By Staff Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 06, 2011
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- In the early morning hours when your radio alarm jerks you awake or you slip into your vehicle and tune the stereo to 1590 AM, the voice you're likely to hear is American Forces Network broadcast producer Airman 1st Class Laura Beckley as she hosts Breakfast with Beckley, a 5 - 9 a.m. morning radio show.
"There are so many benefits to this job. I work from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I get snacks and free juice boxes," joked the 23-year old Airman from Des Moines, Iowa. "It's a tough place to grow up. All that corn. So many tragic drive-by shuckings."
A sense of humor and quick wit are the most essential tools in a radio producer's tool box, and Beckley has no shortage in either as she randomly references such things as Gene Simmons, badger wrestling and exotic sea serpents.
"Radio is very creative and a lot of fun. It can also be demanding because when you're on live air, you can feel very vulnerable," Beckley said. "It's vulnerable because if you say something that doesn't sit right with someone, they know who you are because you say your name 300 times. You have to come up with imaginative ways to inform people without making them feel like you're spoon feeding them. You're giving them intolerable suggestions, like wearing your reflective belt, and making them more tolerable.
"It's interesting in that way, but it does allow you to become much more creative," she added. "Anytime you hear one of our radio producers open up a mike, that's all stuff they wrote not something someone is telling them to say. You really get to push a little bit on the perceived constraints of what we can and can't say or do."
Beyond hosting radio shows, broadcast producers also have the opportunity to work in the production section where they are afforded vast creative liberty in the creation of commercials, also called spots. These spots air on most AFN channels in the evening for viewing by Incirlik's AFN viewers.
"Production is probably one of our most highly-viewed assets here. They produce spots, or commercials. That's one of the biggest resources we have here, is to make our own commercials and put them on local television," Beckley said. "More people are going to see those than anything else, so we really try to put as much effort into using cool editing software to throw in effects - crazy explosions and Arnold Schwarzenegger swinging in from a helicopter.
"You really get to stretch your legs creatively there - do stuff you dream about," she said. "You can recreate crazy ideas and dreams into 30 seconds of commercial glory."
AFN also includes a news section that has visible products reaching from Incirlik Air Base televisions to a worldwide audience. From one event or interview, multiple products may be created to accommodate local viewers, as well as viewers within U.S. Air Forces in Europe and beyond.
The local news product, the Incirlik Minute, airs on most channels from 7 p.m. to midnight once an hour toward the end of the hour.
"The news department is an all-inclusive department where you are going to be shooting, writing, conducting interviews, cutting the footage and producing the stories. A lot of times, we'll go out on one shoot and come back to make three separate products, sometimes four," Beckley explained. "News is probably the most taxing and trying department because you're constantly running on tight deadlines and it also requires the most legwork. When you're in radio, you do your three-hour show and the rest of it is show preparation. Whereas with news, you spend two hours shooting and dig into eight hours of writing and editing footage; so it's very demanding in news."
Behind the scenes, AFN also includes maintainers who ensure the extensive equipment used by the broadcast producers remains operational, as well as a support staff of one who works administrative duties within the detachment.
To reach the point of expertise Beckley has achieved, it all started at the recruiter's office with a desire to enter the broadcasting career field - an action encouraged by her Soldier brother who ensured her it would be cool, she said.
"The recruiter told me I would never get in because there were only 500 broadcasters in the Air Force," Beckley recalled. "I tried anyway. I got handed a script, read the script, the recording was sent to the Defense Information School (at Fort George G. Meade, Md.), and I was in."
As with anything new, the broadcasting course required effort as students acquired knowledge of camera equipment and techniques, radio boards and correct annunciation and pronunciation of words - a difficult change for some to change the facility of speech generally acquired at a young age.
"It was very challenging because I had never done anything like broadcasting before, but I had some great instructors at DINFOS. When you start, you go into basic writing and announcing skills where they teach you how to write for television and radio, and you learn how to speak correctly," Beckley said.
"There was a guy in my class who had a Jersey accent. He didn't make it through the class because he couldn't get rid of the accent," she said.
Nearly three years later and Beckley is hosting her own morning radio show for Incirlik listeners - one of the few remaining AFN detachments with a live local radio show. Years from now, Beckley may be an NCO working broadcaster magic or she may be a civilian rocking the waves of a radio network.
Regardless, the intention is to remain in the same career field, she said.
"I really, really love this job. I have an earnest desire to teach people how to be really good at it, too, so being an instructor at DINFOS may be in my future. Or I might go to school, work toward a master's degree and try to get in with a civilian news agency," Beckley revealed. "Whatever I do, I want to keep doing this kind of job."
And a word from the wise, she said, "nobody was ever cool by flipping off the camera in the background of an interview."