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CFN

1950's

Caribbean Forces Network: Ft Clayton, Panama CZ

 

 

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AFRS moved from their Albrook AFB studios to building 209 at Ft Clayton, Panama Canal Zone in 1949. At the time, AFRS (WVL & WVUB) which had dual transmitters on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Canal Zone, was still a radio only military broadcast station. 

In 1954, AFRS added Television to its radio service and became AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio & Television Services). AFRS in Panama dropped the WVL, WVUL, WVUB, AC & PCAN call letters and became CFN (Carribean Forces Network) but continued to transmit on two AM radio frequencies 790 & 1420 to the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the Canal Zone.

In 1955, CFN announced its plans to add TV by the Spring of 1956 which set off a firestorm of controversy with the local Panama stations which claimed it was a violation of treaty and would infringe on the fees the local stations had to pay for US programming and their income from commercials. You can read about this controversy on these 1955 Panama newspaper articles.  The Canal Zone General at the time was adamant in his insistence that TV be added to the local broadcast services. The former SCN program director describes the Broadcast treaty about the significant sacrifices CFN & SCN made to avoid broadcasting any popular US programs being shown on any local Panama station.

The television transmitting equipment began installation in February 1956 at which time the bottom floor parking level was converted into office spaces to make room for the new TV studios sharing the second floor with the radio studios. In early May 1956, CFN finally brought television to the soldiers and families on the military bases as well as the Pan Canal civilian residents who resided in the Canal Zone US territory. As a military network, CFN also could not air commercial advertisements and came up with clever ways to switch to local announcements and slides during those commercial breaks which came with the canned programs. 

The TV programs and films were shipped to CFN on 16mm & 32mm film reels on a weekly basis. The "canned" radio programs were now being shipped on Vinyl records instead of the old gramophone records. The records contained preprogrammed "Canned" hour long shows with various themes. The weekly top of the chart music was also sent on these large vinyl LP albums. So, unlike a US radio station which played individual 45 rpm records for each popular song which were sent free of charge to radio stations to play; the military version had all the songs in order of the Billboard charts all sandwiched on each large LP vinyl record where the announcer could cue the needle to the next song without changing records. The records were sorted into different song styles. One would contain top 40 rock. Another would contain country & western. Another might contain symphony programs. Another might contain the Marine corps band or chorus. These canned records were all stored in the record library while the films were stored in the TV film library.

None of the CFN crew had any experience with television when TV was introduced in  1956. It was a significant change in procedures and processes between a radio broadcast and a television broadcast. The crew had to learn how to operate television cameras and the proper lighting of subjects and sets. The black and white cameras at the time required extremely hot lights to obtain a clear image for broadcast. The anchors were literally baking under the huge hot lights. Colors like "red" appeared as black on a black and white TV while rich blues would disappear into a muddy gray in the black and white telecast. A sharp contrast of colors was necessary to create a pleasant visual experience for the audience in a black and white medium.

The news anchors were the first to be thrown into the gauntlet of live television. They had to be aware of every movement and gesture they made in front of a live camera. This was much more difficult than acting in a movie which would be edited prior to viewing. This was LIVE TV. They could not scratch or wipe their noses as they could on radio. Nor could they depend on holding their script in front of them. It required more memorization. Their scripts would be placed on a desk or podium where they were speaking on the air but the cameras required the anchor to look at the audience in the camera rather than the script. It was quite a shock from the radio environment in which they had been accustomed to performing.

Additionally, sets had to be built and artwork had to be designed for the new TV shows.  Gary Hannes remembers the CFN upgrade to TV. There were no video tapes or video cassettes at the time. Remotes and special features required heavy 16mm film cameras and heavy bright lighting. The film had to be developed, the film had to be edited and spliced and the sound had to be added. This was all done manually. Usually on a short turn around, especially for news programs and coverage of special events. Remote broadcasts were not without hazards, such as the multiple riots in 58, 59 and 64. The CFN program director, Jim Pattison was stabbed at the Shaler triangle in 1959 during the dedication ceremony of the two flagpoles. He did recover from his injuries.

Channing Grigsby hosted several TV programs between 1956 and 1957 (most of the military tours were 2 years). His memories of those first years of CFN TV can be read on Channing's memories. CFN was the starting point which launched several celebrities and well known network anchors into their careers such as actor Ron Harper (Planet of the apes TV series) and actor Robert Loggia who has appeared in several dozen films and TV programs. AJ Carothers became a well known screenwriter and playwright for Walt Disney soon after he left CFN. Al Lohman also became a well known anchor. Each can be found on Wikipedia.

Early CFN productions were CFN Sundays which consisted of various readings of books or the bible. It was a TV version of a radio program as they learned to shift from live radio to live TV acting. Plays and stories were rewritten and adapted for TV production. The Studio was another production which CFN decided to create a full series of 13 episodes but was an extreme hardship on the crew who had to work full time jobs in addition to the production, sets, writing, rehearsals and preparations of each episode.

A children's story hour was added with Kathy Holcomb reading stories to the children each afternoon. Fridays became Ike Selig's Pop Shop Dance show with the local teens appearing each week to dance. At the same time, Ike also anchored a similar radio show with the popular hits between 1957 and 1959.

The first we hear of a children's show was on the radio in late 1955 on Saturday mornings called "Uncle Jim & Tinker" with Jim Anderson and a sped up, recorded version of his voice for "Tinker" who sat on Jim's shoulder.  Gary Hannes played "Uncle Gary" who often asked questions of Jim and Tinker. They had a safety slogan contest and gave away prizes for the best answers. Kid's music came from the AFRS library and consisted of nursery rhymes and silly songs by any number of olde tyme performers from the 30's and 40's. The show was not on the air too long since when TV became the main focus of their energies. 

Tom Sherman and Gerry Sturges had a TV children's show called "The Tom and Gerry show" which was flooded with letters of approval from the CZ families. They made their appearance around the CZ to entertain the children. 

Panorama was a nightly news and events program which began in May 1956. Panorama consisted of a 15 minute news segment anchored by AJ Carothers, Jim Anderson or Channing Grigbsy. A 10 minute sports cast by Gerry Sturges and a theater, events segment hosted by Pauline Kael. 

Gary Hannes was at CFN when TV was added. His gallery is an amazing historical peak at what CFN looked like in its TV infancy. He was the first to appear on televised remote reports such as the first presidential level OAS with US President Eisenhower and his staff. 

Ike Selig arrived a year later and his gallery illustrates CFN during his 57-59 tour and the expansion of programming to include a popular Teen dance show on Friday afternoons called Ike Selig's Pop Shop.

1950's Names & Faces
1950's Biographies
CFN 1950's TV
CFN 1950's Radio
True PCAN  History
In Memory
Gary Hannes CFN TV memories
Channing's CFN memories 
CFN Sundays
The Studio
Gary Hannes Gallery
Ike Selig Gallery
Gabe Ireton Gallery
Joe Cioken Gallery
John Santoro Gallery
Chuck Renner Gallery
Panorama
1955 Panama newspaper articles
Ike Selig's Pop Shop
CFN Studios & Equip
Building 209
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AJ Carothers on Panorama

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Gen Fulgencio Batista (Pres of Cuba)

Gov Wm E Potter (right)

Jim Anderson interviewing Batista

OAS conference July 21, 1956

 
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Gary Hannes interviewing Jim Haggarty

(Ike's Press Secretary) at conference

Civilian Attire required

 
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Ron Eaton & Jim Anderson on Radio

  
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TV control looking into Studio

 
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Ike Selig's Pop Shop

 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

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