Old Time Radio's Debt to AFRS

The War Department created the Armed Forces Radio Service on May 26, 1942. The directive brought together separate attempts at broadcasting by and for military personnel. Some of these projects had mission significance, but largely they were attempts on the part of soldiers to entertain their barracks mates. In 1954 Television was added to the service, as well as a less than flattering moniker (AFRTS, "A-Farts"), which has held on even after the 1994 renaming as "The Armed Forces Network".

Hollywood began providing free or extremely low priced programming to the AFRS from the very beginning, and this tradition was strengthened after Pearl Harbor. The explosion of patriotism as America entered the War explains this to a certain extent. It is also easy to believe that despite the very public pedestal radio celebrities perched, most held genuine affection and admiration for the boys in uniform.

No name is more connected with performing for the troops than Bob Hope. Hope confessed to an ulterior motive in his performances: although his star was well on the rise in radio and movies when he began performing for servicemen in 1941, nowhere had he gotten the applause and enthusiasm like from the troops. "That audience was so great, I said, "Wait a minute. How long has this been going on? I've gotta get more of this."

TV legend Sherwood Schwartz was a writer for Hope before the War. After basic training he was preparing to transfer to the Aleutian Islands with his unit when he received a change in orders directing him to AFRS headquarters in Hollywood. Most of the remainder of Schwartz's military career was spent scripting programs like Command Performance and Mail Call.

Schwartz recalls an incident when he had written a very funny sketch for Bob Hope and Clark Gable. Gable was a top draw in Hollywood and had done a lot of performing on the stage. What wasn't widely known was that Gable was nervous almost to the point of paralysis in front of a live radio microphone. In front of a studio audience filled with soldiers, he approached the microphone at center stage when his phobia struck him. Listeners could hear the rattling of his script, but of course could not see what was going on. Bob Hope whispered to his co-star: "Clark, we're old friends, these guys love you. I love you. There's nothing to be nervous about. Why don't you go back and come out again?" Hope held Gable's script for him, but Gable was able to eventually relax and turn in a good performance.

The programs made by and for AFRS were very popular, but so were the regular network programming provided for the troops. Although many of these programs were performed live and would have been forgotten after the original broadcast, those destined for AFRS had to be transcribed so they could be delivered to radio stations in the different Theaters of the War. Many of the OTR treasures that are available to collectors today survive only because of this transcription at Old Time Radio Catalog including:


  1. AFRS used discs to send network radio programming to its stations. Those discs survived to become much of the OTR library that exists today. That is the debt we fans owe to AFRS.

  2. I inherited a chest full of wartime magazines and newspapers. Among them were many "Stars and Stripes" from the Mediterranian theater. In there are the various AFRS listings for the stations in the region. Cool to read. A lot of news and music programming. I have yet to hear an AFRS overseas news report. Would be neat to hear one.


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