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Face of Defense: Airman Saves Musical Treasure

By Air Force Capt. Amy Hansen
Air Force News Service

WAKE ISLAND AIRFIELD, Wake Island, Dec. 6, 2011 – In a tale straight from an adventure book, contractors on this tiny Pacific island recently stumbled upon a vinyl record collection with an estimated value between $90,000 and $250,000.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Master Sgt. John Solane, a 611th Air Support Group Detachment 1 contracting quality assurance specialist, looks at a Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers Band album at Wake Island Airfield. The yellow sleeves in the storage areas around Solane contain AFRTS-distributed records, which are copyrighted to protect the artists who gave the military authorization to use their recordings for overseas broadcast for free. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Amy Hansen
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 611th Air Support Group's Detachment 1 is making a comprehensive effort to preserve the nearly 9,000 vintage vinyl records and ship them to their rightful owner, the American Forces Radio and Television Service in Alexandria, Va., according to Master Sgt. Jean-Guy Fleury, the detachment's infrastructure superintendent, who took over the project from the former Detachment 1 commander, Maj. Aaron Wilt.

No digging was required to access this treasure, as the records were cataloged and neatly organized on shelves in a small room on the second floor of the airfield’s base operations building. The door was conspicuously stenciled with the name of a radio station, KEAD, and a "Restricted Area Warning" sign, which kept most people out.

"That's a locked room, normally, but people in my department have known the records were there for years," said Colin Bradley, the communications superintendent with Chugach Federal Solutions Inc. CFSI is the contractor that manages operations on Wake Island with the oversight of Air Force quality assurance personnel.

"Because of the completeness of the collection, I assumed it was quite valuable," Bradley said. "I have not run across a collection that well preserved or that intact in my career. It's a little time capsule."

The collection includes a variety of vinyl albums and records specially made for military audiences, as well as some commercially available records.

"In 1942, the American Forces Radio Service was starting to get American music out to the troops overseas," said Larry Sichter, the American Forces Network Broadcast Center’s affiliate relations division chief. "Some of the radio productions were original, like GI Jill and Command Performance, and have significant value."

The exact operational dates of the low-powered AM station on Wake Island remain unclear, but Bradley shared his estimate.

"I would guess that [KEAD] started in the ’60s, due to the dates on the records," he said.

According to a 2007 Internet entry by Patrick Minoughan, who was stationed on Wake Island from 1963 to 1964, KEAD was operating in 1963.

"On the second floor of the then-new terminal building was a very small AFRTS radio station," Minoughan wrote. "AFRTS had no personnel there, but sent in monthly shipments of music. While I was there, one of the communications guys named Steve Navarro would do a daily show for a couple of hours. When it was unattended, anyone could go in and play the records, which were broadcast on the island."

AFRTS was able to get permission to use the work of many artists, and later actors, for free, Sichter said. Therefore, the records were copyrighted and only to be used for their official purpose of entertaining the troops overseas, and then returned to AFRTS.

Since Wake Island Airfield is on a 1,821-acre atoll located about 2,000 miles west of Hawaii and 2,000 miles east of Japan, it is possible that the cost and logistics of returning the records to the mainland were prohibitive when the radio station was shut down, officials said.

So now, about 30 years after the last record was spun on KEAD, Fleury is spearheading the operation to ship the records back to AFRTS. He has estimated that it will take about 75 16-inch-by-16-inch boxes, and about $10,000 worth of specialized material to properly pack up the records. AFRTS is providing the materials and Detachment 1 will do the packing, he said.

The records will be used to fill any gaps in the American Forces Network’s local museum, Sichter said, and the rest of the collection will be entered into either the Library of Congress or the National Archives to become a permanent piece of U.S. history, accessible to all.

 

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