Monday, March 18, 2013
AFN Livorno Italy 1982-2013
AFN Livorno has shut down. Jim Johnson was there for the beginning:
I arrived at Camp Darby, Italy during Thanksgiving week 1981 from an assignment at AFKN Korea. Southern European Broadcasting Service (SEB) Commander, Major Mike Kehoe and SEB Chief Engineer John Knowles, had worked hard to secure a location at Camp Darby to house the new station as requested by the 8th Support Group Commander Colonel Joseph Laposata.
The station building was connected to the Riviera Recreation Center and still undergoing renovation for our operations when I arrived. There were no personnel, broadcast equipment (except a microwave receiver), telephones or furniture, and several structural problems were obvious, the most serious of which was that there was no plan to sound proof the two radio studios so that outside noises would not interfere with live radio programs. Since the station sat in the landing pattern for the Pisa Airport this was a major issue. Our 40 meter tower was still pending approval from Italian Aviation authorities.
When I arrived, community and SEB HQ engineers had already installed the microwave receiver and dish in order to receive SEB programming from Vicenza. There were several mountain top relays between Vicenza and Camp Darby, the closest of which was Monte Serra just Southeast of PIsa. That site became my responsibility in case there were problems at that location. By January of 1982 we were able to receive the television programming from SEB Vicenza and distribute it via a post cable system with a main gathering room at the Darby Community Club. Needless to say, the community was elated about being able to watch American TV even though they had to come to Camp Darby to do so. The biggest night was Super Bowl night when the room was packed and the game was viewed live. I think game time at Camp Darby was around 1:00 a.m., but the DCC was jumping with excitement as the crowd saw the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 26 to 21. Great game and an extremely great night for soldiers and family members at Camp Darby. Shuttle buses ran extra runs so that people could return home after the game. The next day we saw some pretty tired people, but happy they were and SEB was the hero!
Later in 1982 broadcast staff started arriving from the states and were directly assigned to Camp Darby. The first of which was SP5 John Thurston followed soon by SP4 Rick Sloot. Both were extremely talented and we all looked forwarded to the day that live shows could come from our studios. After receiving approval to hire two local national personnel, we were able to add a secretary, Patricia Salutij, and an engineer, Rinaldo Giambastiani. Turned out that there were excellent hires and we were set with a lot of talent to begin operations.
While waiting on our studios to be installed, we started sending spots in late 1982 for Camp Darby community organizations to be aired during the SEB Vicenza live shows. Rick Sloot hosted a very popular rock show that was aired on the entire network, and I hosted a daily network show called "Country Gold." Suddenly SEB Livorno was on the map and the Morale and Welfare office began receiving more requests for hotel reservations because of the spots and programs.
Finally, by mid year 1983 everything was installed and we received approval from the SEB commander to go on the air. On August 3, 1983, a "sign-on Party" took place on the Riviera Recreation Center patio located just outside the back door to the station which was attended by many community members. When SEB Commander, LTC Mike Kehoe, gave the order to sign on, SP5 John Thurston started the turntables rolling with the first song to air on the new station, "We Are the Champions" by Queen. SEB Livorno was live and running! Other personnel would soon arrive including broadcasters SSG Steve Lucas and SP4 Cheryl Chilcott and technician SSG Ken Johnson. They were all very talented additions to the staff.
I stayed on as station manager until November 1984 when I was sent to replace SFC Mike Pervel as the station manager of AFN Wuerzburg. SFC Max Sedow was my replacement at Camp Darby.
Of my three tours with AFN in Germany, one with AFKN, and four years as a DINFOS instructor, my assignment to help get SEB Livorno on the air was by far the most enjoyable. An experience I will never forget.
John Queen was there for the end. He did an official writeup for the Army: