the occupation of Japan, the American forces began to rapidly leave the CBI Theater and go home. Their stations were soon dismantled. By 1946, South East Asia Command was broadcasting to British forces from Colombo, Ceylon, and other (British) Forces Broadcasting Service stations were on air in the Straits Settlements and the Malay States.

Hot and Cold Wars, FEN Expands and Contracts

Which brings us back to the FEN in Japan. The service expanded and contracted throughout the 1950’s, with stations closing down, becoming amalgamated, then re-opening again in the early 1960’s as American involvement in South Vietnam brought more personnel to Okinawa and parts of southern Japan. The Cold War also brought strengthened US military preparedness in northern Japan, which practically stared across a narrow strait at the USSR occupied Sakhalin and other nearby islands. So, the AFRS services followed the troops.

RAAF Australia Broadcasts in Japan and Malaya

The Malaya Emergency of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s resulted in an RAAF broadcasting station being established at Butterworth, an airforce base on the mainland near the island of Penang in Malaysia. The RAAF also continued broadcasting from a shared base in Japan.

American Forces Vietnam Network ‘Rocks from the Delta to the DMZ’

By the early 1970’s, another new network was spun off from FEN traditions. This was the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) with stations ‘from the delta to the DMZ’ and which became popularized in the movie ‘Good Morning Vietnam’. The AFVN was the official broadcaster to US forces in the region, but there were also a large number of pirate (mainly FM) stations operated by military personnel. There were also clandestine broadcasts from the Americans, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese and the Chinese to create a radio war as much as one on the ground.

The Challenge of this Project

The story of these individual stations is the one we’re going to try and tell. Just figuring out where they were, their callsigns, when they went on air and off air, is a major challenge in itself. Finding people who were involved in these stations is proving equally challenging, and we hope actor Gene Hackman will share some comments from his time as a DJ at one of AFRS stations in small town in China.

We have news articles about the Australian radio stations, access to over 100 photos of these same stations, copies of their QSL cards, and DXers such as Jack Fox of Dunedin, New Zealand have provided us with copies of original reception reports, QSL letters and even program guides for some of the Mosquito Network stations.

Kip Allen, whose father was the commander of the Mosquito and Jungle Networks, has graciously shared material with us, and we’re immensely grateful to Turner Publishing for a copy of Brass Button Broadcasters by Trent Christman which includes several chapters about AFRS radio in the Pacific and Asia. We’ve managed to track down original AFRTS reports to their home in Los Angeles and other material to other locations and these will broaden the picture we paint of each location, each story and each station.

From Jazz in the Jungle to Silence

In many cases these stations were the first radio stations at many Pacific locations, and they just came and went, in many cases to be followed only years later by a colonial broadcasting station in true BBC fashion. Where jazz and big band sounds once filled jungle airwaves, there was silence. And, then, maybe, earnest discussions about correct pronunciation of the King’s English and ‘correct’ music.

Because most of the stations were off air before recording tape was invented, we’re having particular trouble finding any recordings of the stations. Collectors now prize the AFRS longplay record discs that filled so many station libraries with concerts of the great sounds of the 1940’s music scene. Many of these recordings are rare, because they were only recorded for the AFRS and were never released commercially.

We plan to have some excerpts from some of these discs available to give you an idea of what was heard. Where we can, we’ll also bring you recordings of station ID’s, personal reminiscences from the men and women who served across the Pacific and Asia, and any and all other items that help complete this fascinating story about radio in our part of the world.

Radio that Touched Local Listeners Threatens to be Lost Forever

It’s not just military broadcasting. Listeners in Auckland, New Zealand just enjoyed hearing a live ‘US’ radio station to break the monotony of the local NZ Broadcasting Service and their BBC style programs.

And it’s mainly because those who were involved in the broadcasts, the ones who can tell us their stories, are now getting on in years. Very soon, memories will fade, items will be lost, old paperwork destroyed through neglect, and part of our Pacific broadcasting heritage will be lost forever.

Please share with us what you know, now, before it’s too late.

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