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March 6, 2014

Navy Coffee

On the carrier, the media needs of the crew were handled by the ship's PAO (Public Affairs Office). As I mentioned before, we published and broadcast in several different forms.

Some of the operations were automated. There was an easy listening radio station that played huge reels of tape that we changed every few days. A news rebroadcast station played AFRTS broadcasts or the BBC World Service. The third station used live DJs and news readers. We had volunteers to fill some of those slots and me and my crew handled the gaps in the schedule. Other than the volunteers, there were only five or so of us to staff the media complex.

I, for example, had a late night jazz show, a classic rock show, and assembled and read radio newscasts. My subordinates were all excellent guys, each with his own talent set who had similar duties and schedules.

We also ran two television stations, one for entertainment and one for training. We swapped-off as director, engineer, camera man, and newscaster to produce a nightly news show. We collaborated to write the scripts and try to find some kind of graphics to use. We all loved to direct since it meant we got to sit at the video mixer which looked like the Death Star controls in Star Wars (because that's what they used to make it seem like future tech).

You have to remember that this was before the ubiquity of the internet made everything easy to grab. We seldom, if ever, had any video of world or national events, so we maintained files of potentially useful photos and graphics, royalty free clip art, and Navy source materials to try to flesh out the newscast and incidentally to act as art for the ship's daily newspaper.

Before and after the nightly TV news, two men handled the running of the television programs and movies that were broadcast throughout the ship. The others helped edit, write, rewrite, layout, and paste-up the eight page daily newspaper. When that was done we interviewed, wrote, and edited Public Relation Release news and feature stories about members of the ship's crew and sent them to their hometown newspapers. Wrote articles and laid-out the monthly support magazine that was mailed to the sailors' families.

We also scheduled the training television channel, developed scripts, graphics, and talent for demonstrations and instruction. We set up the lighting, audio, and props, then rehearsed, produced, directed and videotaped the shows.

Did I mention that we also ran publicity tours, arranged and staffed special events, and dealt with visiting VIPs when we were in port.

So we had five men in the department and a handful of volunteers to help out with some of the radio and television duties. Our days were long and hectic. it wasn't unusual to see some of us pounding the typewriters in during a TV show or movie. Drills, formations, maintenance, and cleaning would have been like vacations if they hadn't invariably put us behind schedule.

I, as leading petty officer, also had administrative duties. Working up evaluations and keeping personnel records, recommending promotions, ordering supplies, training, working with other departments etc., etc. In my copious free time I was also the Jewish lay-leader for the ship, conducting sabbath services.

The schedule was ridiculous. We'd work twenty hour days for four days straight and then take a half day off to sleep and recuperate.

We were fueled primarily by coffee. There was a 50-cup percolator in the office I shared with the Lieutenant who acted as Public Affairs Officer. It was refilled three or four times a day so you might be able to imagine the volume consumed and our slight obsession about finding the fastest routes to available heads (toilets). This wasn't normal coffee either, our preference (when we could get it) was for the 5 pound olive green cans of "watchstander" coffee which boasted about 50% more caffeine than normal brews.

I'll post a story here some other time about how I poisoned my father by mistake with watchstander.

I became so accustomed to working with the constant buzz, that it took me a decade or so after I left the Navy to bring my consumption down to just 10 cups a day.