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AFRS Along the Ledo Road
AFRS OUTLETS GO SILENT ALONG ‘ROAD’
By SGT. GEORGE GINGELL
The great pulse of the Ledo Road has slowed down. The
thousands of men and machines that manned the
incredible supply line to China have gone. The pipeline is
no more and the jungle is fast creeping in along the way
that once swarmed with platoons, companies and
battalions of Service Troops. Among the landmarks to
disappear in the wake of departing men were the Armed
Forces Radio Stations.
This is part of the staff which once operated VU2ZN at Ledo. Left to right are S/Sgt. George Gingell, Lt. L. M. George and T/3 Walter Flint,
all three now at VU2ZY in New Delhi, and S/Sgt, Rob Spiros, now en route to the U.S
Since 1944, troops along the road had been provided
with Stateside radio entertainment by a chain of broadcasting
stations known as the India-Burma Network.
Men in Chabua, Shinghwiyang, Myitkyina, Ledo and
Bhamo were entertained from early morning until late
night by the finest radio programs in the world.
Top stars from radio, stage and screen shared the AFRS
spotlight with prominent figures from every walk of life.
Actors, singers, orchestras, comedians, statesmen,
scientists, authors, all were part of one of the moat
widespread military morale building programs ever
First of these stations to open in the Ledo Road area was
at Chabua, in northern Assam Province. Next came
Shingbwiyang in Burma in August, 1944. In December
stations in Myitkyina and Ledo opened up. And in
February, 1945, while combat missions still were being
flown from the Bhamo airstrip, another Armed Forces
Radio Station went “on the air.” These stations covered
all the outposts that worked and rode the Ledo Road.
The story behind each of the stations is much the same.
Weather conditions made the maintenance of equipment
almost impossible. Fungus and mold crept into intricate machinery overnight;
dampness rusted and rotted as fast as new parts were replaced. Still, somehow,
through the inevitable ingenuity of G.I.’s the stations kept on the air. The
difficulties of procurement provided another stumbling block to decent
operation. The “world’s longest supply line” found little space for radio parts.
The majority of the AFRS trained soldiers who manned the stations were
former radio and entertainment professionals. At Chabua, under the
guidance of Maj. Frank Goss and T/Sgt. Pat Bishop - both former Hollywood
news announcers - were T/4 Gene Seyet and T/4 Fergus Steven, in
Myitkyina were S/Sgt. Dave Page, T/4 Howard Williams, T/4 Will Jackson and
radio, Stage and Screen actor Sgt. Jimmy McCallion. Lt. John
Bennett of San Francisco Radio was officer in charge.
The Ledo Station had five ex-radio men S/Sgt. Jerry Sears from WATL, Atlanta;
S/Sgt. Bob Spiros of WLW, Cincinnati; T/3 Walter Flint from WQXR, New York;
S/Sgt. George Gingell, radio man with Sammy Kaye; and Lt. L. M. George from Cache
Valley Broadcasting Company in Utah.
Bhamo boasts of T/Sgt. Les Damon, Chicago and New York radio actor, who created the
title role of “The Thin Man,” one of radio’s most popular mystery series.
There’s hardly a soldier in China, India or Burma who has not tuned in on one of the AFRS
stations scattered throughout the Theater. Beside the Ledo Road operations, there are at
least a dozen others, including Calcutta, New Delhi, Karachi, Agra, Kunming and Chungking.
The programs that are broadcast represent the finest entertainment available. The shows
are transcribed in Hollywood and shipped by ATC to all parts of the globe, every week.
Most of them are “off the air” recordings of Stateside broadcasts, with the commercial
announcements deleted. However, shows like Command Performance, Mail Call, GI Journal,
Jubilee and GI Jill are written and produced exclusively for servicemen overseas.
Silent U.S. War Department Bureau of Public Relations film no. 1205.
A sign on a building in this film indicates that this is station VU2ZN, an AFRS station in Ledo.
National Archives description: "A soldier-broadcaster selects records from a phonograph library. A
band and a vocalist perform in a broadcasting room. Several song-and-dance teams perform before U.S.
troops at an overseas base during a U.S.O. show."
Supplementing the transcribed shows, most of the stations have presented all kinds of
local talent in their studios. In Ledo, for example, there were no less than fourteen “in-person”
shows per week during the days when Ledo was the bustling “zero” mark of the road. There were
bands, quartets, soloists, choruses, hillbillies, speakers, plays, religious services, newscasts,
interviews with important personalities and the ever popular record request shows. And there
were remote broadcasts that covered everything from a visit to a G.I. Pig Farm to dances at
enlisted men’s clubs.
The Bhamo station will go down in history for its famous baseball broadcast. The announcer
was Kelly. He was also one of the players, describing every minute of the game, even while
he was up at bat and running bases.
The G.I.’s who listened to Armed Forces Radio may never recall the work and struggle that
went into bringing radio entertainment into the jungle outposts of the Ledo Road.
However, we doubt if they will ever forget that through the miracle of radio, Bob Hope, Bing
Crosby, Joan Davis, Roy Acuff, Frank Sinatra and hundreds of other great names in show business
helped them to forget the heat and the monsoons and to bring China, Burma and India just a little
closer to home.
AFRS stations along the Ledo Road were VU2ZV Chabua, AFRS
Shingbwiyang, AFRS Myitkyina, VU2ZN Ledo and WOTO Bhamo. Our
introductory feature on AFRS Radio in China-Burma-India is here .
This original article appeared in 'India-Burma Theater Roundup' on
February 2 1946, a newspaper published in India by and for US Forces.
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