By Sgt. 1st Class John Queen, AFN LivornoFebruary 22, 2013
PISA, Italy- The microphones are switched off, the soundboard no longer glows with life and the red "On Air" light has ceased flashing -- telltale signs of the end of an era on Camp Darby. After nearly 30 years of live local broadcasting to the military community in northern Italy, American Forces Network Livorno signed off for the final time Feb. 14.
"It's sad to see it go," said Staff Sgt. Brian Tierce, the noncommissioned officer in charge of station's operations and one of the co-hosts for the last live show.
"But I feel I can speak for all of us that remain here, it's been an honor to be a part of the AFN Livorno legacy and privilege to serve the Camp Darby community," he said.
The station's closure is part of U.S. Army Europe's transformation and reduction of troops throughout the region.
Rumors of AFN Livorno closing have been circulating for years said Sgt. William Duncanson, the station's military engineer and Tierce's co-host for the last show.
"They were talking about it when I arrived here three years ago," he said. "And now the day is finally here; sad, but true."
Duncanson, whose job is to maintain equipment at the station, has been largely involved in the radio broadcast operations and has served as a fill-in host on both the morning and afternoon shows.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to hone my radio skills over the past two years and I'm very happy about the response we've gotten from this community," he said. "I think we've been very proactive in talking to the Camp Darby community, finding out what they want to hear and when they want to hear it. We've had a great response from the community and it's been an honor to keep them informed and entertained."
The idea for an American Forces Radio and Television Service affiliate to serve Camp Darby was conceived in the early 1980s when the commander of the U.S. Army's 8th Support Group headquartered there requested the Southern European Broadcast Service, a branch of AFRTS, to establish a Class A affiliate on the small post.
At the time the garrison received its programming from the Vicenza affiliate through a nearby transmission repeater facility. The broadcasters in Vicenza worked tirelessly to provide timely service to Camp Darby; unfortunately, it was a difficult task due to the unreliable telecommunication system in Italy at the time. Once approved, SEB Livorno became one of the six stations broadcasting and entertaining American servicemen and women in Italy.
In the summer of 1983 the station officially went live as "Ranger Radio" when Spc. 5 John Thurston lowered a turntable's tonearm on to a black vinyl record spinning steadily at 33 and 1-3 revolutions per minute. A split second later the stylus needle eased into the disc's modulated spiral grooves and the rythic beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You" brought the station to life.
Jim Johnson, the first station commander for SEB Livorno, recalled the early days of the station and the impact it made on the network.
"I did a daily network program called 'Country Gold'," said Johnson. "The Livorno gang became known to many throughout southern Europe very fast and requests were received from surprising locations - one from Spain!"
SEB Livorno quickly became a mainstay on Camp Darby, elevating some of its Soldiers to local celebrity status.
"Probably my favorite disc jockey project was a show I was privileged to produce called 'Rock Tracks'," said Rick Sloot, one of the station's first broadcast journalists and on-air radio hosts.
"The show became popular; so much so that one very stocky military fan, who was introduced to me by a friend, promptly lifted me off the ground and nearly squeezed the life out of me while saying, 'I love you, man!'"
Over the course of the next three decades the SEB would be replaced with the familiar AFN. Ranger Radio eventually became known as Z-106, and later on as the Eagle. The station would produce daily news and entertainment programs including "Oggi," "Rock Tracks" and "The Camp Darby Radio Report." It would earn numerous awards and citations for broadcast excellence.
Individual Soldiers from the station supported contingency efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Operation Enduring Freedom and Pakistan earthquake relief, in addition to participating in joint exercises in Germany, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Master Sgt. Frank Minnie from the Fort Hood, Texas, based 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, served with AFN Livorno in the late 1990s as a specialist. He remembered what a great opportunity it was as a broadcast journalist to serve on Camp Darby.
"I worked with some great people who helped me grow as a broadcaster," Minnie said. "I also remember getting to do the story on then-first lady Hillary Clinton when she came to visit. I'll never forget that place."
While it is sad to see the station close, changing times demand changing ways of communication, said Sloot, the 1980s broadcaster.
"Those changes have been present for a while," he said. "Now it is up to the next generation of communicators to use the tools for the best. Fortunately, SEB Livorno will always be a part of the Camp Darby history and represents one portion of the efforts the military took to keep everyone informed and connected."
Although the AFN Livorno facility is closing, the Camp Darby Military Community will see no interruption in service and will still receive all the programming AFN has to offer through the Vicenza affiliate.