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AFRS 'Wings Over The Orient'
WOTO Bhamo, Burma

Armed Forces’ Radio Stations Bring American Programs To I-B

Doing Great Morale Job

Roundup Staff Article

BHAMO - Our G.I. radio stations in this Theater are doing an exceedingly professional job. In Delhi, Calcutta, Kandy, Bangalore, Ramgarh, Agra, Ledo, Shingbwiyang, Tezpur, Jorhat, Gaya, Chabua, Karachi, Myitkyina and Bhamo, American air waves are carrying American programs to American troops.

According to broadcasting experts with whom I have talked, at least three of these stations could prosper in the States as commercial enterprises on the basis of their entertainment value. One of them is our most forward station, WOTO, in the heart of North Burma.

MOVES WITH TROOPS

The studio of Station Wings Over The Orient in Bhamo is operated by a handful of enlisted men of the 10th Air Force in an octagonal Signal Corps hut. The little building is only 18 feet in diameter, it can be set up within two days and torn down in one. When the troops move forward, the station goes with them. WOTO is only three months old but the little station has seen more celebrities than many a contemporary in the States.

Lt. Gen. Dan I. Sultan, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Maj. Gen. Howard C. Davidson, Lily Pons, Andre Kostelanetz, Maj. Melvyn Douglas just to name a few, have either visited or broadcast over WOTO. Lily Pons, for instance, sang Estrellita and Ave Maria through WOTO to the men at the front. At that time the front wasn’t far from Bhamo. Melvyn Douglas read from the Gettysburg Address.

KELLY AT MIKE

The star of the station is S/Sgt. Gene Kelly. He is the comic manager, chief commentator, sportscaster, announcer, and scriptwriter all rolled into one. Kelly, who talks like Gabriel Heater (but by far not as hammy) is called The Wheel of WOTO on account of his six foot, seven inch stature. Kelly is over the Army height for induction and his Irish boils when people ask him, “Why the hell did you get in?”

One of Kelly’s most unorthodox stunts was broadcasting a baseball game while actually playing in the game. Gene had a regular switchboard breast plate around his neck. A very long filed wire, attached to a remote speech amplifier gave him freedom of movement.

Gene Kelly broadcasts over WOTO while playing first base

Gene Kelly broadcasts over WOTO while playing first base.

PLAYS BROADCASTS

The game was between the Rotation Ramblers and the Burma Bums. Kelly was playing first base for the Ramblers. The experiment, possibly the first in the history of baseball, was a red-letter day for Bhamo’s sports fans. There was only one occasion when Kelly had to have his assistant take over. That was after a long hit, which involved running from home plate to third base. Then he had to catch his breath.

Such experiments are typical of Station WOTO. Kelly and his gang are trying and succeeding in being original and highly professional. They try to take the edge off hot, tropical nights with their programs and from first hand experience I can say they are doing just that. The phone rings from six in the morning to midnight and the usual question is, “What is the time?”

PLENTY PHONE CALLS

Other phone calls turn in local basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball scores and scoops on the fighting front. WOTO commands enthusiastic volunteers who either monitor foreign language broadcasts or hang out in their spare time around the Public Relations Offices of the various outfits.

One of the WOTO original programs is Wot-Open House an unrehearsed amateur show every Saturday night. As nearly every G.I. has the radio bug, the studio on this particular night draws them like a magnet. Lately a fellow up for court martial for chronic kleptomania came to the studio to plead his innocence. When he left the studio it became poorer by pinups, tools, and electrical equipment.

Finally, a few words about the personnel. Sgt. L. C. Desuardins, brother of the famous Olympic diving star, was in charge of setting up the station. While Kelly prepared the news and sports departments, his eager deputy, Sgt. Jack St. John, took care of the musical features.

S/Sgt James A. Gogarty handles the transmitter. And let’s not forget Kelly’s other helpers: T/Sgt. Al Maggio, in civilian life a Morse telegrapher, who works until 3 a.m.; Sgt. Eddie Zachariah, the gentle Syrian who looks like a prize fighter, Sgt. Mickey Fedor, who composed for the station an original 10th Air Force song.

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 May 3 1945, a newspaper published in India by and for US Forces.

© These newspapers have been recreated and digitized as part of a large on-line project about the CBI theater of WWII operations by Carl W Weidenburner which can be found at cbi-theater-5.home.comcast.net. We recommend this resource and encourage your support for the project.

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