Monday, December 1, 2014

Gary Hannes CFN, Panama Canal Zone 1955 Part two

As far as I can remember, we boarded ship on April 29, 1955, heading out from New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, with San Juan, Puerto Rico our first stop where, four days later, we dropped-off most of the troops. After only an hour or so in port, we hustled off to Colon, Panama, arriving exactly seven days after walking up the gangplank. The ship "parked" about a half-mile off the coast and a WWII LST chugged out to meet the small bunch of us disembarking there. It was a dull, rainy arrival and we traveled wet on the train that took us across the isthmus to Fort Amador to await local assignment. On TDY (temporary duty) at Amador, I bunked with a fellow named Jim Anderson who, as it turned out, had been a radio announcer in Springfield, Mass. before coming into the service. On TDY we were both assigned the job of riding in the back of a big truck that visited all the officer's quarters, picking up bed linen destined for the military laundry at Amador. Every chance we got, Jim and I would run into the C&A office and ask if there was anything open. Then, one fine day, the clerk said there were two new openings: one at CFN, the AFRS station located at Fort Clayton, and the other as an English/Spanish translator at Quarry Heights H.Q. We told by the officer in charge at C&A that we'd both like to be assigned to CFN since we were both "veteran" radio announcers. He phoned CFN and (thank God!!!), we were both invited to come and take an audition. 

 I do not fare well with auditions. And so it was with this one. I sat in the big studio across the table from Jim who was tossing around the names of Russian composers, Chinese despots, Italian politicians, and forgotten cities in the Ukraine as though he had intimate dealings with each and every one. During my turn, I stuttered, gurgled, choked, and mispronounced every third word...even the easy ones! By the end of our audition I felt it was A-plus for Jim and D-minus for Gary. I do not recall who gave the audition since CFN was between civilian program directors at the time. Probably it was Major John Morrissey, CFN's OIC at the time plus a couple of old-timers on the staff. At any rate, we were told to return to TDY and we would be advised. Lo and behold, the very next day Jim and I were both advised to "pack up your gear and c'mon over to CFN!!!" 

 Anyone reading this who is not a veteran of CFN/SCN should know that the building the radio station was in was a huge, three-storey affair, with storage and limited car parking on the first floor. The third floor was living space for staff plus a few strays from other military offices near-by. The entire second floor was relegated to the world of radio. Coming into the building at ground level (1st floor) you made a right turn, walked up a flight of stairs. There was a reception area at the top of the stairs, and off to the right and to the rear, the backup team: copy-writers, news gatherers, phone answerers, and heaven-only-knows what else. In the opposite direction, down the hall and off to the right was "Studio A," the big one that was used for live orchestras, radio drama shows and formal interviews, though it was mainly used as a private lounge for the staff. At the end of the hallway, to the left was the technical office under the direction of Robert Botzenmayer, the civilian engineer-in-charge. The door on the right opened into the music and program library, packed-full of 16 inch vinyl discs containing all the music that was allowed to be aired on AFRS stations worldwide as well as hour and half-hour radio shows from the USA with the commercial messages taken out. Once inside the music library, you had access to the CFN on-air studio/control room which was entered by a door at the right rear of the library. So much for the interior physical layout. The building itself was half in the jungle on the back side with the front facing a huge well-kept (not by us) lawn and a ten meter covered sidewalk that led to the front door. This was to be "home" for the next year and a half. 

 This is May, 1955 and CFN, a radio-only operation, had a staff of around twenty-five people who did the work of what 6 or 7 would do in a normal, small-town radio station in the U.S. and this was not even a commercial operation with a sales staff and creative team. Yes, CFN was over-staffed, but that was fine with me. I was assigned to what's known as "morning drive-time" in commercial radio, on the air Monday thru Thursday from 5 to 9 a.m., plus a couple of mavrick programs throughout the week. Please allow me to pause here to pass along information regarding as much as I can remember about our staff during the time I served. 


 MAJOR JOHN MORRISSEY - John was OIC when I arrived. He was 100 percent non-military. Before CFN he had served as liason between talent and producers of some of the Armed Forces transcribed radio shows which were aired on commercial stations all over the U.S. as Public Service programs. He had a rolodex on his desk with the addresses and home phone numbers of virtually every Hollywood star, Broadway actor, and recording artist known to the U.S. public in those days. It was his job, he told us, to contact these people to arrange for them to do their "patriotic duty" by performing on these public service programs. John was either of equal rank or of higher rank to the Ft. Clayton commander since he had laiddown the law that his CFN guys did not march, pull K.P. duty, go target practicing, or even do lawn work in front of our own building. We were all provided class A passes and pretty much packed our uniforms away in the "dry closet." Since we were a mixed bag of army, navy and air force members, nobody had any idea as to who would inspect our "barracks" even if Major Morrissey consented to an inspection. John would invite a number of us to his Ft. Clayton house for barbecue and beer and to be with his family. He had, as I recall, two young children and an attractive wife. John was reassigned to Paris while I was still at CFN, and the word was that he died suddenly not long after. 

 JIM PATTISON - Civilian program director who arrived soon after I did. I believe he had been a friend of Major Morrissey in civilian life. Jim had spent a number of years in commercial radio in the U.S. He was a gentle guiding spirit for all of us and you will no doubt hear an awful lot more about him and his adventures (and mis-adventures) as leader of the CFN/SCN pack for a number of years long after my tour. 

 BOB BOTZENMAYER - Civilian engineer-in-charge of CFN. Bob came on board a few years before my arrival and stayed on, I'm told, until the early 1970's. He passed on in 2005. A couple of years after I mustered out and was working in Michigan City, Indiana, Bob came by my house to visit. He was in the area to bone-up on TV technical matters at the Dage Electronics plant in Michigan City. All the starting TV equipment at CFN-TV was from Dage. 

 JOE (don't have a last name) - He was, for most of my time at CFN, Mr. Botzenmayer's assistant. He was an air force sergeant, very quiet, and spent most of his time alone, residing in one of those private cubbyholes in the upstairs dormitory. The day he left CFN he confessed to some of us that he had been the CID "plant" at CFN. 

 AL LOHMAN, JR. - Al was at CFN when Jim and I arrived, doing his mid-morning air shift. He was a master on the air, smoooth as could be as he had had prior experience in radio before his CFN tenure. Al lived with a divorcee off-base so we didn't get to socialize too much, though a group of us, including Al, would occasionally hang-out at the Atlas night club. During these times, Al would be invited on stage to sing (which he did well), play the piano (also well) and/or do a comedy routine (ditto). He was a real showman. When he mustered out (before TV arrived), Al went on to big-time radio in Denver, Omaha, New York (WABC), and ultimately teamed-up with Roger Barkley in Los Angeles where the team of Lohman and Barkley entertained morning drive-time audiences for many years on KMPC radio. Al passed on in 2002. 

 A.J. CAROTHERS - A.J. came on board around the same time that I did. I don't really remember what his job was. It may have been an afternoon air shift. A.J. was from Houston so he had a pretty strong Texas accent, but apparently had taken elocution lessons from an English native. The result was a British/Texas accent: highly unusual. A.J. came from a wealthy family and remained somewhat aloof at CFN, not mixing with a lot of the rest of us. When TV came, A.J. excelled as an actor/director on "The Studio" and with readings from literature. He left CFN a few weeks before I did. I swung by to visit A.J. when I left service and stayed at his home for a few days. A.J. later hooked-up with Walt Disney and wrote several successful screen plays that Disney produced ("How to Succeed in Business Without Trying" with Michael J. Fox. "The Miracle of the White Stallions," "The Happiest Millionaire" a musical starring Fred MacMurray and several others including a TV series, ""Nanny and the Professor") Wikipedia says that A.J. wrote over 100 movies, TV shows and plays. A.J. once said he considered Walt his father-figure and Walt apparently thought of A.J. as a son. He passed on April 9, 2007. 

 CHANNING GRIGBSY - Channing came aboard in January, 1956 before the arrival of TV, and got involved in radio news reporting. He had married a Panamanian girl in 1955 while working on commercial radio station HOG in Panama City and resided off-base. Channing eventually became a heavy-weight TV person, taking-over the hour-long "Panorama" news block from 6 to 7 P.M. He left the service in August, 1957 to finish college at Penn State. Happily, Channing is alive and well at this writing (mid-2011). He teaches at Yuba College in Clear Lake, California 

 JIM ANDERSON - Jim and I arrived at CFN on the back of the same truck which delivered us and our gear to building 209 (though we never referred to it as that). Jim had prior radio experience in his native Massachusetts and was really keen on sports. He did most of the sports news reporting on radio, plus carried a late morning shift (methinks he took Al Lohman's shift when he left). We were both bachelors with more ambition than brains, so we took-on a number of extra-curricular radio chores. Together we produced holiday specials, did a carbon copy of "Your Hit Parade," and the "Uncle Jim and Tinker" kid's show on Saturday mornings. Tinker was a character that was born out of the production studio's Ampex reel-to-reel (or was it Magnacord??), recorded at 3-3/4 and played back at 7-1/2 ips. I was "Uncle Gary" on the show. Jim also (happily) is alive and well, retired in Maine and tending to family matters: wife Carol, son, daughters, grandkids and, above all: church matters. We communicate often. Almost all of the pictures that accompany this history are from Jim's collection. 

 TIMOTHY COOMBS - Tim, if I recall correctly, was assigned to CFN because of connections his stepfather had with the political world. His stepfather, I was told, was one of Guy Lombardo's famous twin piano players. Tim had no experience in radio, but Al Lohman took Tim under his wing and got him doing some on-air work. All other memories of Tim have evaporated into thin air. 

 JACK BOGGS - Another transferee from HOG. He came on board in September, 1955 after he was visited at HOG by Al Lohman and Jim Anderson. He remained with us for only about a year since he had already put in a lot of military time elsewhere. We made contact with each other in 1996 when I was hosting a big band dance in Kansas City and he was living in nearby Stover, Missouri. We made some taped interviews around that time, some of which I will pass on later. 

 GERRY STURGES - Formerly a staff writer for a newspaper in the San Francisco area, Gerry ended up at CFN as a sports guru and "creative writer" which meant he wrote notes of social events to be aired by the on-air grunts. Gerry was a real "head," a master of the English language, and very articulate. When TV came along, Gerry did on-camera readings and held down the sports anchor job, doing a duo with Channing Grigsby on "Panorama." Gerry and I got along really well and we corresponded off and on long after CFN. He and his wife came to Guadalajara, Mexico in 1969 and paid me a very brief visit. At that time or shortly thereafter, Gerry became aide to Wisconsin Representative David Obey who served over four decades in the U.S. House of Representatives. I hear that Gerry served the congressman for a number of years. 

 "BLUEGRASS" ERVIN - Well, he had a REAL name but I don't recall what it was. He was a career man, an army sergeant whose function at CFN was a bit nebulous. He was kind of the in-house country-western expert. He had a musical group that performed regularly, live, from studio A. He sang and played one of them there stringed instruments. Sgt. Ervin lived off-post with his wife. More later!! 

 TOM MOORE - Tom was an air force guy whose function at CFN was and still is, unclear. He lived off-post with his wife and kids, but since he had his own automobile, was very much in demand by the staff. Tom got a hardship discharge because of a terminally-ill relative back in the Memphis area whom he was obligated to care for. I visited Tom in Forrest City, Arkansas a couple of days after my discharge, bearing a bottle of Drambouie, our favorite recreational drink in Panama. At that time he was on the staff of the local TV station. 

 RON HARPER - Ron pretty much arrived with the TV start-up. He was billed as an "actor," and pretty much took-over "The Studio," a weekly live drama show. By the time Ron arrived, I was a short-timer, so don't have much of a handle on his doings. I do know I saw him as a featured player on the network TV series, "87th Precinct" in 1961-2. From his bio, I now see that Mr. Harper went on to bigger and better things in the motion picture and TV world. He served in the U.S. Navy, tho' who ever saw him in uniform? 

 RICHARD LEARMAN - Another TV guy. Learman told me he had appeared in many Shakespearean productions on and off Broadway before coming into service. He prided himself as a "method" actor. One day when I went into our upstairs bathroom, here was Richard, shaving with his right foot elevated to sink level and growling and cursing to himself. He told me later that he chose a different personality each day and attempted to imagine living that person's life for a full day. That particular day, he said, he was playing a rough and tough truck driver. I understand he became a professional actor in Canada after CFN. Channing Grigsby says he made contact with Richard after the service. He was in Los Angeles at the time. 

 JACK ESSEX - Jack was another HOG graduate. He came in as I was going out so I really can't say much about him though I do have a memory of Jack doing some stuff on-camera. He married a local girl and lived off-post. His bio says he passed-on in 2002. 

 RICHARD HEHMEYER - Dick was our late-night jazz host on radio. I believe he had previous radio experience and was very knowledgeable about his subject. Dick lived in the baracks for awhile but later met and married the daughter of an army officer and moved off-post. He left CFN before TV arrived. Jim Anderson and I visited Dick a few years later at his office in NYC where he was an advertising executive. 

 GIANCARLO LUI - He came as part of the TV package. He was an air force enlistee who had roots in Italy. He claimed to have had experience in directing TV productions. Even if he didn't know much, he knew more than any of the existing staff (including Jim Pattison), so he had his hands full in the TV control room. That's all I know about Mr. Lui (accent on the "i", please). 

 JIM GIAMPAOLI - I believe he was the first (and only?) artist for the TV facility. I do know he worked in the room at the top of the stairs on the second floor and was busy most of the time. He was in great demand for almost every show that went on the air and was darn good at his trade. I have also seen Jim's name as "Gianinni" which is possibly the way most of the non-Italian staff pronounced his name! 

 SGT. CURRAN - I may be dreaming this, but my memory bank has an awareness of a man by this name who very well may have been the equivalent of a Chief Announcer or military program director. I also seem to recall that he was also tucked-away in one of those two private quarters on the top floor. So, sue me if I'm wrong! 

 ALBERT McCLEARY - I think he was a bird colonel on TDY to CFN for a couple of weeks in the summer of 1956. Col. McCleary has the distinction of having produced color TV's first dramatic shows on NBC-TV. He was a reserve officer assigned to CFN-TV to conduct classes for those who wanted to learn more about this new medium that had invaded our space. I balked and did not attend any of his classes (held in the big studio) since I had resolved long before that I was RADIO and would never, ever be involved with TV. Mr. McCleary returned to Hollywood from TDY at CFN to produce "Matinee Theater," probably the most ambitious undertaking in early TV: a live one-hour dramatic show every weekday in color on national TV. Others, mainly involved with CFN-TV and about whom I have only a vague memory include: 
 Ted Isaacman 
 Jim Duex 
 Gary Rodgers 
 Tom Sherman 
 Charles Kinosz 
 Bruce Glenn 
 Lt. John H. Zachary 

 Well, there is the cast of characters as I remember them from the CFN days of early 1955 to late 1956. Now, let's see how they fit into: THE REST OF THE STORY!!!! 

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