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AFRS Radio

1940's

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WVUB & WVUL (WVL)  Panama Canal Zone ACA & ACB-20
The Naval Radio Station PCAN & PCAC Corozal & Ft Davis

    

              

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True Origins of PCAN & SCN How Clay Doster built PCAN & AFRS
Names & Faces of the 40's A list of names and photos
1940's Biographies Biographies of cast & crew
Cliff Van Doren Galleries AFRS Studios & Crew photos
AFRS Commendations Official letters of Commendation
AFRS Radio Programs Original Radio show schedules
1940's Studios Inside Albrook studios
Candlelight Club 1940's Candlelight Club photos
Dale Cockle's AFRS memories Memories of  PCAN & AFRS
AFRS call letter changes changing call letters of AFRS
1940's Studio Photos Photos inside the Albrook studios

 

In April 1941, Msgt Clay Doster and Msgt Frank Hawkridge Jr of the Pacific Coast artillery Corps News, took it upon on their own initiative to build two small 50 watt radio stations on each coast of the Panama Canal Zone and sent out receivers to provide some needed entertainment for the 30,000 troops spread through the jungles manning artillery guns to defend the canal. 

This was over a year and a half before AFRS ever existed. The little stations were operated by the Jarman Junglemen Artillery Corps named after their beloved Major General Sandeford Jarman. The Jungleers created their own unofficial call letters which essentially belonged to the Signal Corps. PCAN (Panama Coast Artillery News) which I believe was located in Corozal on the Pacific side of the Canal Zone and PCAC (Panama Coast Artillery Corps) operated 4 hours per day which I believe was located on the Ft Davis side of the CZ.

Msgt Clay Doster, who was also editor in Chief of the Pacific Coast Artillery News, sent a letter to NBC's "Blue Network" requesting some old recordings and transcriptions for their little stations to air for the troops. The vice president of NBC's Radio recording dept who received their letter was C. Lloyd Egner, a former Doughboy. Egner & NBC President Niles Trammel decided to adopt the two little 50 watt stations as honorary affiliates of the NBC "Blue Network". They immediately sent 1000 recordings weighing one ton, to the 2 stations and delivered continuing broadcast transmission feeds and recordings on an ongoing basis. The President of NBC went on the air to personally welcome the adopted stations to the NBC network as honorary affiliates in a half hour  nationwide, star studded broadcast special on Sept 11, 1941 to tell PCAN's colorful story to the public. 

NBC also decided to set up short-wave feeds to over 20 additional troop locations worldwide at NBC sponsor expense and were still doing so in 1943... Long after AFRS claimed credit, NBC was the sole source of broadcast transmissions to the troops and recorded programming. 

A year and a half after PCAN & PCAC were built on each coast of the Canal Zone, AFRS was created to send a staff and crew to assume control & management of the two stations built by the Artillery Corps. A studio was set up on Albrook Field (AFB) and the PCAN & PCAC call letters were dropped, initially for the Army's ACA and ACB-20 designations to replace the Artillery corps unofficial call letters. Later, the Navy department provided the call letters, WVUL, WVUB and WVL for the AFRS controlled station assigned to the Pan Canal Department. However, it was NBC who was still providing the broadcast feeds and regular recorded materials shipped to the station every week. Not AFRS. The first reference of AFRS in the newspapers is Oct 3, 1943. We have letters of commendation from AFRS dated in the Fall of 1944 which references the past 2 years of the station. However, NBC was providing all of the broadcast transmissions via short-wave to over 20 troop locations worldwide as well as recording & shipping materials to the stations on a regular basis through at least the end of 1942. I don't have the exact date when AFRS actually took over.

In December 1948, AFRS obtained the famed building 209 location on Ft Clayton and moved in 1949. 

The history being purported about the origins of AFRS needs to be immediately corrected to recognize the true origins. We have newspaper articles on the true history of Msgt Clay Doster's historical founding of PCAN (SCN) and his letter to NBC which later led to the creation of AFRS which can be found on the true origins of PCAN & SCN.

After Doster's letter, NBC began providing all the broadcasts to over 20 sites for soldiers worldwide and recording material at the expense of their sponsors. AFRS was created over a year and a half after PCAN & PCAC were built to send staff and crews to assume "control" and "manage" the two small canal zone radio stations. AFRS did not provide the broadcasts or entertainment. NBC continued to provide all broadcasts long after AFRS claimed unearned credit.

AFRS is the Armed Forces Radio Service which later became AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio & TV Service), then (American Forces Radio & TV service as well as AFN (American Forces Network). 

The AFRS crew who arrived in 1943 were assigned to the Panama Canal Department. From the onset, the staff and crew were from mixed military background. Navy, Army, Air force, Marines and civilian services which created an unusual confusion in overlapping command structures. AFRS in Panama used a variety of call letters such as WVUL, WVL & WVUB, among others. In 1954, it became CFN (Caribbean Forces Network) and SCN (Southern Command Network) in 1963 which it remained until final closure in 1999.

AFRS dropped the PCAN & PCAC call letters and relocated the primary broadcast studios to Albrook Field (AFB). AFRS did not obtain the famed building 209 location on Ft Clayton until December 1948 and moved in 1949. 

AFRS in Panama CZ was an all-radio broadcast since this was the era before television became available. SCN played many popular radio programs which were sent to AFRS every week on prerecorded gramophone record albums produced and shipped by NBC at the expense of their sponsors. AFRS also performed their own local live skits, regular radio shows written and enacted by the radio station crew as well as local news programs and live entertainment from various visiting celebrities and local talent. AFRS also had a baby Grand piano and a Hammond organ for entertainment as well as a bong type chime with a rubber mallet to create a recognizable sound (like the NBC chime) to precede the time announcement. 

Many other props and sound devices were used to create sound effects such as bells, sand, shoes, cymbals and a wide variety of noise devices to mimic a wide variety of sounds.

Actor Ray Milland visited the studios in late 1947.

Many recordings in the studio at the time could be recorded directly to a Gramophone record. Vinyl records and magnetic tape were not available until after 1949. The "canned" stateside programs were shipped on a weekly basis to AFRS stations on prerecorded gramophone records. 

Those shows which were later produced locally by AFRS were usually performed live or on a locally recorded Gramophone record. These Gramophone records look similar in size and shape to vinyl records but they are much heavier and will chip or break if dropped on a hard surface. When recording to a gramophone record, the operator had to carefully use a soft, long haired brush to clear away the debris as it cut the grooves into the record, so the particles it produced would not disturb the needle. Many home stereo systems used to have brushes on the needles to remove dust and debris to enable a cleaner sound without crackles or skipping needles. AFRS dumped hundreds of these gramophone records in the Diablo dump when they moved from the Albrook studios to the building 209 studios in Ft Clayton.

In addition to the popular radio programs at the time were either broadcast by NBC short wave or shipped to the station weekly by NBC network such as the popular soldier request program Command Performance, Blondie, Dorothy Lamour, Al Jolson, Red Skelton, Inner Sanctum, My Friend Irma... just to name a few.

AFRS in the CZ provided call in requests for popular music on their 633 club program and Playhouse skits written by local AFRS talent. You can see a sample of an actual AFRS Radio program schedule on the AFRS 1940's Schedule page.

Even with the insufferable heat and humidity in the Canal Zone, the 1940's uniforms were long sleeved with Pith helmets, spats and no air conditioning. The dress uniforms were wool. This persisted through the 1970's with the exception of no pith helmets or spats. Some services permitted short sleeve uniforms in the 50's. However, the only portion of the broadcast building which was eventually air conditioned were the TV and Radio studios due to the heat produced by the intense studio lighting and transmitter equipment. In the 40's, 50's and 60's, most electronics contained tubes instead of transistors (developed in the 50's) or computer chips (developed in the 70's). These types of tube equipment generated a lot of excessive heat which only added to the tropical heat and humidity. The offices and barracks sleeping areas were still not air conditioned through the 1970's until the main renovation when the entire building was refurbished in the 80's and 90's. Clothes closets often contained heating devices inside a metal cage cylinder to prevent the growth of mold on the clothes from the humidity in unairconditioned residences. But these often started fires when clothes or linens fell onto the heating core cage. These heating units were still being used in the 70's.

The continuing saga of the journey from AFRS Radio to CFN Radio & TV and finally SCN from 1941 to 1999 can be viewed in the overview of SCN by each Decade. The story continues with CFN in the 1950's.

This is just a small sample of our AFRS photos. Please be sure to visit the photo galleries of Cliff Van Doren with over 13 pages of photos of the AFRS studios and crew. Most of our photos and info about AFRS in the 40's came from the excellent collections and memories of Cliff Van Doren.

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Albrook AFRS Studio

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AFRS Radio Crew

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The Navy Radio Station

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Wm Tinker, Bernie Crocker, Ellis Turner

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Cliff Van Doren with the chime

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AFRS Radio Studio

 

 

 

 

 

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