Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Bedpan Network


In the early years of the network, AFRTS programming was also being used in VA hospitals, in something informally called the "Bedpan Network". Last year actor William Wintersole shared him memories of AFKN and the Bedpan Network. Gerry Fry shared some of his memories there. I had questions and Gerry filled us in:
The so-called Bedpan Network never had an official name that I know of. I began my AFRTS career on one in 1956 when I was hospitalized at Ft. Ord with their standard issue pneumonia, only since I had it before, mine lasted seven weeks. During that time I listened to a hospital radio station and when I became ambulatory I wandered down one day to find a room in which were located AFRTS discs and real broadcast equipment being operated by real people. I think there was one full-time staffer and the rest were volunteers, mostly patients as I recall. I asked if I could do some air work and was welcomed with open arms, although I had to take it easy for the first week or so as I gained strength. They told me about AFRTS and said with my commercial background I should try to get assigned to the headquarters in Hollywood. I took down the address and wrote a letter asking for work. Incidentally, the folks in the studio showed me the "new" discs they were receiving on 12" LPs vice the 16" transcriptions they got before. Both were in their library. From that, I judged the conversion to LPs was in 1954 or 1955; however, when I finally arrived at AFRTS-LA in 1982, nobody could tell me for sure.

A master sergeant wrote back to me explaining that the Army would have to assign me there; it wasn't something they had any control over as the services filled the slots from their resources. He suggested that since I was destined for Germany, I try to get assigned to AFN there. I asked folks in the hospital studio if I could get an address for AFN. They didn't have one, but a fellow said the information officer on the base just came from Germany and he might be able to help. When the docs put me into convalescent status, they let me walk over to his office and he said a good friend of his was the information officer of the 10th Division in W├╝rzburg, and he would be glad to write him telling him to watch for me and see if he could grease the skids. I thanked him profusely because at that time my MOS was Infantry Radioman -- you know, the kind who runs up and down hills with a radio strapped to his back!

When I arrived in December, Major Zieg was waiting for me and convinced the personnel guys to let him have me TDY for 60 days. During that time, Zieg pulled strings to get me assigned to him fulltime. It turns out that I was locked into the 10th for my entire tour there; no chance for AFN even though I passed their audition and they wanted me. I was part of an Army experiment whereby whole units, people and equipment, rotated with another from stateside to overseas and nobody could be transferred elsewhere. I'm only telling you this because it started out in the Bedpan Network at Ft. Ord and I thought I'd better finish that part of the story. I did in fact work in Zieg's office and he let me run my own Radio and TV Branch, from which I did a lot of reporting for AFN and The Army Hour back in the states. I also produced and announced several radio series for stations in Columbus, GA as the 10th was destined to rotate with the 3rd Division at Ft. Benning in 1958. I had a great job, and got to see lots of Germany as I put myself on TDY orders to do stories all over the division's area.

Now -- back to the Bedpan Network. After 12 years as PD in Panama and six years as Navy Broadcasting Service Assistant Director, I knew that AFRTS programming was licensed for broadcast only overseas; no stateside use was authorized. When I arrived at AFRTS-LA in 1982 to assume my new duties as Director of Programming, I became aware that we were sending weekly RL shipments to about 35 military hospitals. I was told that the VA had requested the service shortly after WWII and that Washington had authorized it in spite of the license agreements. They reasoned that since they were all closed-circuit "networks," nobody would care. I took the matter to my boss and asked him to verify this with AFIS in Washington. The direction was to continue providing the RL units each week.

Here's the part I'm hazy on. A few years later (can't remember when) someone questioned this (can't remember if it was an IG inspection or a VA person who said there was no longer a need -- I think the latter). In any case, I was told to stop the service effective a certain date. I ordered disposition instructions for these substantial libraries to be sent to each place and we got back certificates of destruction from each. My guess is that many of the LPs ended up not destroyed, but in private collections or second-hand record stores since there was no real accountability at the hospitals for the materials.

So -- there you have a long answer to a very short question, and that's all I know about it! You're right about so little documented. Much of what there is was kept as sort of a hobby by one of our staffers. Her work was never officially recognized, nor was she compensated for it because it wasn't her job. AFIS never considered it important, I guess.

Gerry