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Vietnam Era Music Reflected Change, Peace, Protest

Paul Bottoms

Former WRVA News Anchor Paul Bottoms worked with Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. Photo Courtesy Paul Bottoms

The Vietnam era was a period of profound cultural change in America. In a country fraught with turmoil, disenchantment and uncertainty, the music of the time reflected that unrest. In our series Vietnam: Virginia Remembers, 88.9 WCVE’s John Ogle talked about that music with three Army vets who also had careers in radio.


As U.S. involvement in Vietnam began to escalate in the mid ‘60s, the sound of popular music began to change.

(Music: Spirit in the Sky)

Jon Seid was drafted in 1968, two months out of high school.

Jon Seid: The radio was the most important thing in my life and then when I went into the Army all that was taken away from me until I got “in country” and there was AFN (Armed Forces Network). Occasionally I would hear things like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. Must have heard the thing 10 times a day!

(Music: I Walk the Line)

Seid: The first song I heard when I got off the plane and it was on the PA system was Johnny Cash (sings) “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.” (laughs)

(Music: I Walk the Line)

Seid: The music was important because it was important when we were in high school and in college.

(Armed Forces Radio jingle)

Former WRVA News Anchor Paul Bottoms worked with Armed Forces Radio in Saigon, AFVN.

(Music: I’ll be Home for Christmas)

Paul Bottoms: I went to Vietnam in July of ’68. I remember playing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Glen Campbell and it about breakin’ my heart because it’s like, God, there’s no place you want to be more than out of Vietnam and I wasn’t even in the jungle, I never fired a shot there. I never got a shot fired at me.

(Music: We Gotta Get Outta This Place)

Former WRVA News Anchor Paul Bottoms worked with Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. (Photo: Louise Ricks)

The playlist on AFVN reflected the music that was beginning to top the charts at home.

Bottoms: “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” we played that a lot, supposedly that was the most popular song with the troops.

(Music: Fortunate Son)

Bottoms: [We played] Creedence Clearwater Revival, “It Ain’t Me,” “Fortunate Son.” You gotta remember in 1968 we lost 16,000 soldiers, that was the worst year of the war.

Popular Richmond DJ Tony Booth was also heard on Armed Forces Radio. He remembered a playlist that was full of what was called bubble gum music.

Richmond DJ Tony Booth said anti-war songs weren’t on the Armed Forces Radio playlist, but sometimes they would sneak them in. (Photo Courtesy Tony Booth)

Tony Booth: We had the same stack of records that they had at Top 40 stations in America but they were not necessarily the ones the guys wanted to hear.

(Music: Give Peace a Chance)

At home, the new album rock radio stations and the new stereo FM stations began playing the music of the peace movement. As the war dragged on, anti-war protest songs began to appear. Those weren’t on the play list at Armed Forces Radio.

(Music: War - What It Is Good For)

Booth: Some of those songs came over because the parents or spouses would send them the albums.

(Music:  For What It’s Worth)

Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. Paul Bottoms is at the left and Pat Sajak is sitting on top of the truck, third from right. (Photo Courtesy Paul Bottoms)

Booth: The guys wanted to hear one thing, we were playing another, but sometimes we slipped a few in… “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, was not a protest song at all but it became an anthem.

Tony Booth, Paul Bottoms and John Seid all worked in radio after the war. Seid may have enjoyed singing along with the first song he heard when got off the plane in Vietnam. But, in the end…

Seid: The last song that I heard, I don’t remember, because when I got my orders, nothing else mattered. I shut down, I closed my ears, I did everything they told me to do, ABCDEFG. I was going home!

John Ogle, WCVE News.