Air Force Days, Part 1: How it Started

November 30, 2015 by  

I was and am a very lucky man. I have had a wonderful working career, have traveled the world, met interesting people, many of whom are still friends after all these years. More than that, during my nine years and three months of service in the United States Air Force beginning in early 1973, there were no wars. It was one of the longer periods of peacetime in the 20th Century during my time in service. Of course, soon after I got out in 1982, all Hell broke loose.

When I was eighteen years old, I had to make some serious career choices. My job at a local radio station, Fort Lauderdale’s WAXY-FM, was coming to an end, as new owners were about to take over. While working for this station, which I talked about previously in a lengthy tome called I Learned About Radio From That, I was also attending Broward Community College (now simply Broward College) in the morning, and in the afternoon, was taking broadcast production courses at the nearby Lindsey-Hopkins Adult Education Center broadcasting facility in extreme southern Broward County (almost on the Miami-Dade County line), as I still had aspirations of being a radio star. Fortunately, I got over it. My rather high-pitched voice was further complicated by a slight lisp and a not-so-slight stutter that would manifest itself at the most inopportune moments; none of these “features” were conducive to an “on the mike” career in radio or television.

I began thinking more of a technical career, mainly, I think, due to the influences of a good friend and former boss at WAXY, the ex-Chief Engineer, Les Goldberg. Les was truly my hero. I have never seen a more productive individual in my life. Along with being Chief Engineer of WAXY-FM, WEXY-AM, WOCN AM/FM, WCMQ-AM, and a couple of others under contract, he also did all the service work for the North Miami Beach Lafayette Radio store. His home was decorated in old jukeboxes, Edison phonographs, radio station equipment, and the biggest home speakers I had ever seen: a pair of Altec-Lansing Voice of the Theaters. This was a home theater long before the term became popular. I often visited Les on nights when I wasn’t working, where we would talk about radio, music from the 1950s, and other topics. He was a very patient man to put up with this kid with all the questions. Directly or indirectly, I really don’t remember, I began thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I thought I wanted to be involved in broadcast engineering, but really didn’t have the technical background, so after much soul-searching (after all, the Vietnam war was still going on, though it was coming to a rapid end), I decided to join the United States Air Force.

My older brother, Norman, joined some years before, and was by then a Captain with a great future ahead of him. My younger sister had similar aspirations, to be an Air Force officer. My aspirations were not quite as lofty. As I did not see college in my future, I would be happy with life as an enlisted man. I paid a visit to my local Air Force recruiter, took the tests, and found I qualified for pretty much any career field the Air Force offered. This was the tail end of the Vietnam War, the draft was about to end, and the all-volunteer force was becoming a reality, so the US military had to offer incentives to get folks to voluntarily sign up. The Air Force had a “guaranteed jobs” program, where they contractually offered you one of hundreds of jobs the Air Force most needed to fill. I worked with the recruiter to come up with a field that most closely related to broadcast engineering, and came up with Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) 30434, Ground Radio Communications Equipment Apprentice. The fourth digit of the AFSC bumped up in increments of two with each professional education milestone. “5” changed Apprentice to Repairman. “7” changed Repairman to Technician, and “9” changed Technician to Superindendent.

I signed up sometime in October or November of 1972, but there was a backlog of folks trying to get in (imagine that!), perhaps trying to keep ahead of a low draft number and their local draft board. To be able to keep up the payments for my beloved 1968 Plymouth Valiant Signet, I took a Christmas job at the local Britt’s Department Store, where I worked in the Men’s Shirts, Electric Razors, and Tobacco departments (I sold lots of expensive cigars, using the recommendation of some of my co-workers).