Kristen King, Military Radio Host
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.
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In a few minutes, your letters on racial stereotypes, detainee rights, and rejuveniles. But, first grooving in the Green Zone. If you're a regular listener to Armed Forces Radio on 107.7 on the FM dial in Iraq - Freedom Radio as it's known to U.S. soldiers - then you've probably heard this song.
(Soundbite of song, Back Where I Come From)
Mr. KENNY CHESNEY (Musician): (Singing) Back where I come from, where I'll be when it's said and done. Well I'm proud as anyone, that's where I come from.
CONAN: Country singer Kenny Chesney and his song Back Where I Come From. Just one of the many requests Specialist Kristen King plays during her four-hour show on the Armed Forces Network. King hosts Country Convoy, a favorite among the military, beamed throughout Iraq from a trailer in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Kristen King joins us now on the line from Baghdad. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
Specialist KRISTEN KING (Host, Country Convoy, Armed Forces Radio): Thank you. It's great to be here.
CONAN: By the way, if you're a listener of Kristen King's or if you have a question about what it's like to be a soldier and a radio host in Iraq, give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. Do you take calls on Country Convoy?
Spc. KING: I do. I take calls and e-mails. So times have definitely changed.
CONAN: Well, what's the rest of the show like?
Spc. KING: Well, you know, it's just - it's a lot of fun. I try to keep it pretty light. I take lots of requests. I play back phone calls. We have contests. A lot of country singers, mostly local, from Texas, places like that, have sent us CDs, stuff like that. So, I do little contests to give those away out on the air. And we have a lot of fun.
CONAN: And how did you land this job?
Spc. KING: Well, I am a broadcaster in the military. When we first got over here - I came over here with the 206, the Broadcast Operations Detachment - and so we're all broadcast journalists for the most part. I spent the first eight months on the TV side of things traveling around the country and doing stories on different coalition forces. And in May - at the beginning of May they switched me into radio, we just did a little rotation. And they told me that I was doing the country show because I had the biggest country accent and it fit.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And as I understand it, you also have a background - you're a Reservist and study journalism at LSU.
Spc. KING: That's right. I'm a journalism student at LSU. I'm in my junior year, and, you know, we're getting ready to go home pretty soon - we've been here for almost a year now - so I'm going to pick that up for the fall semester.
CONAN: So you're about to sign off.
Spc. KING: I am. I'm about to sign off. I've only got about three weeks left. Actually, we're very, very excited because our replacements are getting here this week.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So you're going to show the new kids the ropes and then you get to go home.
Spc. KING: Exactly. We are so excited about that.
CONAN: Yet it must be a lot of fun being a radio - it's a lot of fun being on the radio, but especially in a situation like that where I assume so many people invest so much in your voice and in your program.
Spc. KING: Well, I'll tell you what. It's so rewarding. I mean, obviously there's so much fun involved. I spend four hours everyday singing and dancing around the radio studio, you know, just trying to keep things fun over here. So it helps the time fly by for me. But more than anything, I just love my job because I know that everyone listening out in the field, I'm kind of bringing them a little piece of home.
Spc. KING: And that always makes my day go a lot better.
CONAN: Now, your program is the Country Caravan. Other kinds of music played on the radio station as well?
Spc. KING: Well, there are. I'm the only country show. In the morning, from 6:00 to 10:00, we have a DJ Mark Howell(ph), and it's Mark in the Morning. And he does a top 40-type format, you know, stuff that you would hear on a regular top 40 morning show. And then after me comes Jennifer Cohen(ph) and she's on from 2:00 to 6:00 and she does pretty much the same format as Mark does. And then from 6:00 to 10:00 is CJ the DJ Sheely(ph), and he does classic rock.
CONAN: So it's something for everybody in other words.
Spc. KING: It's something for everybody, yes. I mean, we've got rock, rap, country, pop, R&B; we've got it all.
CONAN: And I understand you also - do you do news on the show?
Spc. KING: I'm the news director of Freedom Radio, so during the week we have Freedom Radio News, which airs five days a week; and then we also have Freedom Radio Weekend News, which airs Saturday and Sunday. And that's something that I do using stories from different broadcasters out in the field. We also download other newscasts, Soldier's Radio News, Air Force Radio News, the Iron Horse Report(ph), OIF Update, This Week in Iraq. There's different newscasts coming in from all over the country that we play on the show.
CONAN: I understand you also have to give the weather report.
Spc. KING: We do give the weather report. It's the most depressing part of the day because it just keeps getting hotter, but we do do that twice an hour.
CONAN: We are complaining here on the East Coast because it's what 95, getting towards a 100 degrees in certain places. I expect that this would be a nice vacation spot in Iraq.
Spc. KING: Let me tell you, you have no room for complaint.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Spc. KING: We - it is hot. I think yesterday we said the high was 115 in Baghdad. Of course Baghdad is not the hottest place. It's hotter in other cities around the country and it only heats up. It's going to get even hotter come August, so we're not looking forward to that all.
CONAN: Other than the weather, which I assume people really don't want to hear, except they do. When people call up, what do they talk to you about?
Spc. KING: They talk to me about all kinds of things. It's really cool because a lot of people really open up to me. Actually, it's funny that you ask. Someone had just asked me not too long ago, you know, is there one part that you could really pick out that just really stood out in your mind this whole tour.
And I had a lady that called in and she told me that she was over here. She works as a civilian actually. She's working for KVR(ph) and she was over here trying to make money to finish her bachelor's degree and since she's been over here she found out that her daughter was diagnosed with cancer. And instead of going back home she decided that she was going to stay over here to continue trying to make money instead of, you know, putting it towards her schooling, she's going to try to put it towards her daughter's treatment.
And, you know, she said it was so hard being away from her daughter, especially during this time. But she knew that she was going to make some money and pay for her daughter's treatment and all of her medical care, or at least put a dent in it. And so she had requested a song, Martina Mcbride, In My Daughter's Eyes, and you know she said it reminded her of her daughter. And she just said thank you so much for doing the show and it really just makes me so happy to just hear the music and sing along and stuff like that.
And so that was pretty cool to hear from her. But other than that, I mean, I just get people calling in, you know, telling me that a song reminds them of their friend or this song reminds them of their dad or, you know, this song reminds them of, you know, something that they did one weekend. So it's really cool because I really get to know who's listening.
CONAN: All right, let's get a call on the air. This is Dean. Dean's calling us from Cleveland Heights in Ohio.
DEAN (Caller): Yes, hi Kristen.
Spc. KING: Hi, Dean.
DEAN: Do you play the Dixie Chicks?
Spc. KING: Well, actually I try not to. That's kind of a personal preference of mine. If someone calls in and really wants to hear them then I will play them, but if I just see then on my show log I'll replace them with something else.
CONAN: But that's a personal aesthetic decision or is that a political decision?
Spc. KING: Well, you know, it's - a lot of military don't like the Dixie Chicks anymore. And I - obviously I can't speak for everyone, but a lot of the people that listen to my show do not want to hear the Dixie Chicks. And actually, one day we had someone that I work with that wanted to hear the Dixie Chicks and so I got on the air and I said okay, you know, we have Longoria, who is one of the technicians, he wants to hear the Dixie Chicks. I said, so if I can find one more listener that wants to hear the Dixie Chicks, you know, I'll put them on the air and I was flooded with e-mails. We don't want to hear the Dixie Chicks. Don't play them. You know, and they just went on and on so it's kind of a personal preference for me that I don't want to play them, but also a lot of the people over here just don't want to hear them anymore.
CONAN: But there's no rule against playing them?
Ms. KING: There's no rule. No, there's definitely not a rule against playing them.
CONAN: Dean, thanks very much for the call.
DEAN: And thank you.
CONAN: All right, bye bye. And let me ask you, I'm sure by this point somebody has mentioned to you the old Robin Williams movie of Good Morning, Vietnam.
Spc. KING: I have heard it so many times.
CONAN: Any comparisons that are valid do you think?
Spc. KING: Well, I mean the energy on the show definitely. I try to boost up the energy as much as I can and have fun with it, but, you know, he was - I know that he battled a lot of censorship, stuff like that, in the movie and that's something that I don't really have to deal with.
I've never felt censored at all. I've always felt like I could pretty much say what I wanted to. And another thing with me is I try, you know, I try to keep everything light. I don't want to always bring up the politics of everything. You know, the guys over here, they can watch the news. They're out in the field all the time; they don't want to hear about all the bad stuff going on on the radio. They just kind of want to escape and hear songs that remind them of home. So I try my best to stay away from anything political. You know, talking about bombings or anything like that as much as I can. So the energy yes, the controversy no.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more caller in. Jim, Jim's calling us from South Bend in Indiana.
JIM (Caller): Hi, how are you doing over there?
Spc. KING: Hi, Jim. How are you?
JIM: Good. You might have just kind of answered my question. I was wondering if you did delve into the pros and cons of the war with guys or if there were discuss - political discussions over the radio or perhaps over the TV over there.
Spc. KING: Yeah, you know, I mean , we kind of stay away from the politics over here. Like I said, we try to keep it light and especially all the controversy that you hear back home. You know, should we be over here, should we not be over here. My feeling that I get when I talk to the guys is they want to do their job and they want to go home. And they really don't want to get much into the politics of everything and so I try to keep it off the air. If they want to call in and talk about it, I'll let them talk about it. But most of them just don't really want to.
JIM: Well, pro or con I think that everybody over here is behind it, certainly the individuals over there.
Spc. KING: Well, thank you so much for your support.
CONAN: And, Jim, thanks for the call. And, Kristen King, good luck to you. How many weeks now before you sign off?
Spc. KING: Oh, just about three weeks.
CONAN: I feel like we're all going to end up working for you some day. Kristen King good luck when you return to your studies at LSU and then in what I'm sure is going to be a wonderful career in radio.
Spc. KING: Well, thank you very much. It was great talking to you.
CONAN: Specialist Kristen King, the host of Country Convoy, which is heard on the Armed Forces Network. She joined us by phone from the Green Zone in Baghdad. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.