In 1971, a young air force sergeant in Saigon broadcast a pirate radio show from a secret room in a brothel and regaled his comrades with off-color musings on sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. After a mere 21 days on the air 35 years ago, Dave Rabbit remains a bit of a cult figure. So he’s decided to resurrect his old persona from Iraq. Rabbit spoke with Brooke on Tuesday before shipping out.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. ROBIN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Vietnam! BROOKE GLADSTONE: Most radio junkies have heard of Adrian Cronauer, the Armed Forces radio deejay who broadcast from a base on Crete into Vietnam in the 1960s. Unlike the character based on him, played by Robin Williams in the film "Good Morning, Vietnam," Cronauer always played by the military's rules – not so, Dave Rabbit. Last weekend we read a fascinating piece in Salon about an old pirate radio show produced by the young Air Force sergeant on a tour of duty in Saigon in 1971, broadcast from a secret room in a brothel with equipment lent from some pals in supply while other pals operated relays across the country. His programming delighted his comrades with off-color musings on sex, drugs and rock n' roll and enraged his commanding officers. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] DAVE RABBIT [ON-AIR]: If you happen to be down by the Magic Finger Lounge any time tonight, keep away from the Korean at the front door. He's pushing some bad H. I repeat. He's pushing some bad - BROOKE GLADSTONE: That was the voice of 22-year-old Dave Rabbit – not his real name. Now Dave is 57, a relatively staid and stable Dallas Dad, who discovered more or less by accident that after a mere 21 days on the air 35 years ago, he remains a bit of a cult figure. And now he's going to resurrect Dave Rabbit, this time from Iraq. Dave Rabbit joins us on the phone just before he ships out on Tuesday from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. Dave, welcome to the show. DAVE RABBIT: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Travis Air Force Base? Does this mean that the military is actually helping you out this time? DAVE RABBIT: No. We're not using military equipment. We're not using military anything. Do we have guidance from them? Yes. Do we have agreements with them to a degree? Possibly. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You're not saying. DAVE RABBIT: Yeah, that's as far as I can take you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Uh-huh. Now, these are the same people that were after your hide 35 years ago, that wanted to maybe even throw you in jail. DAVE RABBIT: Well, you know, the statute of limitations - BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] DAVE RABBIT: - is long since gone on that. You know, I mean, I was violating, you know, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You know, we were active duty military personnel in a war zone, and our show was not, you know, enjoyed by the ones that were straight-laced and had polished shoes. Our show was for the troops in the field, the guys that were laying their lives on the line every single day, and that was our whole reason for being in existence. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] DAVID RABBIT [ON-AIR]: We're an underground radio station here, and we say what we feel like saying. And we bring the truth to the first-termers in the Republic of Vietnam. We also bring you hard acid rock music all through the night. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what was the nature of the truth that you were offering the soldiers in the field? DAVE RABBIT: What an average 19-year-old believed to be the truth back in the '60s. You know, we didn't believe that it was the same scenario like our fathers fought in World War II. I mean, in World War II, you know, the whole country was just gung-ho, and, I mean, everybody bonded together. It was that kind of thing. It was us against them. In the situation in Vietnam, you know, it was politically motivated. A perfect example is Hamburger Hill. I mean, those guys fought for several days. There were several hundred GIs that were killed. And then 10 days later, they gave the hill up, so almost 400 guys, or whatever the number was, were killed to take a hill that meant nothing – it was a piece of dirt – unlike World War II, where you're sitting there physically defending our country, our borders and whatever from the Germans and the Japanese. But we never really came out in the show and said, hey, everybody lay your weapons down and let's go home. What we did is we took the political situation that we had facing us at the time and turned things that would, on the surface, look very negative, and made it something funny. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You were distinguishing between the Second World War and Vietnam, and used the example of Hamburger Hill. I was wondering, do you see Iraq as more like Vietnam? DAVE RABBIT: I think there's a lot of similarities, and the similarities to me are that quagmire. Vietnam was a politically motivated campaign. So is Iraq. The problem is, is that we didn't have to deal with religious wars in Vietnam. All we had to deal with was discerning whether they're North Vietnamese or South Vietnamese. So the problem in Iraq is not only are these nuts trying to blow up our military people and our allies, they're blowing up their own people. They don't care. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So tell me what the new show is going to sound like. Will you still be playing The Doors, or will you be playing, you know, Ludacris and Tupac? DAVE RABBIT: It's going to be a completely unique show. You know, we're still going to have our hard rock music roots, but there's a lot of flavor in it. It's gonna be a mix. BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the old show, you had a regular feature about reading sayings off of latrine walls. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] DAVID RABBIT [ON-AIR]: Here's one of them: "While I'm home, my wife is my right hand. While I'm away, my right hand is my wife." BROOKE GLADSTONE: Will you have somebody on the base feeding you those? DAVE RABBIT: We already have the material. We've had people from Iraq sending us stuff for the last several months. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what do you think, Dave, you can give them that they haven't already got? DAVE RABBIT: Well, you know, here's the deal. A lot of people do shows for entertainment but they weren't personally ever at risk. They weren't personally ever put to the test of, do I live today or do I not? Any military person that you come across, you can ask them and they're gonna tell you this exact thing. Until you have been there, you don't know! And that's my edge, because I've been there, I've seen it, I've experienced it, I've had those emotions, I've had friends die. I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had depression. I've had all those marvelous things that come with being an American veteran. So that's my edge. That's my edge. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what is that you want to say to the men and women you'll be broadcasting to? What specifically is it that you're there to give them? DAVE RABBIT: If I could get one smile, a laugh or a giggle from somebody in the course of that three-hour period of time, give them a chance to sit there and be home, be home, then I've made a successful trip. BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think Dave Rabbit 2.0 is just more of a dad than Dave Rabbit, the original. DAVE RABBIT: Yeah, I am. But, you know, I'll tell you, I wouldn't change where I'm at right now, getting ready to do what we're getting ready to do for all the money in the world. And I'll tell you why. I got an email one day that really brought it home for me. And in the course of this email, the guy is telling me he was in a hospital, and he had a leg amputated. And somebody had a copy of one of the shows, and they're playing it. And the guys are laughing at whatever. He said, up until I listened to that show, I really didn't know whether I wanted to continue on. And, he said, you gave me a laugh at the time that I most desperately needed it. And he says, I can never thank you enough. And, I mean, I'm not kidding you, I get misty thinking about it. [CLEARS THROAT] Pardon me. [CLEARS THROAT] [PAUSE] Um, it blew me away. I mean, it blew me away. It validated what I did. You understand what I'm sayin'? I want no money. I want no fame. I want no fortune. You know, everything we're doing is a freebie. We're doin' it because we want the validation that we have made a difference in somebody's life. Period. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dave, thank you very much. DAVE RABBIT: You're very welcome. BROOKE GLADSTONE: The pirate radio personality known as Dave Rabbit will broadcast from Baghdad starting next week. You can find him online at daverabbit.podomatic.com.