Q It Up: Tell Us a Story! - The Far East Network

The Far East Network

From Dr. Jim Grubbs [jgrub1[at]uis.edu], University of Illinois, Springfield, IL

This is a real oldie but goodie...

The year is 1966. I’ve made my radio debut on the Tokyo flag-ship station of The Far East Network -- the AFRS outlet in Japan. Suzanne Stevens and I, both high school students at the time, were selected through an audition process to co-host the weekly “Teenagers on Parade” Top 40 show that was heard over the entire network and on shortwave. We did the show “live to tape” with our FEN provided military producer Navy Journalist Craig Smith.

Story 1

There was almost always time between when we finished our show and when the bus I needed to catch came by. On this particular evening I decided to bide my time in “automation control” - a very large 1940s era studio that had originally been used for local dramatic productions. It was now filled with an entire room of automation equipment - some of the very first made available. There were reel-to-reel machines of course -- and even turntables connected to the system -- a very large portion of our programming came on 16 inch transcription discs out of AFRS Los Angeles. There was no carousel cart machine, rather a big bank of standard cart machines.

An Army PFC sat quietly at a desk in the middle of the room where it was his job to manually log the actual air time of each event, faithfully typing it with his manual Underwood typewriter. The 6:00 to 6:30 block consisted of a live round-up of news, up and down the Japanese Islands. At precisely 6:29:20, master control turned things back to the automation system.

First, a recorded :30 second “command spot” -- the military equivalent of a PSA -- was initiated by the automation system. At 6:29:50 (precisely, of course, this is the military) the network ID went out to all stations “Serving American Forces Oversees, this is the Far East Network.” At this point, the system split out to each of the outlying transmitters for local ID. In Tokyo on the AM (there was also shortwave) you heard “810 on your dial, Far East Network, Tokyo.” Like clockwork, one of the reel-to-reel machines fired. “Japan Standard Time is 6:30 p.m.” Like clockwork, Turntable #1 fired and the air filled with a transcription program called “Music By Candlelight.” No reason to suspect any problems. The PFC on duty dutifully typed the time of each event in the log.

But then the “stuff on a shingle” hit the fan. At 6:30:10 the system fired the next event - the command spot, network ID, local ID, time sequence, scheduled for close to the top of the hour, followed by the top of the hour news jingle. Of course, there was no news because no one expected this until 7:00 (it was done live). At precisely 10 seconds (the length of the silence sense) the next program fired, and approximately every 10 seconds after that, the automation system proceeded to run through everything that had been programmed through 6:00 a.m. the next morning.

There was no way the PFC could keep up, no matter how quickly he tried to type. He gave it a gallant try for the first few events but finally just stopped dead in his tracks. As I got ready to head for my 6:45 bus, I noted his final entry in the sequence which was 6:31:20 - ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE (and yes, it was typed in upper case)

Story 2

Having auditioned and gotten the job, I reported for my first recording session. I was pretty cocky - “public speaking” was nothing new to me. I had even built a controlled-carrier-current station for our high school. Suzanne was scared half to death. We went through the preliminaries of setting up and as we prepared to “roll tape” Craig Smith said to us, “Remember, there are Seven-Million people listening!” I lost my composure - surely he was wrong, but it was too late to ask. The theme song rolled (remember theme songs?) and I blundered and stuttered through my first big chance on the air. Suzanne was like ice -- I can still hear that incredible voice of hers just as calm as can be. It took me months to recover! (What Craig didn’t bother to tell us at the time was that 6.9+ million of those listeners didn’t speak English - they were the Japanese teen “shadow audience” who tuned in to hear the western-style music - they could care less about the DJs.)

Story 3

It’s a few months earlier at my audition on a quiet Sunday afternoon in late summer. They were “running behind” so my dad (“the Colonel”) and I sat in the waiting area listening to “Tokyo Calling” -- an immensely popular Sunday afternoon variety show aired on the network. The time approached 4:00 p.m. The normal sequence leading up to top of the hour news came through the giant RCA monitor speaker. “Japan Standard Time is 4:00 p.m.” - cue the news jingle. You could hear the microphone open in the studio, but there was no news. Seconds that seemed like minutes elapsed. And then came the indecipherable yelling that was coming out of the intercom speakers throughout the building. It was the engineer in master control asking in emphatic terms “where’s the news guy?” A moment passes and into our view comes a young man clad only in his underpants and tee-shirt running down the hallway with a stack of “rip and read” in his hands. He made a mad dash to the on the air news studio and within moments you heard a thoroughly composed FEN newsman say “Good afternoon, this is Army Specialist (insert name here) and this is the news.” Apparently, he had been sound asleep after working for 24 hours straight.

I still laugh every time I think about it.

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