Midnight Rock & Roll – Adventures on the Night Shift

The second of two parts – the overnight shift at the AFRTS radio station at Hellenikon AB, Athens, Greece in about 1984. The base is long-closed, the radio station also closed. Practically all the technology discussed, as well as the various broadcast media are antiques from another era.

Program out, hit the ID, time hack… and this time I hit one cart for playback, another for record.
We need to pre-record and review every newscast and news feature that we air, because of the host-nation sensitivity issue. Every allied country where AFRTS operates has its own list of things and issues that we may not, as tactful users of their airwaves, and considerable of a shadow audience among their nationals, broadcast in any way, shape or form. Well, every country but Denmark, tolerant and broadminded, who have stated that really, they can’t imagine taking offense to anything AFRTS might broadcast. Greece, on the other hand, has a lengthy list: any mention of Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, NATO or the EEC (European Economic Community) is red-flagged, even the most brief and casual mention. We are supposed to get clearance from the NCOIC/Radio, the Program Director, Station Manager, PAO, and maybe even elevate it to the JUSMAGG PAO, depending on the seriousness of the mention. Or, just pitch the newscast, if it is a one-time only mention, and hope for better luck with the next newscast feed. Given the Greek propensity for taking hair-trigger offense, and our location in Athens, with a large, English-speaking population… well, it is the only way we can operate, but we all become very paranoid, about reviewing the newscasts.

I have an abiding nightmare that in the middle of some innocuous interview with some Hollywood nit-wit, when I am only paying half-attention, someone will say, “Oh, by the way, did you know that the Prime Minister of Greece routinely performs sexual indignities with barnyard animals?” I suspect the capacity for perceived insult is inversely proportional to the grasp of rapid, colloquial American English . One of our troops had a reference to a “greasy spoon restaurant” in a locally produced spot, and some high-up in the government made it out to be an offence on the culture of Greece. We had to pull the spot, I don’t know if anyone ever attempted to explain the difference to the objecting gentleman, but on the whole, it was fortunate that a lot of what Wolfman Jack said went straight over many heads.

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Midnight Rock & Roll – Adventures on the Night Shift

Since I did the TV overnight shift for one of my ebooks, I thought an archaeological reconstruction of an overnight shift on AFRTS-Radio would make a nice balance: This is a shift I would have worked at EBS (European Broadcasting Squadron) Hellenikon in 1984ish, and is part one of two.

My daughter has already been asleep for several hours. She is used to being carried downstairs, wrapped in a blanket and strapped into the car seat in the back of the orange Volvo sedan for the short ride to the sitters, over in Sourmena. Her friend Sara, whose mother is our babysitter, is already in bed. In the morning, Sara’s mother will take them both to preschool, and I will collect Blondie from school. We’ll have the afternoon and early evening for ourselves. Blondie curls up, thumb in mouth, fast asleep as soon as I have tucked her into the bed she will share with Sara. I say good night to Sara’s parents, and drive down hill towards Hellenikon. It’s 9:30 at night; by Greek standards it’s the best part of the evening, especially in summer. The shops have just closed, but the restaurants are doing a booming business, and traffic is heavy on Vouliagmeni, the main boulevard between downtown Athens, out to Glyphada and the coastal road south to the temple at Sounion.

Hellenikon Airbase is a narrow strip trickling downhill to the airport runway, a single road zigzagging from the entry gate, all the way down to the MAC terminal and weather station, at the bottom by the ramps to the flightline. A professional baseball pitcher could probably fling a baseball entirely across it at any point.

The entrance gate is on Vouligmeni, set back a little way from the traffic, and heavy concrete balks, the size of trash dumpsters force vehicle traffic to zigzag slowly, in a single lane. The base is regularly targeted by protestors, and threats of violence. Those threats are delivered upon often enough to make the Security Police, as well as the rest of us, very, very wary.
I show my ID card to the SP, and continue down the hill, past CBPO, and the short road towards the car wash and BX gas station. All the base is to the left or right of the road, which splits into a one-way loop halfway down the hill, below the Chapel and the BX complex.

Across from the chapel are the old radio station building, and the Post office; further downhill are the barracks buildings for single airmen, the hospital. The new radio station building is behind the post office and the Rec Center, backed up nearly to the perimeter fence. I swing into the parking lot and run in to see if there is mail in my box: Letters and magazines, and goodie, a pink cardboard slip, meaning there is a package for me to pick up at the window sometime the next day, but until then duty calls.

The new building replaced a tiny structure the size of a three-car garage, into which was wedged with fiendish ingenuity two studios, a radio library, a work area for the engineers, a teletype room, a small office/work area, with an even smaller one for the station manager, and a lavatory not appreciably larger than the station managers office. In the old days, there were not chairs enough to seat the entire staff at one time, or the space to put them all if there had been. For the last eight months, we have been reveling in the generous space afforded by the new building: two lavish stories, three studios, and a huge high-ceilinged work area with a curving stairway against the wall. Security lights keep the outside nearly as bright as daylight; I have never had a moment of worry, working alone at night. There is a telephone extension in a metal box by the door: I use it to call up to the studio for the swing shift guy to let me in, and wait until he comes down the stairs.
“Anything much going on?”
“Nope… the voiceline’s dropping in and out, I called Comm already. Same old, same old, trouble at Mt. Vergine, it’s fixed when it’s fixed. I’ve left you two newscasts. Can you voice a couple of lines for a spot? Just leave the tape on the desk with the script.”
“No problem. I’ll take over now, if you want to split.”
The previous operations supervisor, a man not long departed from the unit (to the profound relief of most of the junior broadcasters) had insisted that the only voices used for produced spots be those of the assigned military staff. As I am the only woman assigned to the unit, anyone wanting to use a female voice for a spot must use mine. Frankly, if I weren’t me, I’d have been sick to death of the sound of my own voice.

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25 Stories About Work: History Became Legend, Legend Became Myth..

And some things which should not have been forgotten….
Have not been, because they are either funny or excellent cautionary tales. The Teflon Man, for instance: he bestrode the small world of military broadcasting, providing a rich legacy of horrible gaffes, cringe-inducing miscalculations and antics which reflected no credit whatever upon the unit to which he was attached. Spend more than a couple of years as an NCO in military broadcasting, and you will know everyone, or know of everyone, and the Teflon Man was a legend, like Bigfoot or Elvis, because nothing ever seemed to stick. He had more lives than Wylie Coyote, bouncing back time and time again from incidents that would have seen any other military broadcaster sent back to civilian life, working the overnight TV board shift for the last-rated station in Sheboygan or Bakersfield.

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25 Stories About Work – From College to Work

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

Chicago, early 1990s

Today it seems like everyone goes into college after taking many Advanced Placement (AP) courses with a lot of college credits. When I did this in the late 1980s, however, it was much rarer. I was able to cut out an entire semester with credits from high school and with summer school and a heavy course load I was able to graduate with an undergraduate and graduate degree in accounting in four years.

I remember finishing college at the end of May. Back then we didn’t have air conditioning in our house nor in the buildings on campus and I remember just sweating so much that my arms stuck to the coursework. In graduate school we had a number of group projects which were harder to schedule back in the day before email and cell phones; we had to pick a time and actually stick to it in order to collaborate. Exams were long and we had to turn in all of our projects and I was kind of exhausted.

Immediately after completion of exams I took the CPA exam. Today the exam is much different and it is commonly taken “in pieces” but back then most people sat down and in two days tried to knock out all four sections at once; you needed a score of “75%” to pass each section and I passed all four the first time, although one of the sections was right on the edge with that “75”. The exam was in McCormick Place, South of the Loop, and on Friday around 6pm I decided to take side streets (Ashland) up from the South Loop to the North Side. That turned out to be a terrible decision; at that time Chicago was extremely dangerous and this was before gentrification of the South and West Loop; there were large groups of people milling about in the street and burning trashcans like that scene out of “Rocky”. I got through it but it was something I’d never recommend trying again.

By the middle of June I was starting my first job. The accounting firm tried to get me to start in the fall, when the vast majority of new staff joined, and asked me why I didn’t want to just take the summer off.

“Because I don’t have any money” was my answer.

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25 Stories About Work – The Unfortunate Incident In the Base Housing Area

(A retelling from my extensive archives of a certain unfortunate incident, and the efforts involved in keeping a straight face when broadcasting about it on the local radio station.)

As it so happens with so many unfortunate incidents, it came out without much warning, and piece by piece, the first harbinger being in the form of an emergency spot announcement brought around from the front office by our admin NCO. The radio and television station at Zaragoza AB was situated in two (later three) ancient Quonset huts. The radio and engineering sections occupied the largest, which was two of them run together at some long-ago date. (We were never able to get permission to run all three buildings together with an extension— the cost of building such would be more than the real estate value of the three buildings being combined, and so, of course, it couldn’t be done. My heartfelt plea to build extensions to the existing buildings which would take them within six inches or so of the other structures and let us fill in the gap with a self-help project was routinely and cruelly rejected. Base Civil Engineering can be so f**king heartless.)

Sgt. Herrera found the radio staff in the record library: a small, windowless room almost entirely filled with tall shelves roughed out of plywood, and filled with 12-inch record discs in heavy white or manila shucks. A GSA metal utility office desk, and a couple of library card-file cabinets filled up the rest of the available space, which was adorned with outrageous and improbable news stories clipped from the finest and most unreliable tabloids, Far Side cartoons, and current hit charts from Billboard and Radio & Record. The morning guy was putting away the records that he had pulled for his show, the news guy was using the typewriter, and I was supervising it all, and prepping my playlist for the midday show.

“The SPs want this on the air right away.” He handed the slip of paper to me. “The dogs are real dangerous.”

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