A behind the scenes look at AFN Bavaria
January 16, 2013
VILSECK, Germany (Jan. 16, 2013) -- The sun is hours from lighting up the Bavarian sky as Sgt. Chris Jackson enters the American Forces Network Bavaria building on Rose Barracks. His footsteps echo through the vast halls as he beelines for the recording studio, flipping light switches along the way to highlight the walls bragging with accolades.
After 10 push-ups and a three-minute trumpet serenade (a morning ritual for the hyperactive radio show host), Jackson fires up the microphone to entertain early risers within the community.
Jackson's morning show, which runs from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on AFN The Eagle, reaches more than 70,000 Soldiers, civilians and family members across the Bavarian and Franconia military footprint. Keeping the interest of a diverse audience isn't always easy, he says.
"I try to be conscious of my audience. I know when Soldiers are listening while doing PT; I know when parents are driving their kids to school and my songs and information reflect that," he said.
With Jackson busy behind the mic and the station still scant with employees, station manager Sgt. First Class Jason Allgood stops by to check for pressing emails before PT.
"My job is to liaise between our station and headquarters," he said, drowning in correspondence after stepping away from his computer for a mere 10 hours.
"And headquarters never sleeps," he added with a smirk.
Outside, jogging Soldiers overrun the streets on post, cueing Chief Engineer Rainer Wunderlich to begin his workday. Although humble about the gravity of his contribution, Wunderlich leads a team of three technicians that are solely responsible for keeping the station on the air and running. He's a staple behind the scenes at AFN and has been for more than 25 years.
"I was an I.T. guy before there was I.T.," he joked.
Wunderlich is not alone in his model savoir-faire. AFN Bavaria is a potpourri of experience, mixing veteran broadcasters like operations manager Tony McKinney and senior producer Marisa Gaona, with amateur broadcasters with little training. The result is a creative tornado bound with a vast educational indoctrination.
"A lot of Soldiers are new to this career field. As trainers, we appreciate this as they are able to learn from the very beginning; they are sponges hungry for that knowledge and success," said McKinney. "On the flip side, the audience has to be subjected to this training as we can't afford to sideline new broadcasters while we train them up."
But the audience doesn't seem to mind. Take Spc. Monique Moore -- her infectious laugh alone keeps listeners tuned in to the afternoon radio show. But Moore admits, at the beginning, she was clueless.
"I thought 'what am I doing here?'" she said reminiscing about her first run on the radio a few months ago. "I'm trained in combat camera; I'm not supposed to be anywhere near radio."
Her transition from behind the camera to on air began out of necessity. During a particularly busy day at the office she voiced radio spots when no one else was available.
"I shouldn't have done that," she said grimacing. "But I guess it sounded OK because here I am."
Sgt. Carl Greenwell fell victim to a similar plight, transitioning from documentation to storytelling.
Also trained in combat camera, Greenwell entered his unit with the intention of documenting training efforts at the garrison; instead he's telling the Soldiers' story a different way by recording, writing, producing and editing news stories for AFN television.
"You have to be a jack of all trades here," said Greenwell.
Most Soldiers go through a training cycle before they take on a mission. At AFN, the training and mission happen at the same time.
By 9 a.m., the studio is bustling. Deadlines are nearing and Sgt. Derrick Call sits at his desk adding graphics to the weather forecast; Sgt. Rebecca Schwab gathers equipment for an off-site assignment in Bamberg; Gaona replies to media requests. Upstairs Sgt. Josh Dwyer and Greenwell edit video news stories.
Before reaching her office door, Staff Sgt. Sarah Ugale is ambushed with questions. Soldiers affectionately call out "Sgt. U" to get her attention.
Ugale runs the radio section of AFN Bavaria, plans radio remotes, looks over the television news and aids with command information. Despite her heavy workload, as the station non-commissioned officer in charge, she said that the Soldiers are always her primary focus.
"My guys know I'm listening," said Ugale. "Radio is always hectic, no matter what, but I've been there. I can critique them and help them grow because I've been there -- I've done that job too."
There is a common theme with these Soldiers; they are journalists and subsequently inquisitive by nature. Some are shy, like Moore who pushes herself each day to become that "people person," while others, like Call, are larger than life.
"I don't mind being the center of attention," said Call. "I'm the guy with the camera or the guy with the microphone. I can't imagine doing anything else."
Call is what AFN terms "a natural-born broadcaster." He's one of two AFN Bavaria Soldiers that has been in the industry his entire career, (along with Schwab). Call knows his way around the station after spending seven years doing nearly every job in it.
Even still, Call says he relies on his fellow unit Soldiers for insight on certain military topics.
"I've been telling the story my entire career; they have lived these stories," he said. "They all have unique backgrounds -- Dwyer was a mechanic, Jackson was in the Army Band -- and they bring those experiences with them on shoots."
When Jackson finishes the morning radio show, his workday is far from over. He moves from the studio to his desk to write scripts for radio news. He asks questions out loud, to no one in particular.
"I think everyone that works here is a little crazy," said Allgood. "But that comes along with being creative, thinking outside the box."
The team at AFN Bavaria fosters this idea by pushing that envelope of creativity, said Allgood. Each day they design stories with the viewer in mind. They strive to create products worth watching and radio shows worth listening to. They find new and creative ways to get information to the community.
"No one is required to watch AFN," said McKinney. "There are no requirements to use our services, so we have to find a way to compel our audience to want to use our services."
As time dips into the 6 o'clock hour, the studio begins to quiet. Broadcasters put work aside for the evening and Moore finishes up the afternoon show. She wishes her listeners well on their commute home and signs-off with promises to return the next day.
And Moore will return the next day, the entire crew will - with more stories to tell, scripts to write and news to deliver. They have to return; there's just too much work to do.