Monday, March 18, 2019

AFVN Paul Bottoms

We recently lost AFVN vet Paul Bottoms.  A while back he told his story:

By Paul Bottoms,

AFVN Saigon 1968-1970

Well, AFVN meant a lot to me because I spent almost two years ---two tours---on the air in Saigon. We were the network and had seven AM stations up country carrying our signal.  They were required to produce three hours of their own programming each day.  

Music was the central part of what we presented and we tried to emulate stateside radio in its various formats. But besides the music, we copied the elements of programming we had either learned or heard on stateside radio.  

I did the allnight show , The Orient Express from 1 to 4 a.m. for much of the time I was there. I was on the board until 6 a.m. when Pat Sajak (he spelled his name Sadjak then) would take over.  To show you the variety, after my three hour show ended, we had an R&B show by Herman Griffith at 4 a.m. and a country show with Joe Allison at 5 a.m, both shows from AFRTS.

We had a ten minute newscast at 6 a.m., a five minute sportscast then a feature that ran about three or four minutes….a chaplain giving us a dose of religion.  A different chaplain would come in every week and record five programs. Then came the famous "good morning Vietnam" show opening. 

Later, after Pat left, I was moved to days and also did the Dawnbuster which ran until nine (although at 8 a.m., the up-country stations cut away to do one of their local hours).   The war was winding down in 1970 and we had fewer people to work with.  After 9 a.m., there were two hour-long shows from AFRTS then from 11 a.m., we had another local show.  So by 1970 the guy who did the morning show also had to do the 11 to noon show.  There was a half hour newscast at noon and from 12:30 to one, a lady from the USO came in.  One of our jocks, Roger Ashworth married the USO lady at the time.

it was very hard to please everybody.  In fact, we didn’t.  We only had an AM and an FM in each area.  The FM in Saigon had a morning show geared to older people then later in the day, they aired what we call beautiful music.  On the AM, we did what stations did in the old days before a station specialized in just one kind of music: "block programming".  So we'd have a two hour top 40 show from 7-9 p.m., a two hour country show in the afternoon, a morning show that played the top 40 stuff, except the hard stuff,  and even throw in a march.  

We tried to cover all types of music including "underground," those guys were always ticked off at us. They didn't want to hear the hit from the album, they wanted the other cuts. We had a Hispanic sergeant on the weekend with a program of Spanish music called “Bolero."  We also had a two hour oldies show on Saturday night.

We had a good news department.   There was a newscast at the top of every hour around the clock.

They had to walk a tricky line because of what they could report about the war.  We also carried Paul Harvey who didn't like the Vietnam war and kept throwing in phrases like "that dead end war" that they edited out. 

For sports, we also carried some big games live, like the World Series which means that because of the time difference the game might start at 3 in the morning and end about 7 or so.

Radio stations stateside have commercials. But we had PSA’s, public service announcements which stateside broadcasters use for charities and other good causes. They were our commercials. We tried to make them as interesting as possible, often with nothing more than some talented people, an idea, some copy,  music  and  sounds effects.

We made every reference possible to home, stateside, the world.  Getting out of the Vietnam, if even for a week on R&R, was a very big deal and we made it sound as glamorous as possible. We had  announcements about taking the weekly malaria pill (guaranteed to give you the runs although we never brought that up). 

We ran things about the dangers of getting VD, warning to buy savings bonds and announcements about re-upping and doing another tour.  Once, we ran an announcement saying the mayor of Saigon wanted us to ask our maids in our hotel not to hang out uniforms so they could be seen from the street.   It ended with something like "for a better looking Saigon."

I'm very proud of my association with AFVN. In more than 45 years of doing radio, in some pretty big cities like Chicago, D.C., Dallas/Ft. Worth and Phoenix,  I think the audience at AFVN  may have been the most responsive.  But they usually didn't have a lot of choices.  They needed us more.

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