"THE EMERALD CITY", SAUDI ARABIA -- At this huge military base north of Riyadh, the popular sounds on the airwaves are news and the tunes of another war.
These soldiers, many of whom learned about the Vietnam War in history books, prefer the songs of the 1960s. On any given day, either from the ubiquitous Walkman or over military radio stations, one is likely to hear Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or the Doors.
This base is the Saudi kingdom's most secret city, capable of housing tens of thousands of soldiers. At its center is a spectacular building complex with fountains and greenery, much like Dorothy found at the end of the Yellow Brick Road -- thus the nickname, "The Emerald City." Its real name and location are classified.
The radio station that broadcasts to the troops from here, in keeping with the theme, is called Wizard 106.
During the buildup of troops, before the war started, the chief radio entertainment came from Iraq's Baghdad Betty -- a heavily accented propagandist who lamely tried to get U.S. troops to defect.
How bad was Betty? She was so bad that she told the soldiers their wives were sleeping with American celebrities -- Tom Selleck, Tom Cruise and Bart Simpson. Betty was obviously the victim of bad research. She was also one of the first "casualties" of the war when the radio and television transmitters in Iraq were bombed out of service.
One of the most clever secret operations of the war so far was when the allies immediately began broadcasting on the same frequencies of the Iraqi stations they had obliterated. It so confused the Iraqis and unsettled Saddam Hussein that he put out the word that the Central Intelligence Agency was imitating his voice in those broadcasts.
The programs from Iraq were of little interest to the U.S. troops anyway. They rely on the BBC over shortwave for war news, and those without a shortwave are woefully uninformed at the front. Many of the people here in The Emerald City did not know where they were on the map. And at least half of the enlisted people randomly questioned did not know that Norman Schwarzkopf was their commanding general. If it doesn't come in a letter from home, they have few other ways of finding out the details of the war that they are fighting.
Those who can tune into Wizard 106 get half news and half music. The station takes requests. After a Scud missile attack, the most in demand songs are Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," or Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." A consistent favorite is Edwin Starr's 1970 hit "War" with the refrain, "What is it good for? Absolutely nothing."
Armed Forces Radio caters to the '60s tastes, greeting the day with "Goooooood morning, Saudi Arabia!" in the tradition of Vietnam DJ Adrian Cronauer a la Robin Williams.
"Face it," one private from Boston said. "Rap sound don't make it out here with the scorpions and such. It's okay for punks trying to act bad back on Dot Avenue. But we grunts are the mean green machine that is going to make that King Saddam wish he never was born to breathe. We need real war music from the war movies."