(Editor's Note: Indulge me a preface to this brief history of The AFRS with a personal note. As a retired G.I. of 22 yrs I recognize that words alone could never accurately convey the extraordinary impact and contribution that The AFRS--and AFRTS and AFN--have made over the years to the morale and sense of connectedness to home that these services have provided. When you're on a remote--even hostile--assignment, without family, often without entertainment or diversion of any kind, and usually accompanied by a sense of isolation, even the most poorly received transmission of news, music, the American Language--even commercials--are a profoundly welcome relief. All of us--civilian and military, alike--owe these services our deepest gratitude and support for the singular--and so inadequately recognized--contributions they've made to our freedom.)
At the height of it's reach and audience, The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS)--simply AFRS throughout The Golden Age of Radio--was arguably every bit a rival to any of the commercial networks of the era. Borne of a vital need to support and boost the morale of our military troops abroad--and stateside--President Roosevelt directed the creation of The Office of War Information, with the express purpose of coordinating information provided by the vast array of then compartmentalized government agencies. When, shortly thereafter, The Government subsumed control and operation of all shortwave radio stations, The Office also became responsible for all stations that broadcast their signals overseas. The Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) was formed as a quasi-governmental organization within the Army's Special Services Division to supervise and coordinate broadcast programming for our servicemen--and those of our Allies--abroad.
With extensive recording facilities located throughout the world, the AFRS was also a major producer of programming during the latter half of The Golden Age of Radio. The primary AFRS Studios of the time were located in Hollywood, and as such, availed themselves of a great deal of local talent--military and civilian--and from major Radio and Motion Picture studios alike.
Their Transcription Unit recorded most of the popular commercial programs of the era and shipped them overseas to military transmission facilities for rebroadcast. The transcribed programs were recorded primarily on unbreakable, 16-inch vinyl discs, each containing approximately 30 minutes of programming, 15 minutes to a side. At the height of its production, The AFRS shipped an average of just over 50,000 of these discs overseas each month, with an additional 20,000 discs sent to Navy vessels monthly. The AFRS recorded some 70-80 of these programs each week, including as much as 15-20 hours of specially produced AFRS programming. By the end of World War II, the AFRS Network encompassed nearly 800 broadcast facilities worldwide--over 50 of them in England alone. It's to this Transcription Unit that we owe our deepest gratitude, for the vast majority of the shows and episodes that have been preserved to this day.
"G.I. Jill" ca 1944, in reality Martha Wilkerson
(1908 - 1999), a young mother who
had worked in the Office Of War Information
Japan had it's infamous 'Tokyo Rose' (the Iva Toguri 'Zero Hour') broadcasts, but the AFRS countered with our own 'G.I. Jill', an amalgam of female radio personalities over the years, but represented by the above image which was sent to troops that requested 'her' photo. Iva Toguri's reprehensible treatment at the hands of her Japanese captors--and even more reprehensible treatment at the hands of America upon her emigration back--are recounted elsewhere. Needless to say, our own "G.I. Jill" never suffered these indignities. Beginning with about Edition No. 600, G.I. Jill's transcribed, eleven minute and fifty-five second G.I. Jive broadcasts and those of the wonderful, stateside "Reveille With Beverly" effectively answered the Axis propaganda broadcasts of the war years, and provided many lonely servicemen--both at home and abroad--a much needed, familiar female voice from Home to buoy their spirits.
Here's a contemporary article of the era from Time Magazine's Monday, February 4, 1945 issue:
Radio: G.I. Jill and Reveille with Beverly
"With G.I.s overseas, the biggest attraction on radio is a pretty, breezy blonde with a high-school-fresh voice named Martha Wilkerson. Most U.S. civilians never heard of herbut from Kodiak to Canberra, Martha is a top G.I. favorite. Last week, with her 870th broadcast, Martha Wilkerson could boast of receiving one-fourth of all the fan mail inspired by the Armed Forces Radio Service's 122 air shows.
Recording six days a week in Los Angeles, Martha Wilkerson uses the acronym, "G.I. Jill." Her transcriptions, flown out in six-day batches by A.F.R.S., are tenderly passed from one mosquito network to the next. The show also goes by short wave to Europe, Africa, Australia, the Aleutians, and war zones between and beyond. For good reason her closing line is: "Good morning to some of you, good afternoon to some more of you, and to the rest of yougood night."
G.L Jill's formula is simple: she plays jazz records by request, gives her fan-letter writers a little glib back talk, tells gags, babbles brightly on almost any subject. Sample opening to sailors: "Hiya, fellas. This is Jill again, all set to rock the bulkheads on the old jukebox and shoot the breeze to the sons of Mother Carey. . . ."
The response is tremendous. Servicemen shower her with grass skirts and invasion money; they cable money for yellow roses; they write that she is "romantic and groovey" and "my ideal." One fan, irresistibly reminded of his wife, requested that Jill simply say: "The mashed potatoes are ready."
G.I. Jill's show is an outgrowth of an OWI radio program begun in 1942 with her husband, ex-Radioman Mort Werner. As "Jack and Jill" they served up a mixture of jazz and banter called Hi, Neighbor. A.F.R.S. took over the program in the spring of 1943. Soon Jill (minus Jack) was doing a solo act called G.I. Jive (now AEF Jukebox).
As a War Department employee, Martha Wilkerson acts as a sort of counterirritant to "Tokyo Rose." Servicemen who listen regularly to both programs assure Jill that hers is superior. For one thing, Rose's records are mostly old and scratchy. But the explanation may be more basic. The fair flower of Tokyo exerts herself mightily to make U.S. servicemen homesick; G.I. Jill's trick is to make them feel at home."
G.I. Jill' and 'Beverly' weren't the only gals to lend a note of encouragement to the boys and girls overseas. Guest hosts of the era could be heard popping into G.I. Jive and other popular AFRS variety programs as impromptu hostesses, like Donna Reed, Ginny Simms and Ann Rutherford to name just a few.
Play The Victory Belles from 1941
with Lurene Tuttle and 'Beverly' Hay
Jean Hay (Beverly) at KFEL mike
The real Beverly from 'Reveille With Beverly',
the beautiful "Beverly"
(Jean Ruth Hay)--then, ca. 1946 . . .
Jean Hay passed away September 18, 2004, from a stroke at 87, while gardening at her home in Fortuna, CA--one of her great passions. This wonderful woman will long be remembered for her selfless sacrifice and dedication to keeping the homefires burning stateside while tirelessly entertaining hundreds of thousands of our military in training at bases throughout the U.S., as well as providing continual messages of inspiration, hope, and optimism to anxious families throughout the long years of War. Her cheery 'Hi, Fellas' was one of our Nation's secret weapons throughout World War II.
Another favorite of the troops was Chris Noel (b. 1941), an aspiring movie actress, who hosted the "Date With Chris" broadcasts that ran through most of The Vietnam Conflict years. She was so effective that she had a $10,000 bounty on her head from the North Vietnamese.
These extraordinary ladies all played the latest records, read mail from the troops, and ended their broadcasts by whispering an encouraging sign-off, each in their own way, in a sultry voice that drew spontaneous oohs and aahs from their lonely military listeners at home and around the world. And believe me, I'm here to tell you, it's just the shot in the arm and note of hope and familiarity that many of us needed on occasion.
UPDATE: Chris has by no means been resting on her laurels. She's got her own website at:
A well deserved tribute to a very special lady.
From the March 27, 1943 issue of Billboard magazine:
Radio Section of SS Sends
80 Shows to Battle Fronts
With $50 a Weeks Army's Own
New York, March 20.--Hidden behind the hard work and premeditated obscurity of the War Department's personnel is one of the biggest and best jobs of radio programming and production. Each week the Radio Section of the Special Services Division of the U.S. Army produces about 80 programs for the entertainment and information of all the men of our armed forces on overseas duty, as well as those of our allies.
Unlike the radio department of the army's Bureau of Public Relations, which concerns itself, via The Army Hour, etc., with the public, the Radio Section of Special Service concentrates on producing and distributing programs to the men overseas. Organized about a year back, the radio section is staffed, from top to bottom, with radio men of experience and knowledge. Producers, directors, writers and executives from the networks, local stations and advertising agencies, all in uniform, work in the New York and Hollywood offices of this unit.
Since all of their programs are for the men overseas, the public knows only about the 30-odd network commercials which are transcribed and beamed overseas, including Command Performance, which was publicized and broadcast for domestic consumption at Christmas-time, and such programs as domestic listeners may stumble onto on the short wave band of their radio sets.
In addition to the commercial shows, the radio section produces about 50 shows a week on its own. These adhere closely to the desires of the men in the field and avoid any attempt at competition with the big commercial shows which, RS feels, are tops insofar as entertainment is concerned. RS knows that the men want news, sports, music and jive. So each week it prepares 18 sports shows; turns out a daily swing series called G.I. (government issue) jive, complete even unto a record jockey; personal albums of songs by Dinah Shore, Ginny Simms, Connie Haines, etc., but no men, since the guys in uniform don't take kindly to male crooners. One of the most popular shows is recorded sacred music and hymns for all faiths and creeds.
Everything is done with co-operation of the artists, unions and advertisers. Almost everything is shortwaved from this country. In addition, about 70 percent of the output is recorded and shipped overseas for long-wave airing on foreign stations. For these broadcasts the army gets the required time on the basis of its program quality. Not by purchase.
At the moment the U.S. Army airs these programs on stations in Australia, China, India, North Africa, Iceland, Alaska; at points in the Caribbean and South Pacific and on the BBC in England, and this coverage is being expanded as fast as possible.
For men in isolated spots the special service boys have what they call a "Box B Unit." This contains, in addition to books, athletic equipment, etc., a portable battery radio, a portable turntable and a flock of records. Every week the men get a fresh batch of transcribed programs by parachute if necessary. Since the turntable can be hitched to the radio louds-speaker, the programs can be heard by a sizeable group of men. When the radio's batteries burn out, the turntable, which operates by a hand-cranked spring, is equipped with an orthophonic arm and still plays loud enough to entertain more than a few servicemen.
The programs are either 15 or 30 minutes, no longer. They're designed to give the servicemen what they want, when they want it. G.I. Jive, for example, is the sort of thing you can listen to while cleaning your rifle. Another show, Mail Call, is a star-studded variety show aimed at the guy who hasn't been getting any mail; sort of a personal message, via song and laugh, from the folks back home. Jubilee is an all-negro revue. Downbeat uses a name civilian band each week and is comparable to the Fitch Bandwagon. Another is We Who Fight, a half hour in the We, the People style only for and with servicemen. This one uses men from all the services of all the nations and aims to keep the men in the Pacific posted on what their allies and comrades are doing on other fronts produced before an audience drawn from people with men in overseas service, uses an army band and a name emcee, who will soon be replaced by a man in uniform. At the moment there are plans to air We Who Fight for domestic consumption.