55 Years of Army Radio on Kwajalein
By Eugene Sims
Most of us remember the hilarious routines of actor Robin Williams
in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. The monologue spiels by Williams
as he portrayed Adrian Cronauer, the offbeat disc jockey, are a comedy
Glen Wenter, WXLG station manager in front of the Altec control
(Radio Heritage Foundation Collection)
Very few realise the disc jockey character, along with much of the procedural
beginnings of Armed Forces Radio in the greater Pacific Ocean area,
had their start on Kwajalein from 1944-46. Fewer realise that Kwajalein
also had a unique disc jockey on its first radio station in the Marshalls
clear back in 1944. The station was WXLG, and the DJ routines were much
the same as heard again some 21 years later in Vietnam
After things settled down following the American invasion
of Kwajalein in February 1944, a small Welfare and Recreation office
was established by the joint Army-Navy command. Located In a Quonset
hut behind the present day Richardson Theatre, the first radio station
in the Marshalls went on the air In June 1944. By the end of the year,
the call letters "WXLG Radio Kwajalein" were heard throughout
all of the Marshall Islands, and as far south as the Gilbert Islands
Starting as an outgrowth of the local radio repair shop, the first
transmitter was powered at only 50 watts. In May of 1944 a call went
out to several island military groups for anyone having radio broadcast
experience. The results were surprising. Within a few weeks an 11 man
staff of radio experienced personnel was put together. The new staff's
backgrounds ranged from a radio station manager to a major league baseball
announcer in addition to several well known DJs and news announcers
from radio stations throughout the U.S.
The programs were an instant success, with a daily schedule of music,
a running commentary about sports and island events and, most importantly,
the latest war and world news broadcast three times each day. WXLG became
one of the biggest single morale boosters across much of the South Pacific.
The Marshallese were also included when some Marshallese singers made
live broadcasts, and later, recordings of their music. There was a weekly
live amateur hour of local talent broadcast generally from the stage
of the Richardson, a daily chaplain's program, interviews with notables
in the passing USO shows and, of course, the canned and prerecorded
shows like Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and
By February 1945, WXLG was able to boast a 13 hour, seven day schedule,
broadcasting from a new 500 watt transmitter located on Carlson Island.
The station was dubbed "Radio Kwajalein - Crossroads of the Pacific."
In 1946, during the nearby Bikini A bomb tests, Admiral Blandy's staff
named their atomic bomb tests Operation Crossroads after the WXLG name.
"Rock Happy Roger"
Of all the program entertainers, the most popular during the 1944-45
period was the daily DJ show by a young Army sergeant named Russell
Beggs. His byline was "Rock Happy Roger" and his talk show
was called "the Kwaj Lodge." He billed himself as the 'maitre
d'hotel - Kwaj Lodge." His two hour show was broadcast every weekday
just after the world news at noon. Like Cronauer's flashy pitch from
Saigon years later, Beggs touched on all the laughable, sad or daily
goof ups on the huge base at Kwajalein and Roi-Namur, much to the delight
of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel. There were no holds barred,
and Beggs would lament about the dull daily living on the rock. Beggs
and his audience formed a club called the 'Fraternal Order of the Rock
Happy Residents of Kwajalein." Even today, many of my veteran friends
from that era have told me it was Rock Happy Roger and his club that
got them through the arduous daily routine on Kwajalein.
1945 USO Showgirls visit with unidentified WXLG DJ, possibly 'Rock
Happy Roger' Beggs. The WXLG studios are located in Quonset hut (L).
(Gene Sims Collection)
After WW II came to an end, WXLG settled down to a shorter broadcasting
day. The airport at Roi-Namur was eventually closed, and most of the
Army and Marine forces went home. The Navy took sole command of Kwajalein,
with the Army Air Corps Military Air Command operating the terminal.
The population dwindled until the Korean War started.
WXLG - The 1950s
During the height of the Korean War, with the arrival and departure
of military aircraft at all hours of the night and day, WXLG returned
to a 17 hour a day broadcast schedule. The island became a busy refueling
station for the many aircraft and ships en route to or from Korea. Some
new military residents were now being accompanied by their families,
including children. There were several construction companies and a
new logistics company, MidPac, on island.
By now, WXLG was boasting some 12,000 popular records, 3,500 semi popular,
more than 3,000 country and 2,500 classical in addition to a large inventory
of religious hymns and Latin numbers.
In late 1953 and early 1954, a program called "The Night Watch"
which broadcast every night from 10 PM till sign off at midnight. This
show was diskjockeyed by Navy Fireman first class Johnny Johnson. The
format was popular and jazz music request, and news.
'The Night Watch' with Johnny Johnson. 1953. CD cover.
(Radio Heritage Foundation Collection)
Other announcers at WXLG at this time were Bob Clifford, Mac McChapery,
Roger Wiborg and Don Howard (Station Manager).
The biggest single improvement was a new 1000 watt transmitter and antenna
installed May 1953.
The final switch for the new transmitter was thrown by Captain George
Dufeck, Commanding Officer.
In late 1954, the station was moved to its present location
on the second floor of the new Recreation Services Building 805. Besides
having new studios, the station also obtained much needed newer equipment.
After the end of hostilities in Korea, the population on Kwajalein
again began to dwindle down. By 1957 there were less than 1,000 people
on Kwajalein, and the island base was put on the government surplus
list. WXLG, or Armed Forces Radio Service, AFRS as it was now called,
was on the air only a few hours a day.
A New Beginning
The fate of Kwajalein in 1957 vacillated back and forth after the island
was considered a surplus military facility. In far off Huntsville, Ala.,
the U.S. Army rocket research team reorganised into a new group called
the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. In October 1957, the Russians successfully
launched Sputnik, and the ICBM 'K space race was on. Within a year,
the Army at White Sands, N.M., had made successful firings of the Nike
-Ajax rocket. The Air Force was getting ready to launch a series of
ICBMs from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The call went out
to set up a facility test site for Nike and other rockets against Atlas,
Titan and Minuteman ICBMs. Kwajalein was given new life as it became
part of the Navy operated Pacific Missile Range.
AFN Kwajalein logo. c.2000
(US Army Broadcasting Service)
By 1962, with the arrival of KREMS/Press staff at Roi and several
Bell Telephone engineers with their families, the population of the
little base at Kwajalein grew quickly. AFRS had a new life broadcasting
seven days a week.
AFRS continued broadcasting world news 11 times daily, interspersed
with new variety music and prerecorded network shows from AFRS Los Angeles.
1220 on the AM radio now had a new competitor with the addition
of KVZH-FM. The FM idea was the result of several new residents wanting
to listen to good background or classical music during the evenings
and week ends.
In 1968, long time Kwajalein resident Frank Bowling was able to
buy the necessary FM equipment, paid for by private donations and proceeds
from the Kwajalein carnival. Off duty volunteers manned the new FM program
schedule using a 100 watt transmitter mounted on Building 805.
AFN Kwajalein studio building c.2000
(US Army Broadcasting Service)
During this same period, new arrivals on island brought their televisions
and VCRs only to find there was no TV station at Kwajalein. A whole
new pastime was started with the mailing of prerecorded tapes by mainland
friends to Kwajalein residents. TV parties became the social pastime,
particularly when local residents watched a taped show, football games
or World Series. Island residents wanted more than just a radio station.
They wanted television broadcast from Kwajalein.
Jim Denny, the new AFRS station manager, came up with what was called
"Mini TV." By using tapes and a makeshift transmitter, TV
programs were shown in specific areas like the Oceanview Club, Yokwe
Yuk Club and the Teen Center. The TV programs only ran about 28 hours
per week. Roi and Kwaj residents now clamoured for a full-time network
channel. In the fall of 1978, the Mini TV program was upgraded to a
full-time channel 9. The station on Kwajalein had now passed from WXLG
to a full-time television station with the designation of Armed Forces
Radio and Television Network, or AFRTS - Kwajalein.
By 1978, AFRTS Kwajalein had joined the big leagues of
radio and television after the station became part of the Central Pacific
Network, or CPN. No longer was the station called a Mini TV unit. Within
two years, the tiny station was rebroadcasting several programs each
week, prerecorded at AFRTS in Los Angeles. The Kwajalein station, now
under the guidance of manger Larry Malinowski, continued to improve
programming throughout the 1980s with the addition of channel 13 for
all and a channel 8 just for Roi-Namur.
AFN Kwajalein radio tower. c.2000
(US Army Broadcasting Service)
By 1985, the addition of channel 13 allowed Kwajalein to receive
some live programs via the SATNET satellite system. This meant newscasts
and sporting events could be seen live from the U.S. mainland. Over
the following years the wide range of programming via SATNET has allowed
the station to show many of the programs found on mainland TV channels.
In 1997, CPN, including Kwajalein, converted to the Armed Forces
Network, which allowed the small station to be on a full-time satellite
pick up. Island residents were now able to see current news, the soaps
and evening talk shows. Certainly no one back in the days of WXLG ever
envisioned the truly great AM/FM radio and television coverage on Kwajalein
today. I wonder what Rock Happy Roger might have to say about that?
Gene Sims is a Kwajalein historian.
This article was originally
published in the August 29, 2000 issue of the 'Kwajalein Hourglass'
Permission of Gene Sims and the Kwajalein Hourglass is
required for further use of this article and the image 'USO