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The True Origins of PCAN & PCAC

The birth of SCN & AFRS

 

Recognizing the original founders of PCAN & PCAC

the origins of SCN & AFRS 

 

Msgt Clay Doster

Sgt Wayne Woods

Tsgt Joseph Whitehead

Msgt Frank Hawkridge

Tsgt Bill Gould

 

Cpl Larry Moulton

Pvt Bill Poor

Sgt Joe Sonowski

Pvt Del Trivett

Cpl Howard A Adams

 Major Gen Sanderford Jarman

 

See the newspaper articles which tell the whole story 

  

The true story of SCN & AFRS

Click to read articles about PCAN
 
In 1940, the Pacific Coast Artillery Corps set up 2 small 50 watt transmitters on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the Panama Canal Zone for communications and alert purposes for the 30,000 artillery troops spread throughout the Panama jungles manning anti-aircraft artillery gun positions. They named these two stations PCAN (Panama Coast Artillery News) and PCAC (Panama Coast Artillery Corps) which operated 4 hours per day and operated by the Artillery Corps Jungleers. The transmitter was located in the basement of the HQ in Quarry Heights. However, the Jarman Junglemen "Jungleers" (named after their favorite commanding general Sanderford Jarman) were not diligent in listening to the radios for alerts so Sgt Wayne Woods was tasked by Artillery Command with the job of finding a way to keep the men interested. Sgt Wayne Woods (editor of the Panama Coast Artillery News), Msgt Clay Doster (Chief Editor & PR NCO) and Tsgt Joseph Whitehead (transmitter engineer) came up with the idea of  playing music to keep the men interested. Commanding Major General Sanderford Jarman gave the idea his wholehearted approval. 

The three men with no commercial broadcast or anchor experience, operated the stations reading news and playing whatever records they could acquire on their four hour broadcast each day. This was over 2 years before AFRS or any other military radio station existed. 

Maj Gen Jarman also wanted the men kept up to date with the news, so Sgt Woods became the first News Anchor for PCAC & PCAN, reading news from the local paper Panama Star & Herald. One of the NCO's read the news headlines each day. On Sundays, the staff produced a half hour newscast based on Time Magazine stories. The Panama Coast Artillery News provided the funds to ensure regular programming.

The programs became so popular among the troops and civilians working for the Pan Canal Dept and their families that Wood and Doster came up with the idea to request stateside programming for their little stations. Sgt Wayne Woods contacted the movie industry and was able to obtain free copies of Jack Benny's programs on an autographed gramophone record as well as programs from other celebrities such as Bing Crosby.  

Msgt Clay Doster, 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 letter reached the desk of C. Lloyd Egner, Vice President of radio recording for NBC, a former Doughboy. Egner and 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 special nationwide, star studded broadcast on Sept 11, 1941 to tell the public PCAN's colorful story. 

Ironically, Major General Jarman who supported these efforts was transferred out of Panama on Aug 2, 1941 and transferred to a coastal artillery defense command in NY. Sgt Frank Hawkridge Jr, the engineer who built and maintained the PCAC transmitters with Tsgt Joseph Whitehead was transferred back to the US in Oct 1941 just one month after the NBC broadcast which begs the question as to whether the founders of PCAC, PCAN, SCN, AFRS and what became the AFN; were being punished for stirring up a firestorm of publicity as NBC stepped up to the plate to provide entertainment to the soldiers left to linger in remote situations without any contact with the outer world. A public relations issue for the military dropping the ball and the public having been made aware of 30,000 troops spread throughout remote areas of the jungle, cut off from the rest of the world, manning artillery guns. 

When Alaska soldiers heard about PCAC & PCAN, they decided to build a wildcat 15 watt transmitter 2 months after the NBC broadcast on Oct 28, 1941. Soldiers manning an isolated outpost on Iceland and north Africa were not forgotten. NBC decided to set up short-wave feeds to over 20 additional troop locations worldwide at NBC sponsor expense, providing live & recorded programming to the small soldier built wildcat stations which began to pop up after the Sept 11, 1941 broadcast to welcome PCAC & PCAN to NBC's Blue Network as honorary affiliate stations. Soldiers were also able to tune in on the NBC Short-wave broadvasts where there were no radio stations in their area. 

Clearly, the PCAN & PCAC stations providing entertainment and news for the soldiers and civilians on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Panama were the very first military broadcast stations and network before AFRS or any other military station existed and should be credited as such. 

The military was clearly embarrassed by NBC adopting their stations as well as footing the bill. The founders of PCAC and PCAN were transferred out of Panama.  A political action. Alaska was shut down by the FCC but public outcry forced them to license the station and allow it to return to the air. 

On Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 PCAC shut down at 4 pm under a national emergency directive requiring radio silence. It did not resume service until two weeks later on Dec 23, 1941 when the Presidents order permitted low powered radio transmissions such as the 50 watt military controlled PCAC & PCAN stations which had to be tuned to prevent radio broadcasts from exceeding a mandated distance of 15 miles from the landmass. All Panamanian civilian stations were taken off the air as were all US Navy ships out to sea ordered to remain on radio silence. So PCAN and PCAC became the only radio for the Americans in the CZ as well as the Panamanians during the war. 

Special Services personnel were sent to PCAN & PCAC in January 1943 to "manage" and "control" the broadcasts of these stations. The PCAN & PCAC call letters were dropped for the army radio call letters of ACA and ACB-20 and the transmitters were moved from the Quarry Heights HQ basement to Corozal and Ft Davis Army bases located on each coast of the Canal Zone. The military did not provide broadcast materials. 

NBC continued to provide short-wave transmissions and recorded materials to over 20 locations worldwide and were still doing so until Oct 1943 when a US antitrust suit forced NBC to sell their Blue Network (which became ABC in 1945). 

Long after the date AFRS claimed credit, NBC had been the sole source of broadcast transmissions & recorded materials to the troops & troop radio stations at NBC sponsor expense.

Coincidentally, there was not one mention of AFRS existing in any newspaper nationwide until Oct 3, 1943 which coincides with the sale of the NBC Blue Network which ended the free broadcasts. A definite contradiction to the "revised" history we've been told. This is also the date of the first mention of an AFRS entertainment program by one of their staff members who was a musician. Without the NBC Blue Network, AFRS had to step up to the plate in Oct 1943 to interface with the 3 Radio networks to assure continued broadcast materials for the troops and maintain public approval. Loss of radio broadcasts to the troops would have created a public relations nightmare at home.

The next AFRS article which appears in the national news was in November of 1943 regarding the transmission of a Thanksgiving football game... but the transmission was actually being provided by the Mutual Network (CBS) for AFRS. Not by AFRS.

Army special services built a new radio studio at Albrook field (AFB) in the Canal Zone and moved operations to Albrook in a grand opening event in the fall of 1944. WVUL, WVUB and WVL from the US Navy became the new call letters for the Army special services controlled station which was assigned to the Pan Canal Department. The AFRS logo was added to the station at the end of the war.

In December 1948, AFRS obtain the famed building 209 location on Ft Clayton and moved into their new studios 1949. In 1954, it became CFN (Caribbean Forces Network). AFRS became AFRTS in 1955. CFN began broadcasting black & white TV in the Spring of 1956 and became SCN (Southern Command Network) in 1963. Color TV was added in 1975. A new DOD satellite network was added in 1979 with SCN as the lead station. Cable TV freed SCN from its programming restrictions in 1990. SCN Honduras was added in 1991. 

Behind it all, were the two radio stations PCAN and PCAC built in 1940 by the Panama Coast Artillery news which was the brain child of Msgt Clay Doster, Sgt Wayne Wood and Tsgt Joseph Whitehead with the support of Major General Jarman and the skills of Msgt Frank Hawkridge who engineered & maintained the transmitters & equipment. These founders created the first military entertainment radio station and enlisted the help of the NBC Blue Network from which SCN and AFRS were born.

SCN closed its doors and shut down in 1999. Most of our SCN family of celebrities and crew from 1940 to 1999 have gathered here on our virtual SCN website to share our memories and photos from those historic days. 

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Sept 7 1941

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