'ROCK THE CASBAH' SIZZLES DESERT LIVE RADIO BROADCASTS ENTERTAIN TROOPS BORN IN THE U.S.A.

Staff and wire reports
Section: MAIN,  Page: A10

Date: Wednesday, October 10, 1990

Albany native Rich Yanku kicked off the U.S. Armed Forces Radio's live broadcasts in Saudi Arabia Tuesday with an almost inevitable opening line: "Goooood Maaawrning, Saudi Arabia!"


Echoing comedian Robin Williams' intro in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam," disc jockey Yanku broke in at 9:05 a.m. to bring the Heart of the Desert, FM-107, direct from an air base in the desert to U.S. troops looking for a touch of home. "I think everyone was expecting it. It would have been a letdown if I hadn't done it," said Yanku, 38, a 1970 graduate of the Milne School and 17- year Navy veteran now stationed at Virginia Beach, Va.


"I haven't spoken to Robin Williams but I'm sure if I had he'd say,' Sure, why not, go for it,'" said Yanku, a chief petty officer who immediately started getting requests when he announced the request line telephone number.


An average mobile home would dwarf the two trailers that make up the broadcast unit. They were dubbed Camp Schmooz by the four disc jockeys after the favorite question of the unit's director, Bronx native Lt. Arnie Pon.


"What are you guys schmoozing around for?" Pon asks constantly, using the Yiddish word for idle talk.


Picking the first song took a lot of schmoozing, much of it worthy of Adrian Kronauer, the character Williams portrayed in the film about Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War.


"Midnight at the Oasis" was rejected as too sugary.


Ray Steven's "Ahab the Arab" was also passed over and Hank Williams' "Don't Give Us a Reason" was dismissed for hinting at criticism of rather senior officials.


"We're probably always going to avoid playing that," acknowledged Air Force Staff Sgt. Harry Lockley, 25, of New Castle, Pa.


"Rock the Casbah" by the Clash finally was first on the air. It seemed to fit with both the Middle East landscape - the tune abounds with references to sheiks, Bedouins and Cadillacs - and the role of nearly 200,000 U.S. troops underwritten by Saudi Arabia to confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after he invaded neighboring Kuwait Aug. 2.


One verse goes:


The king called out his jetfighters


He said you better earn you pay


Drop your bombs between the minarets


Down the Casbah way.


The radio station's format will be rock and roll, with some country, folk, rap and reggae music from its collection of 8,800 compact discs. There will also be a jazz hour on most nights. The station starts each hour with a news broadcast.


Classical music? None scheduled, and polka is also doubtful.


"There are a lot of young guys out here used to hearing hard-core rock and roll, hard-driving music," said Air Force Staff Sgt. John Haynes, 27, of Phoenix, Ariz., one of four disc jockeys. "I try to target the young guys."


The Saudi government has put some limits on what the station can broadcast. But no one in the unit would specify what was forbidden.


"It's basically just common sense" about what might offend Saudi sensibilities, said Lt. Col. David MacNamee, head of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Services in Saudi Arabia. A TV station is still under discussion.


The Muslim and tribal codes that determine public behavior in Saudi Arabia include bans on alcohol, and the mixing of men and women outside their homes.


Most U.S. soldiers out in the field have been prohibited from entering villages, and there has been cultural friction in places where the troops share facilities. Saudi troops are shocked by American men walking naked to the showers.


Part of the radio broadcasts include pep talks on the kingdom.


"Saudi Arabia's a land of mystery. Or is it?" said Yanku between songs during his first 30 minutes on the air. "If you take a little time to learn about it you'll make your stay more enjoyable."


Public service messages will include warnings about scorpions in the desert.


There's some question about how many soldiers will hear the 24-hour broadcasts because the number of transmitters is limited and few troops brought radios. Several thousand radios have been distributed and another 30,000 donated in the United States are expected to arrive soon.


Requests started rolling in within minutes of the live show.


The first soldier to call was a woman named Kim, dedicating Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." to her fellow troops.


Got a request? Dial 9663-899-1119, Ext. 7231.