BDN had arrived in Salzburg in August 1945 — just a few months after the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. Recognizing the importance of entertainment and information to lonely troops overseas, Army Gen. Mark Clark ordered that a radio network be set up in Austria. In Verona, Italy, his request reached the desk of Milton C. Shapp, a young signal corps lieutenant. Shapp dispatched a mobile radio transmitter to Salzburg. A studio was set up in a trailer, then later moved into the
building housing the Italian Mission. In 1947 studios were improvised at Camp Truscott and the Hotel Pitter, and finally BDN moved into new studios at the Schloss Klessheim estate on the outskirts of Salzburg.
Salzburg became the headquarters and flagship station of the Blue Danube Network. In time, BDN put seven transmitters into operation to serve USFA (United States Forces in Austria) troops in Salzburg, Linz, Vienna, Zell am See, St. Johann, Tulln AFB (near Vienna) and Innsbruck. (USFA supply troops in Leghorn, Italy, heard BDN programs on a public address system hooked up to a short-wave receiver, which in turn picked up BDN’s short-wave beam from Salzburg.)
Since television was still in its infancy in the States, most of the big-name entertainers were still on the radio. Being the only game in town, so to speak, the BDN staff faced the difficult task of deciding which shows to present. They were guided in their choices by popularity ratings the shows earned in America plus periodic surveys of enlisted men serving in Austria. For example, a typical weekly schedule in 1952 found BDN airing “Amos ‘n Andy”, “Ozzie and Harriet”, “The Hollywood Music Hall”, “Charlie McCarthy”, “Bob and Ray”, “Our Miss Brooks”, “The Bickersons”, “The Lone Ranger”, “The Eddie Cantor Show”, “Mr. and Mrs. North”, “Bing Crosby”, “The Whistler”, “My Friend Irma”, “Dragnet”, “Mario Lanza”, “Martin and Lewis”, “The Great Gildersleeve”, “Grand Ole Opry”, “Duffy’s Tavern” and “Your Hit Parade.”
However, as a branch of the Army’s Training, Information and Education Section. BDN put on its share of programs with a message. “The I & E portion of our program could be considered the ‘commercials,‘” noted Col Edgar L. Tidwell, USA-Ret., who had served as commanding officer and closed out the network when the Austrian Peace Treaty was signed in 1955. “The music and other material broadcast was incidental to our mission – but not incidental to the listener.”
Colonel Tidwell’s staff – 30 Army enlisted men, 14 Department of the Army civilians and 25 Austrian employees personally produced almost half the shows that were aired on BDN. These included everything from local sports broadcasts lo special events to serving as disc jockeys.
Relations with both Austrian broadcasters and listeners were excellent. The network’s headquarters was housed in this building at Schloss Klessheim near Salzburg. BDN was able to provide a type of programming unavailable to Austrian listeners on their stations. U.S. music especially was pleasing to a certain segment of the Austrian listeners. Many Austrians and Germans learned to speak English by listening to BDN.
And then, unexpectedly in May 1955, the Russians suddenly signed an Austrian State Treaty and, along with the Americans, British and French, agreed to withdraw their occupation troops. Two months later Salzburg’s four non-communist newspapers and the local Austrian radio station publicized BDN’s 10th anniversary – and farewell. The Salzburger Volksblatt, the city’s second largest daily newspaper stated: “This birthday celebration (with the staff of BDN and members of Radio Salzburg and the Salzburg press) was also simultaneously a farewell party, because with the withdrawal of the American forces, BDN will also discontinue its broadcasts. . . . Among the congratulating Austrian guests were the colleagues of Radio Salzburg. Manager Dr. Becker brought flowers and expressed the honest gratitude of the Austrian colleagues for the truly close and fruitful cooperation which is as old as BDN. . . .”
It was not long before the packers arrived at Schloss Klessheim. As the “Stars and Stripes” reported at the time: “Part of a studio wall is ripped out. Packing cases stand in the halls. A typewriter clatters away… The network… is due to close down around Oct. 15 (ending an association that has) probably done as much to influence Austrian-American relations as any other single factor of the occupation.”
(Source: THE RETIRED OFFICER, December 1985)