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Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Vinyl treasure found on Wake Island
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 called “Sure Feels Like Love” at Wake Island Airfield, Alaska, recently. The yellow sleeves in the cubbies around Solane contain AFRTS-distributed records, which are copyrighted to protect the artists who gave the military authorization to use their recordings overseas for free. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Amy Hansen)
by Capt. Amy Hansen, 11th Air Force Public Affairs
WAKE ISLAND AIRFIELD, Alaska (AFNS) -- In a tale straight from an adventure book, contractors here recently stumbled upon a vinyl record collection with an estimated value between $90,000 and $250,000.
The 611th Air Support Group's Detachment 1 is now 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 Network 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 Wake Island Airfield 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 currently 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 and distributed monthly by the American Forces Radio and Television Network as well as some commercially available records.
"In 1942, the American Forces Radio Service was started to get American music out to the troops overseas," said Larry Sichter, the American Forces Network Broadcast Center Affiliate Relations Division chief. "Some of the radio productions were original, like GI Jill and Command Performance, and have significant value."
The exact dates the low-powered AM station operated 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. "Also, the FAA controlled Wake Island until the mid-60s, so an armed forces radio station wouldn't have been here. I would guess it wrapped up maybe in the 70s or with the advent of satellite radio."
According to a 2007 entry by Patrick Minoughan on www.richardsramblings.com, KEAD was already around in 1963. Minoughan wrote that he was stationed on Wake Island from 1963 to 1964.
"On the second floor of the then-new terminal building was a very small AFRTS radio station," he 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 a tiny 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 at the time 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 approximately 75 16-inch-by-16-inch boxes, and a total of 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 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.