Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

TV Shows And Heavy Snows

Posted on: March 11, 2011

A million years ago, I was the programmer of a little black & white TV station in the middle of Alaska.  Galena Air Force Base was located on the mighty Yukon River about 150 air miles south of the Arctic Circle, 270 air miles west of Fairbanks, and way too far from Anchorage.  It’s mission was to support two F-4 Fighters.  For this, we had a base population of 300.  The base was decommissioned in 1993, closed completely in 2006, and its real estate will soon become Alaska’s first nuclear power plant.

But back in the day, Galena was a bustling military installation which flanked the village of Old Galena, populated by about 300 Athabaskan Indians.  There was a little general store downtown at which you could buy a bottle of Heinz Ketchup for almost six dollars, and a wood stove-heated log cabin which served as an airplane terminal.  Being in the middle of the state, we enjoyed summer days with 85 degree temperatures and plenty of mosquitoes.  The other eleven months were spent in a deep freeze.

Life for the military guys at Galena meant separation from family.  The landscape was uninviting in places, and the wind-whipped snow was fun for

An Aurora. Photo credit: Destination 360

about three minutes when the temperatures got really low.  But every place has its pluses.  We had frequent and spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis.  We had the comradeship that comes when 300 people with a singular purpose are stuck together for a year.  We had exceptionally good food, and entertainment of all kinds to keep morale up.  That’s where I came in.

My day began with a 5am stroll to the radio station located in the Birchwood Hangar.  The distance between my barracks and the hangar was maybe half a mile, but at 60 degrees below zero, holy tamoly, it was cold!

I ran a music and information show which had the broadcasting distinction of being occasionally interrupted by our F-4’s scrambling to intercept Soviet MiG-25’s that had “strayed” into American airspace.  The ‘Cold War’ was still hot, then.  But, as it turns out, our pilots and theirs were simply doing exercises; even flashing signs from their cockpit windows:

“Good Morning, Boris.”

“Hiya, Johnny.  How’s the old lady?”

But I digress.

Our radio station’s signal had a fair reach to villages up and down the Yukon and everyone appreciated the live, local program.  Then a late breakfast, a short break, and a return to the hangar where the television station was also located.  It was there I would spend the remainder of the day.

Voyage... circa 1964

Our station library inventory included all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek series, all 110 episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and all the worn-out World War II movies and documentaries you could stomach.  Happily, our programming was supplemented by 16mm mylar film shipped up from  the American Forces Radio & Television Service in Los Angeles.  These current shows were old by the time they got to us, but we watched them just the same.  They were shows from home, and that was important to us.

At mid-afternoon, I got friendly with the teletype machine, and began to rip news copy and rewrite it for delivery on our two-camera black-and-white 6pm newscast.  When I first arrived, I was the guy whose face was on the screen looking down at the script and up at the lens…down and up, down and up.  And God forbid I should make a mistake; I’d hear about it the next day from people all around the base.  It was good fun.  My last on-camera newscast was the night Elvis died; August 16, 1977.  There was an Elvis picture over my left shoulder, and I sat like Casey Kasem looking wistfully off into the distance, listening to a few bars of Love Me Tender.  Pure schmaltz.

We kicked things up a notch after that.  With the help of other TV staff and

That's me posing for a picture at "The Board" in Galena's Television Master Control. Notice: the screens are all blank.

base volunteers, we had a full on-air complement of talent: Leo the news guy, Al the sports guy and Jan the weather girl.  We had an audio guy, two camera operators and a floor director.  I had the pleasure of calling the shots and I must say that we did a pretty good job.  Our viewers couldn’t get enough and kept asking for weekend newscasts, too.  We always said no.  Too much of a good thing…

One of my weekly tasks was to assemble a listing of the programming to be aired in the coming week.  I’d spend the better part of Friday typing a legal-sized two-sided page with the day/time/program information on it.  I’d take my master to the NCO Club where they made a mimeograph available to me.  500 copies later, the fun began.

In west-central Alaska in Winter, your vehicle will freeze up.  Sure, you can plug it in, but there’s more to a car than oil and gas lines.  After a certain point, they just won’t go no more till Spring.  But we had Security Police who had to have their pickup trucks even in the sub-zero weather.  Their solution was two-pronged: do maintenance in the warm hangar, and leave the trucks running day and night, all winter long.

Our SP’s also had a few snow machines.  (In your world, they’re called snowmobiles; in Alaska they are called snow machines.)  My TV listings in hand, I would go to the SP station and borrow a snow machine.  Then, wearing my GI parka, extra gloves, a faux fur hood and goggles, I traveled up the frozen Yukon River at bat-out-of-hell speeds and delivered my listings to the native villages within range of our TV signal. And when I’d gone far enough west, I turned around and went east to service other villages.  As I sped along the ice, I kept saying to myself, “This is so cool!  Someday I’m going to tell my grandchildren that I did this, and they’ll be amazed.”

A friend of mine worked the mid-shift Sunday through Thursday at the POL Tank Farm.  He wanted to keep his body clock on the same schedule and do something fun at the same time.  So he volunteered to run our TV station overnight on Fridays and Saturdays.  To make things a little more interesting (and complicated), I got the bright idea to inaugurate “Request-a-Show.”  It worked just like requesting a song on your radio station but, in this case, the ‘song’ was a 30- or 60-minute-long TV show.

We promoted ‘Request-a-Show’ on our air and the concept took off.  People from the base and from the villages called in and, suddenly, filling the overnight hours became a breeze.

We kept program logs, of course.  Wanna know what shows were the most frequently requested?  (Doing my best Casey Kasem imitation): Coming in at number three this week, Star Trek featuring William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura.  At number two, The Muppet Show starring Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy.  And capturing the top spot on our survey,

Marie and Donnie Osmond, circa 1976

the brother-sister act with the shiniest white teeth…The Donnie & Marie Show starring, well, Donnie and Marie.

And why do you suppose the The Donnie & Marie Show was the most requested?

Just you try being the lonely guy in the middle of nowhere.  Marie looks pretty good, then.  Heck… Miss Piggy looks pretty good, then!  I think my grandchildren will understand.


1 Response to "TV Shows And Heavy Snows"

Thanks for the walk down memory lane…

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