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1960's Protest Songs
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“Ohio” itself was a unique protest song in that American soldiers may have put their own twist on it more so than other protest songs. “Ohio” was about the 1970 Kent State killings. As the student population protested the war in Vietnam, the National Guard was present to keep the peace. Suddenly, during the demonstration, frightened National Guardsmen opened fire on the crowd, killing four students.

Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know.25

These are just some samples of the types and content of music that was made in the 1960’s and 1970’s concerning the Vietnam War. However, this does not mean that all of these types of music were available to American soldiers in Vietnam. To determine what was heard by those men and women, it is important to examine the means by which soldiers listened to music. There were three main sources of music available to American soldiers: the Armed Forces Vietnam Network, [internet editor's note: later known as American Forces Vietnam Network -- Bob Morecook] unauthorized broadcasting within Vietnam and Laos, and tape recorders.


The Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) was created by the US Armed Forces with the goal of entertaining American troops. AFVN had several stations “...from the Delta to the DMZ"19 that played all types of music (rock, jazz, classical, etc.).20 For this reason, former AFVN members like Garry Lyons, take exception to any effort to label AFVN as a rock ‘n’ roll station.

...even though the makeup of our audience was weighed heavily toward the youthful side, therefore, the Top-40 side, there were programs for several other types of music in any given 24 hour period. I think it would be unfair and not a little inaccurate to put a single label on “the music soldiers listened to in 'Nam.”
This opinion was seconded by at least one anonymous GI, who referred to the music on AFVN as, “The world’s shittiest, small-town midwest old-woman right-wing plastic useless propagandizing bummer unturned-on controlled low-fidelity non-stereo,” and so on.21 While certainly not representative of the opinions of all soldiers, this individual’s opinion certainly does support the notion that AFVN was not a “rock network.”

How music was selected for AFVN. If music was not selected for AFVN on the basis of genre, then how was it selected? An AFVN disc jockey named Adrian Cronauer (who happens to be the man that the main character of Good Morning Vietnam was based on) recounts the procedure that companies had to go through, and still go through on Armed Forces Radio today, to get their songs played on AFVN.

If a company wants their record played on AFRS22, they sign the appropriate paperwork and give a master tape to AFRS in Los Angeles where it is recut on the AFRS label... These are the only records allowed on the premises and, therefore, the only ones you could use on the air.
Cronauer went on to say that there were no pre-set play lists at AFVN. A disc jockey would simply show up at the station, pick some records from the station, and play as many songs as could be fit into the time slot.

Live disc jockeys, however, were not the only shows on AFVN. There were, according to former AFVN sportscaster Bob Mays, many prerecorded shows that were delivered to AFVN from the United States. These, too, ranged in their content from talk shows, to rock, to big-band. This recollection is confirmed by Doug Jennings, a disc jockey in Saigon from 1970-1971. Jennings often saw the contents of the shipments sent to AFVN from the United States. According to Jennings, these

Included... various programs, i.e. Bob Kingsley, Chris Noel, etc., plus a couple of LP’s with the Top-40 songs or wannabe Top-40 songs... To my knowledge, these were the only songs “authorized” to be played, not only at AFVN, but around the world.23
These prerecorded shows allowed AFRTS-LA (the headquarters that directed the activities of AFVN and was located in Los Angeles, California) a great deal more direct control over what was heard by US troops in Vietnam than did shows that were done by live disc jockeys in Vietnam.

A Sample of AFVN Music. If these were the steps that went into determining what songs were played on AFVN, what songs made the cut? Perhaps the best way to get an idea of what songs were played on Armed Forces Radio without trying to make an enormous, exhaustive list, is to look at a sample of an AFVN radio program. This particular sample was of a rock ‘n’ roll show hosted by First Lieutenant Bruce Wahl in 1970. The fifty-five minute part of the show preserved on the internet consists of seventeen songs.24 The titles are “This Magic Moment,” (Jay and the Americans) “Teach,” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) “I Started A Joke,” (The Bee Gees) “White Room With Black Curtains,” (Cream) “Traces of Love,” (Classics IV) “Solitary Man,” (Neil Diamond) “Walk Away Renee,” (The Left Banke) “Ohio,” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) “Today is Your Birthday,” (The Beatles) “Bang, Bang Maxwell,” (The Beatles) “Cherish,” (The Association) “Here Comes the Sun,” (The Beatles) “Both Sides Now,” (Judy Collins) “Some Velvet Morning,” (Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood) “Magic Carpet Ride,” (Steppenwolf) “How Can I Be Sure?,” (Little Anthony and the Imperials) and “Love is Blue” (Paul Mauriat).

There is definitely a variety of music within this sample. Two of the songs, “Love is Blue” and “Some Velvet Morning,” though popular songs of the time, stand out as not fitting the rock ‘n’ roll genre. “Ohio,” however, stands out for a different reason. This hit by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is the only song in this list that could be considered protest music. This raises the question of whether or not there was music censorship by the military at AFVN.

“Ohio” itself was a unique protest song in that American soldiers may have put their own twist on it more so than other protest songs. “Ohio” was about the 1970 Kent State killings. As the student population protested the war in Vietnam, the National Guard was present to keep the peace. Suddenly, during the demonstration, frightened National Guardsmen opened fire on the crowd, killing four students.

Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know.25
Many soldiers resented college students, not only for not fighting in Vietnam, but demonstrating against the war while many Americans died. This attitude may be best summed up in a joke one of AFVN disc jockey Bob Morecook’s [Editor's correction: then SP5 Bob Morecock was in the AFVN news department] buddies told him several times during his tour in Vietnam.
He would hold up two fingers and ask us what that meant and us college guys would holler “Peace.” Then he’d hold up three and ask us what that meant and we’d be silent, except me being an old Hoosier would say, “Wiedemann’s Beer.” Then he’d hold up four fingers and ask us what that meant. Now, of course, we’d all be quiet and he’d get this sly grin on his face and then he’d say [chorus, hold up laughter card] Ohio National Guard 4, Kent State nothing!
This joke, while it may seem cruel to some people today, expresses a resentment that many American soldiers felt toward men attending college during the Vietnam War. Many soldiers felt that college students were unjustly protected from fighting in Vietnam. Thus, they felt these students had no right to complain about the present situation and demonstrate against them while they actually fought the war. As a result, “Ohio” may not have been demoralizing to Vietnam troops as one might hypothesize. This argument is supported, not only by Morecook’s joke, but by the way the song is introduced on the broadcast. As the music starts, a dark voice comes over the airwaves and says, “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young talkin’ about Kent State. Count ’em, one, two, three, four.” It is not the voice of a man who is upset by the deaths of four young people. “Ohio,” far from being demoralizing, may have given soldiers something to laugh about.

Time Period Differences at AFVN. While this anecdote may explain the presence of this particular song in the above sample, this does not answer the question of whether or not there were constraints on the songs that could be played for Vietnam soldiers over AFVN. The best way to determine if AFVN disc jockeys were censored in what they could play is to talk to those jockeys themselves. However, when one asks these former soldiers about censorship, one finds that different individuals had different experiences regarding this issue.

Adrian Cronauer was involved in radio in Vietnam in 1965-66. This was when AFVN was still only one station in Saigon with the acronym AFRS. When asked about the censorship of music at AFRS during this time period, Cronauer is adamant in his response.

There was news censorship at that time but no music censorship. Each disc jockey could pull and play whatever records he wanted. That is, within the context of his show -- if you were doing a country and western show, for example, you weren't going to play progressive jazz. Beyond that, though, we had a very extensive library and if it was a major label, a major artist, we had it and were completely free to play it.
Although Cronauer is positive that there was no censorship at AFRS during this time, this is a unique response from an AFVN disc jockey. There is one thing, however, that makes Cronauer unique among the individuals who responded to questions about censorship. All of the other respondents were involved with AFVN years after Cronauer’s involvement. The majority of popular Vietnam protest songs were written after 1966. For example, songs like “Fortunate Son” and “War” were not released until 1969 and 1970, respectively. It is very likely that this fact contributed to the lack of censorship that took place at AFRS during the years in which Cronauer was a disc jockey.26

De jure Censorship at AFVN. The one thing that the rest of the AFVN respondents have in common, other than having been involved with AFVN after Cronauer, is that they all recall some kind of music censorship taking place. This would seem logical. After all, as former AFVN member Garry Lyons points out,

Does anyone really think that they could work in any civilian broadcast station and play music outside the station’s format, or play anything that insulted one of the sponsors, or, for that matter, do anything that violated station’s policies? I think not!
The censorship which took place at AFVN can be divided into two categories. The first of these, de jure censorship, involved the open and intentional banning of certain songs from the airwaves. The second type of censorship, de facto censorship, accounts for songs that were missing merely because of the methods AFRTS-LA used to select its material.

De jure music censorship on armed forces radio did not begin in Vietnam. Victor Sage was assigned to AFN-Europe in 1970. While there, he stumbled across a list of records from the World War II era which were not to be aired during the fighting in Europe. These included “Drinkin’ Rum and Coca-Cola” by the Andrews Sisters. Sage, upon inquiring, found that the restrictions were serious. He further discovered that, “many of the restricted cuts on the old discs had been scratched with a nail or some such thing, thus assuring compliance.” According to Sage, these records, which are direct physical evidence of de jure censorship in Europe, have since been stored in the Library of Congress.27

As the former members of AFVN remember it, de jure censorship took several different forms in Vietnam. In some cases, songs were banned before they even reached Vietnam. Bob Morecook recalls that some songs were censored at headquarters back in the states before they could even be sent to AFVN. “My memory is that drug songs were censored at the AFTRS level,” Morecook maintains. “Thus, they [were] never used at military radio stations.” This might help explain why “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” wasn’t one of the three Beatles’ songs Wahl played in the fifty-five minute sample of songs available on the AFVN web site.

Jim Beard, another AFVN disc jockey, remembers that some songs were not banned outright, but were not recommended for play by the superiors to which the disc jockeys were responsible. “When I was at AFRTS-AFVN,” according to Beard, “there were songs, if not censored, highly not recommended for play. Two I can think of... were ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’”

Not everyone involved remembers censorship in the same way Beard does. Bob Mays recalls a stronger banning of certain songs.

There were three songs banned while I was on the air at AFVN in Saigon during June 1970- February 1971: a. the... Animals’ song [“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”], b. “War” by Edwin Starr... and c. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.28
There are two facts which are very important in this statement by Bob Mays. First, Mays worked between 1970 and 1971. This may explain why his recollection is different from Adrian Cronauer, who maintains that “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was not banned at AFRS. Second, Mays specifies that he was stationed at AFVN in Saigon. Not only is this the same station in which Cronauer was assigned, making these two individuals particularly comparable, but it serves as a reminder that censorship may have worked differently at different stations throughout Vietnam once AFVN became a network. This fact may help to explain why different individuals remember the issue of censorship differently.

These first-person accounts from former AFVN members are compelling. However, one may wonder if there was anything in writing concerning censorship at AFVN. According to Charles P. Barker, who was an Affiliate Relations Customer Service Officer at the AFRTS Broadcast Center, there was, in fact, a written military regulation during the Vietnam War that was directly related to censorship.

Thus it was written (in DP-1)... today it is called DoD Regulation 5120.20 Appendix R, that if you had a “host country sensitivity” on a certain program... we had to drop the entire broadcast... The same applied to music... One edited song was... from “My Fair Lady.”
The term “home country sensitivity” would certainly explain why “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was censored. Regardless of what the song was actually written about, there is no doubt that members of the South Vietnamese Government could have found the song very offensive if it were being played by Americans in their country.

De facto Censorship at AFVN. De jure censorship in the Armed Forces Vietnam Network was not the only type of censorship experienced in Vietnam radio. Although not as obvious, de facto censorship also took place. As Bruce Wahl points out, “...all music we played came to us on vinyl transcriptions that AFRTS made. I don’t recall that there was much missing from the Billboard Hot 100.” Doug Jennings adds to this observation by noting that, “...these were the only songs ‘authorized’ to be played, not only on AFVN, but around the world.”

If one puts these two statements together, one can see where de facto censorship took place. A large amount of the protest songs written about the Vietnam War did not frequent the Billboard Hot 100. Therefore, if these were the songs sent to AFVN by AFRTS-LA, and these were, in turn, the only songs authorized to be played on AFVN, it would be the case that protest songs as a genre would not be sent to Vietnam in any significant amount. This begs the question of whether or not such censorship was done intentionally. Did this just happen, or did the men and women working at AFRTS-LA realize that these songs would be left off albums heading to Vietnam if they selected their music based on this criteria? The true answer to this question may never be known.

Dodging Censorship at AFVN. Former disc jockeys from AFVN indicate that there were, at various times, efforts to place constraints on the music that was played over the Armed Forces Vietnam Network. This does not mean, however, that disc jockeys always abided by these constraints. Previous research on this question indicates that military command was unable to control the mass media to screen out protest sounds.29 AFVN was not immune to this problem.

There were two key problems that AFVN disc jockeys faced when attempting to play censored music. The first of these was that many of these songs were not available in AFVN’s collection. This problem, however, proved to be only temporary. As AFVN veteran Robert Mays explains,

The easiest way for the disc jockeys to get around the legal issues was to have someone from home mail them a 45 rpm copy of a song they wanted to play. I’m guessing that’s how Edwin Starr and Kenny Rogers kept showing up on the air. I still remember how tense it got when someone would air an unauthorized... and forbidden... song.
As Mays says, a disc jockey could simply get the cut he wanted through the mail and bring it into the station himself.

The second problem was the fact that disc jockeys could face repercussions for violating restrictions that the military had placed on what could be played over its airwaves. The disc jockeys, after all, were not the only people in the station during the shows. Officers were often there to enforce station restrictions. The only way disc jockeys could get around this problem was to depend on the sympathy of the officers themselves. Jerry Spector provides us with a great example of this phenomenon.

I was a newscaster... My roommate was ordered by a 23-year-old lieutenant night news officer to stop playing, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” [by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition] This was Saigon, 1971. Muncie [the roommate] refused or objected. End result: the lieutenant was advised by Lieutenant Colonel L. Seville to stay out of the broadcast studio.
Restrictions placed on music at a radio station were useless unless someone is there to enforce them. Sympathetic officers like Lieutenant Colonel Seville could effectively nullify any danger to the disc jockey in playing restricted cuts. In this way, the second obstacle jockeys faced in playing censored music could be dodged.

Unauthorized Broadcasting

Maverick disc jockeys at AFVN were not the only problem facing the military in Vietnam when it tried to restrict what American soldiers heard over the radio. While the military had some control at the Armed Forces Vietnam Network, it had little to no control over unauthorized broadcasts and the private collections soldiers “in country” had. Through these channels, U.S. soldiers in Vietnam could hear almost anything.

Several individuals throughout Vietnam voiced their opinions and their music through unauthorized broadcasting. Former AFVN disc jockey Steve Robbins recalls how this was possible.

In some instances, soldiers used to rig tape players, mics, or even platter players to field radio systems and do unauthorized broadcasts. These were only broadcast over short distances and... these stations were generally short-lived.
Despite the short duration of most of these stations, some unauthorized disc jockey’s gained much notoriety in Vietnam. One such individual called himself “Dave Rabbit.” Dave Rabbit was a disc jockey for an unauthorized radio station in Saigon. On his show, Dave Rabbit would play acid rock, announce the opening of new brothels in the city, and use aphorisms like “Army sucks” and “Fuck it before it fucks you.”30 The impact this type of show had on morale and on the moral practices of soldiers (with respect to drug use and prostitutes), would have concerned officers in Vietnam at the time. Shows like this, after all, may have played a small role in increasing drug use and, through advocating the use of prostitutes, causing the spread of venereal disease among American soldiers.

Robbins also noted, however, that the United States Armed Forces made attempts to use unauthorized broadcasts to their advantage by using them as screens through which to relay information. The overall benefits of these attempts, however, are questionable. According to Robbins,

The fact that these stations existed was used by the CIA/SOG/USIA as a cover for some of their PSYOPS broadcast operations to the Viet Cong and NVA... The word was spread that these stations were, in fact, run by anti-war groups/rogue soldiers and were used to broadcast anti-war propaganda. The idea being, of course, that if the Viet Cong thought these were anti-war stations, they would leave them alone. I was never sure if Charlie bought the rouse, but a whole lot of Americans sure as heck did.
In this way, an American attempt to further the war effort not only fooled the enemy, but fooled American soldiers as well. When these men heard the anti-war messages that were meant as screens for important military information, they took the messengers as genuine. Robbins went on to mention that many of these facts had been highly classified and have just been released within the last year.

Private Collections of American Soldiers

Another problem the military had with controlling music was that it was virtually impossible to monitor soldiers’ private collections. Previous research done regarding this question indicates that many soldiers brought music into the war zone from home. For many soldiers, a tape recorder was seen as a status symbol.31 The music soldiers listened to on these tape recorders often consisted of songs that the military would like to have kept out of Vietnam. This is one venue through which songs of peace and psychedelic drugs became popular. Some soldiers, while exposed to these forms of music, became interested in topics such as flower-power.32 One example of the influence of private collections is from Khe Sanh where the Marines loved to listen to the Beatles' “Magical Mystery Tour” and ascribe their own meanings to lines like, “Coming to take you away, dying to take you away.”33 Surely, the Marines of Khe Sanh wanted to be anywhere but Vietnam.

Not only were tape recorders valuable, but record players were also valuable to soldiers who were stationed in a fixed location. This is mentioned by Vietnam veteran W. D. Erhart in his book, Vietnam- Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir. At one point, Erhart notes that whatever one of the soldiers wanted on the record player, it seemed that someone there had it. The music they listened to ranged from rock ‘n’ roll, to blues, to jazz, to soul and country, and often served to bring the men together and raise spirits.34

Erhart also notes a time, however, when music became divisive. One day, a new arrival came to Erhart’s unit. This new arrival immediately began playing songs by groups like the Doors and Iron Butterfly. When Erhart asked for some Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Supremes, he was surprised at the young man’s response that those artists were no longer new back in the States. It did not take long for Erhart to decide that he did not like the new guy.35 Incidence like this one not only highlighted different musical tastes, but made men like Erhart feel even further away from their homes.

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