AFRS - Athens, Greece

           The Golden Age of AFRS-Athens (1964-1967)

       

If you were a U.S. serviceman or dependent in Greece you most likely began and ended your day listening to AFRS-Athens.  Thousands of English-speaking civilians working in Greece and Greek citizens also turned to "the little station that could" for their news, information and entertainment - 24 hours a day.  Perhaps never before, or since, has a group of people come together who cared more for their mission, and each other, as was assembled at Detachment 500, 7122nd Support Squadron (AFRS-Athens) in the mid 1960's.  Each member contributed his/her unique skills and talents in a committed manner that is rarely found.  This website is lovingly dedicated to that truly wonderful group of people.  We all worked hard - and played just as hard!

What many referred to as "Radio Athens" went dark in the spring of 1991, as the United States was forced to close it's Hellenikon Air Base at Athinai Airport.  Civilian operations at Hellenikon came to an end in March 2001, after 60 years, when the new Athinai Airport opened at Spata.  The northern half of the old airport was redeveloped as one of the sites for the 2004 Summer Olympics.  As of September 2013, most of the buildings on the grounds of the former U.S. air base were still standing but time is taking a severe toll on them.  The original AFRS-Athens facility as it was in 1966, and as it is now, can be seen on Google Earth.

                        AFRS-Athens technicals & personnel from the mid 60's

Broadcast Frequency: 1584kc & 1594kc @ 1kw (.25kw backup) / non-directional twenty-four hours daily (EET) 

Sq. Commander (Wiesbaden, Germany): (Maj) Pete Ballas 

Det. Commander: (Lt) Ron Gruchy, (Lt) Larry Thibaut (replaced Ron Gruchy in January 1965)

Det. Management: (TSgt) Pat Longo - NCOIC, (TSgt) Bill Heinemann - Program/News Director, (TSgt) Art Sharpe (replaced Pat Longo in June 1966)

Engineering Staff: Costas Lydakis  

Office Majordomo: Mary Orphan (Molloy)

Air Staff: (Sgt) Pat Longo, (Sgt) Bill Heinemann, (Sgt) Ron Strickland, (Sgt) Art Sharpe, (Sgt) Ric Crawford, (Sgt) Jay Burns, (Sgt) Jim Strizak, (Amn) Bill Billingsley (mornings),  (Amn) Bill Anderson, (Amn) Bob "Tiger" Nelson, (Amn) Chuck Follstad, (Amn) Al Cunningham, (Amn) Craig Barnes and (Amn) Don Pagan

Comments and suggestions for this site are welcome.  Contact Bill Anderson at musicmann@oldiesauthority.com.  Please include AFRS in the "Subject" line.  Information presented here is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed.

                                                                           

                        

                    Current aircheck is Bob Nelson's Athens A-Go-Go broadcast from February 28, 1966 

                       The Mighty AFRS-Athens Gang

        
Bill Billingsley came to Athens in February 1963 from Diyarbakir, Turkey and was the Early Bird.  "B.B." made a career in AFRTS.  He rotated to Lowry AFB, in Denver, CO. in January, 1967, but later returned to AFRS-Athens as Station Manager from 1977 to 1979.  Bill separated from the Air Force at March AFB in Riverside, CA. in 1981.  In 1983 he returned to his home state of South Carolina.  

Bill and his wife, Vicky, now live in Goose Creek, SC.

                                     
From Ukiah, CA.  Bill Anderson arrived in Athens on a cold, rainy night in January 1965, filling the Starflight / Music for the Night People time slot vacated by Ron Strickland's retirement.  Bill also hosted Tempo, Only on Sunday, Kaleidoscope and the Country Road Show.  He rotated to Lowry AFB in February 1967, where he was separated from the Air Force in November 1967.  After working at KDKO and KBTR in Denver he joined the Denver Fire Department and was involved with the department's television training operation, as well as working in fire suppression.  Injuries forced an early retirement in 1986.  On to Florida where he worked at WEEJ - Port Charlotte and WWAM - Ft. Myers.  "Andy" is currently working on audio restoration projects and trying to replace his destroyed oldies collection.

Bill married his Athens sweetheart, Sandy Craig, in March 1968.  They are still hanging out together in Aurora, CO.   

                                                              
The lady who kept us organized.  She was the greatest and is missed to this day!  Mary married Athens Com Center maintenance NCO Arnie Molloy in 1967.  They returned to the States when Arnie was rotated to Otis AFB on Cape Cod in 1968.  They are now both retired from their civilian careers and living in Somerset, MA.  

Mary and Arnie enjoy traveling throughout New England in their motorhome and spoiling their grandchildren... to which they admit doing an excellent job.

     
From Muskegon Heights, MI.  Bill Heinemann served two tours at AFRS-Athens.  First in 1962-1963 via Tripoli, Libya, then returning in 1964 via Germany. Our exceptionally capable Program/News Director (he was the squadron's Outstanding Airman of the Year for all of Europe in 1964), "Heinnie" was a prolific producer of local items of interest which often found their way to "network" programming and distributed to AFRTS outlets around the world.  Bill was our weekday mid-morning icon.  Who can forget his signature sign-off - "keep your powder dry".  He returned to the States in November 1966 for duty at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL, then left the military in 1967 to pursue his education and eventually earned his Masters in 1970.  It was on to AT&T for a career in Sales and Sales Management.  Now semi-retired, Heinnie works as an Administrative Aide to a Texas State Representative.... when he's not playing golf (he 69d the Glyfada Golf Course in 1964).

Bill, and his wife Camille, live in the Austin, TX. area.  

                                                   
From Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  "Lt. T" came to AFRS-Athens in February 1965, from Adana, Turkey to command our quirky and creative group of broadcasters.  Larry did very little on air work, preferring to let his talented staff simply do their thing.  His "Greek traffic cop" routine created total pandemonium at off-duty gatherings. 

Larry returned to his home state and stayed in the radio business... as an account executive with a 4-station group in Stuart, FL.  Now semi-retired.

   
Chuck Follstad arrived at AFRS-Athens on November 11, 1965 and was our steady overnight man before heading off to an assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan in August 1966, and then on to the first U.S. television station behind the Iron Curtain where he helped launch AFTV in Berlin, Germany in April 1967.  After his colorful time in the military, Chuck was involved in the entertainment/restaurant industry for several years and eventually wound up in the automotive business after moving to Denver, CO. in 1978.

Chuck is now retired and living in Denver, CO.  

Pat Longo, our NCOIC,  hailed from Philadelphia, PA.  He came to the station in June 1963 after spending most of his Air Force career with numerous Air Force bands and then attending the Radio-TV Broadcaster's Course at Ft. Slocum. Our station's awards during Pat's tenure included the George Washington Honor Medal in 1964 and The American Heritage competition for Best Radio in USAFE in 1965.  Pat returned to the States in June 1966 and retired from the Air Force in 1968.

Whereabouts currently unknown.

                                                                                                                         
Bob "R.T." Nelson (or simply "Tiger") was from Sheridan, WY.  His path to Athens led him through Germany and Turkey.  Probably the most popular personality with the younger set with his afternoon Athens A-Go-Go program.  R.T.'s signature briefcase gave his identity away to all - with a tiger tail always protruding from the side.  R.T. returned to the States in March 1967 and promptly earned a degree in broadcasting from Cal State, Northridge.  After stints at KCGO and KRAE in Cheyenne, WY. the Nelson's moved to Denver where he headed up Mountain Bellšs consumer advertising division from 1973-1978 and then moved on to run Samsonitešs worldwide communications.  The tech world called him back to California in 1984 where he directed Memorexšs worldwide communications, was vice president of marketing at
several tech firms, and taught advertising at San Jose State while picking up a masteršs degree in mass communications at the school.  He now runs his own marketing consulting business from Morgan Hill, CA. 
                                                                    
The outgoing, always smiling, Al Cunningham began his career with AFRS on a part-time basis while assigned to the Athinai Airport Air Police squadron.  His   perseverance and dedication to AFRS-Athens won him "full-timer" status in the late summer of 1965.  From Marshfield, MA. - he came to Athens from Okinawa in 1964.  Al rotated to Colorado Springs, CO. in August 1966.  A five-year tour in the Far East followed and then stops in Shemya, Alaska / Rome, New York / Udorn, Thailand / San Bernardino, California and Berlin, Germany before retiring out of Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. in 1981.  

After his Air Force career Al lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for some time before returning to Massachusetts in 2004.  He now resides in New Braunfels, TX.

                                                                                                                                                                                    
Don Pagan's official duty station was the Com Center but he worked part-time at AFRS-Athens.  "Animal" was always there when we needed him and was a great housemate!  DP returned to the States in 1966 and left the Air Force at Wright-Paterson AFB in Dayton, OH.  He worked for the Panasonic Corporation in television engineering until retirement, and was extremely active in amateur radio (W8KWR).

Don passed on May 6th, 2008 from congestive heart failure.  He was 65 years old.

                                                                                                                
West Monroe, LA. native Ric Crawford was headed for Germany but a change of plans landed him in Athens after a tour with the Armed Forces Korea Network.  Ric mainly worked the afternoon and early evening news block and also produced special projects for AFRS-Athens.  His most notable and widely followed project was a series of broadcast Greek lessons for American personnel and their dependents.   Ric made E-5 in 1967 but left the Air Force at the end of his Athens tour to pursue a BA degree at Northeast Louisiana University, then became a corporate pilot for a few years.  After joining the Naval Reserve, he went back to active duty and retired as a Navy journalist in 1985.  

Ric Crawford returned to AFRTS as a civilian GS in April 1987 and became the Radio Operations Manager for the Armed Forces Network, based at March ARB, in Riverside, CA. until his retirement in January, 2009.

Jim Strizak was a former Marine who changed services and cross-trained into AFRTS - arriving in Athens in November 1965.  Jim was transferred to Adana, Turkey after making E-5 in November 1967.  Following a tour in Vietnam at the end of 1968 and a stint at Keesler AFB in Mississippi Jim Strizak returned to Greece, stationed in Crete from 1971-1975.  The Strizak's had stops at Wright-Patterson and in Panama before Jim's final duty station at Randolph, AFB in Texas, where he retired in October 1982.

Jim Strizak passed on January 25, 2004 following a long battle with diabetes, at the age of 64.

                                                                                                                                        
Craig Barnes arrived at AFRS-Athens in November 1966 and moved into the slot vacated by Bill Anderson in January, 1967.... hosting a Monday-Friday late night jazz program as well as Athens In Dimension on the weekends.  Craig was also involved with the Hellenic-American Union teaching English to young Greek students in his spare time.  Following his Athens tour he rotated to Lowry AFB in November 1969, where he completed his Air Force obligations.

Craig is now retired and travels the world, but lives in Phoenix, MD.

Art Sharpe came to AFRS-Athens following duty in Peshawar, Pakistan and took over as NCOIC when Pat Longo returned to the States. The Tarboro, NC. native was  known as "your host with a heart" on Kaleidoscope.   

After his Air Force retirement Art signed on as a GS with the AFRTS Radio Division in Burbank, CA.  He retired when the AFRTS Broadcast Center moved to Riverside, CA.

Are you a AFRS-Athens alumni?  If you can help with this project, please share your materials or information.  Due to the huge amount of spam on the internet, please use something like [AFRS] in your subject line.
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Originally published July 15, 2004.
Last update: April 28, 2014