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Sunday, April 13

Airmen crank up small radio station

By Gordon Trowbridge | Air Force Times

FROM A FORWARD AIR BASE, Persian Gulf region - The airmen of the 332nd Expeditionary Communications squadron maintain thousands of radios, handle hundreds of cell phones and pagers, and manage radio frequencies for scores of units.

But serving as disc jockeys brings them closest to the 8,000 or so troops at this desert air base.

For the past five or six months - no one's sure just how long - the squadron's troops in their spare time have run the equivalent of a tiny FM radio station.

Instead of a spacious studio and glib on-air personalities, this station sits on a crowded shelf in the squadron's busy shop: a personal computer, software for playing digital music files, a tiny transmitter and about 1,300 song files. It's all music, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The small transmitter's signal doesn't reach past the base gates, but it's a welcome diversion for the troops here, which include British forces and U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

"The guys on the flight line love it," said Staff Sgt. Paul Wagner of Belleville, Ill., who was deployed here from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. "It's the only decent radio station around."

The airmen's station - 107.5 on their dial - plays a mix of musical styles, but rock rules. The band Creed gets lots of airplay; then again, the rockers gave away a bunch of CDs during a prewar visit.

Though technically a violation of broadcast rules, which here and in the United States require a license to transmit over radio, U.S. commanders and host nation officials have allowed the music to play.

``Thankfully, it's been very warmly welcomed," said Staff Sgt. Jeff Hodges of Aiken, S.C., who is based at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

The station requires little maintenance. The computer runs MusicMatch, a software program for playing MP3 digital music files. The software shuffles automatically through the songs, playing them in random order. Every two or three days, one of the communications troops reshuffles the songs.

The station's operators spend much of their time hunting for new music.

"When we first got here, we had a lot of old stuff," said Staff Sgt. Dalton McCloud of Indianapolis, who is based at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The station began expanding beyond the heavily rock repertoire, adding some country, rhythm and blues, and tunes for other tastes. The song list is still short on rap; fewer troops here have rap tracks recorded as MP3s, squadron members say.

While the station is on the first pre-set button on many military vehicle radios, few know just who's responsible for the tunes.

"There are lots of rumors," Wagner said, "but nobody really knows it' us."