(c) 1999,2020 Peter McCollum
The "Village Radios"
The "Village Radio Program" was sponsored by the CIA during the Vietnam conflict, through a front organization known as the Office of Public Safety (this series of radios are also known as "OPS radios"). The purpose was to provide simple radios to the local civilians, so that they could inform officials of Viet Cong activities. The radios were built under contract with Radio Industries (a subsidiary of Hallicrafters, purchased in 1963), and included the HT-1, the HT-2, the TR-5 "Hamlet Radio", the TR-20 "Village Radio", and probably the TR-35A, among others. HT-1 units that have come into surplus channels are usually unmarked; earlier units have ID plates. Radios in the OPS series were used in other places in addition to Southeast Asia.
A probable reference to the program is seen in an October 1966 monthly status report of the CIA’s Research & Development Laboratory:
“Three new design projects were initiated during this reporting period. The first is for a Village Radio Alarm System to be used to alert established counter insurgency centers when a village in their area is being subjected to a forced meeting by insurgent forces.”
An HT-1E handheld transceiver.
The case of the HT-1 is made of a piece of extruded aluminum, with a cap-plate on each end. The bottom plate covers the battery compartment, which contains 8 "D" cells. The radio operates from 30-40 MC AM, crystal-controlled on a single channel, with a power output of 0.5 watts. Input power is 12 VDC, 0.18 amps (transmit). Several versions were made, including the HT-1A through HT-1E.
Early versions of the HT-1 had a "destruct button" near the bottom of the case, near the antenna base. This button did not detonate an explosive; rather, pressing the button and the PTT switch at the same time would blow a 125 mA fuse on the circuit board, thus rendering the radio inoperable by disabling both the audio driver and transmit oscillator stages. In the field, users had instructions that if they were ever out of radio contact that they should return to base. So, when a user became nervous in the jungle, he would sometimes "destruct" his radio, so that he had a good excuse to return to the village. For this reason, the destruct button was eliminated from later models. The internal fuse was replaced with a wire. The HT-1A manual says that the destruct circuit was not included on all radios. The schematic indicates the wiring changes if the button is present. By the time of the HT-1E, the destruct button is mentioned only in the disassembly procedure (probably erroneously) - the wiring for the button is gone from the schematic. [Note: The HT-1E schematic is missing a connection that is required for the transmit oscillator. This connection was probably removed by mistake when the destruct circuit was being removed.]
The HT-2 is a dual-band version of the HT-1. The TR-5 "Hamlet Radio" probably has a power output of about 5 W (no other info known at this time).
An HT-2, with dual-band capability. Image courtesy of the late Bill Howard.
The TR-20 "Village Radio" is a hybrid tube/transistor "base station" transceiver with a 20 watt output, and it operates from 30-40 MC. It has a Destruct button similar to the early HT-1 which, when pressed, blows a concealed fuse. The TR-20's front panel is labeled in both English and Vietnamese. One TR-20 unit (serial #0233F, owned by Mike Zane), has component markings indicating it was likely made in early 1964. The front panel layout is somewhat different from serial #A101. Both units are pictured below.
A TR-20 transceiver, serial A101. Image courtesy of Keith Snyder.
Another type of TR-20, serial 0233F. Differences include the location for the Destruct switch, and a lack of a Key jack. Image courtesy of Mike Zane.
A close-up of the TR-20 panel, showing the destruct switch and Vietnamese markings. Image courtesy of Keith Snyder.
The following pictures are of a TR-35A, circa 1966, which tunes 2-9 MC with a power input of 35 watts. The set operates from 110 VAC or 12 VDC. It is likely another member of the Village Radio program. Images courtesy of Gary W9NU.
"This radio has a solid state receiver and operates on CW or AM. The transmitter uses a 7905 oscillator tube and a 4604 final tube. Both these tubes have instant-heating filaments to reduce the stand-by current drain. The weight is 28 pounds. This transceiver was built while the "Jungle War" was in full swing in Vietnam. It's possible a CIA clandestine operations specialist picked up a pair of these radios at Fort Monmouth, NJ before his long flight to SE Asia. For security reasons, he was instructed to remove the Hallicrafters tag, but decided to leave the h on the mic to remind him of the hell he was going to. Perhaps one of the radios was given to a "friendly" in Laos or Cambodia who became his radio contact. Maybe this radio played a part in Operation Junction City in 1967 or in the 1968 Tet Offensive. I guess we will never know its history, but I suspect that it did not see any "action", due to its superb condition. I will bet that the Hallicrafters production tag was removed after it was decommissioned."
Shown here is a TR-5 set. Images courtesy of Pasquale Lombardi, KC2RNN.