Rest in Peace, Radio First Termer

Clyde David DeLay died last week of acute respiratory distress, just months after having significant heart surgery. He was 63.
DeLay was better known to the world as “Dave Rabbit,” the slick-tongued DJ behind Radio First Termer, a pirate radio station he ran from a Saigon whorehouse during the Vietnam War.
DeLay later explained that RFT was born out of a rocket attack on the air base at which he was stationed; the attack killed a close friend and made DeLay hyper-aware of his own mortality, as well as the folly of the conflict in Vietnam. The broadcasts were DeLay’s way of paying tribute to his friend and all the “front line” soldiers who risked death every day for a questionable purpose.
With gear purloined from the Air Force and the informal protection of military police, the three-hour broadcasts originally debuted on January 1, 1971 on both the AM and FM bands. The studio-space was padded with blankets and mattresses to dampen the sex-noise from the brothel in which it was located, and “rent” to the madam came in the form of supplies pilfered from the base exchange.
Radio First Termer’s format was “hard acid rock” – music that the Armed Forces Vietnam Network had censored from its playlist, but a perennial favorite of the troops. DeLay regaled listeners with dirty commentary straight from the walls of military latrines and tips on how to avoid bad batches of drugs in Saigon. Shows were also chock full of clever spleen-venting at the stupidity of military higher-ups and the Vietnam War itself. In many ways, RFT provided the first quasi-public media outlet for the troops, by the troops, through which they could express their explosive disdain with the war.
Unfortunately, Radio First Termer would only broadcast for 21 consecutive nights. After wrapping up the show on January 21, 1971, DeLay and his co-conspirators got word that unsympathetic military administrators were close to unmasking the station and jailing its principals.
That was the end of the show, but not of the legend: Radio First Termer tapes would continue to circulate, especially in military circles, for decades. Almost 35 years to the day after RFT left the air, DeLay conducted an Internet search for media related to the Vietnam War. To his surprise, he found several sites and articles dedicated to his Saigon station, and discovered that his legacy was still alive.
That sparked a Radio First Termer revival. DeLay and a production crew traveled to Baghdad, Iraq in 2006 to resurrect the station in a one-off broadcast from an “undisclosed location.” DeLay also podcast weekly until a month before his death, and did several more shows this way for troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In today’s media environment, where soldiers blog, tweet, and can otherwise communicate with the outside world somewhat regularly (though not without some risk of discipline), there will never be another voice that captures soldiers’ dissent with unjust wars quite like Radio First Termer.