HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — The song I’m a Believer, one of the biggest hits of 1967, could have been playing in the background when 1st Lt. William Harris, the Air Force’s first television officer, stepped into building 1269 on Hill AFB’s west side, then an empty warehouse.
Harris would have surely sung along to the hit song had he known the men and women of this unit would have to manage no fewer than 10 organizational and name changes over the past 50 years.
“We have changed names so many times that it appears we are running from the law,” said Stan Woodford, cyber operations & support chief.
Through all the changes, multiple generations of officers, enlisted personnel, and civilians have responded with the resiliency you’d expect of our best Airmen. The unit name and organizational structure is fluid, but the mission—“Tell the Air Force Story with motion imagery”—continues and is getting stronger in what is now the Air Force’s largest, most prolific television facility.
Under our current name, Air Force Public Affairs Agency Operating Location-H (AFPAA OL-H), we are celebrating 50 years of producing high-quality video productions and we’re still in the same location, building 1269.
“Let’s Make It Happen!”
In the early 1970s, a few years after Air Force television production began, a unit motto—“Let’s Make It Happen!”—was created.
“Our attitude was we were going to get it done, and we were going to do it better than anyone else,” said Harris, during a recent interview.
By the mid-1990s, after several organizational changes, the motto faded to the background but the spirit behind the motto lives. It’s a motivating force behind the organization’s success.
“Brick and mortar does not make a production facility, it’s the people,” said Harris. “There is a work-ethic culture that started 50 years ago and remains today.”
Today, the AFPAA OL-H team produces 70 percent of all Air Force-reported video productions and continues to push video production innovations and technology. One recent innovation is the Air Force’s first 360-degree video production, which highlights Beast Week at basic military training.
“We were always looking to cover new territory,” said Bill Devlin, former chief of production.
“’Let’s Make It Happen’ is an attitude that creates progress and results,” added Jim Sorensen, current chief of production.
Technology, continuous improvement
Video was in its infancy when the Hill television facility began operations. The technology was new, vacuum tube camera systems were heavy and bulky, recorders required two-inch tape, and limited editing was accomplished with a microscope and splicer. However, industry growth and rapid advances in technology required a culture of continuous improvement. Each new generation of military Airmen, along with a corps of “early adopter” civilians, pushed themselves and the Air Force by embracing new technologies and video styles.
“The unit culture established years ago drives us to advance our capabilities,” said Burke Baker, a television producer and director.
Ahead of all others, Hill Television transitioned from black & white to all color production, establishing a reputation of being the most advanced production facility in the Air Force. By the early 1980s, the unit began to expand its mission to support Air Force interactive Video Disc Productions. We were the only Air Force facility to produce glass Laser Disc masters for interactive courseware replication.
“Mr. Fukunaga, the chief engineer for over 30 years, understood the technology better than anyone,” said Woodford. “He engineered our master control room, edit bays and production trucks, leaving a high standard for me to follow.”
In 1985, CMX editing, Abekas DVEs and Grass Valley switchers were installed.
“We rivaled any production house or TV station at the time,” said Sorensen, who was an editor then.
It also started the evolution toward nonlinear systems 10 years later. The Air Force’s first uncompressed non-linear edit system, Edit Box, was incorporated in the mid-1990s. Today, non-linear AVID and Adobe Premiere are the preferred editing platforms.
“We’ve come a long way from splicing tape with a razor blade,” said Jon Zanone, a producer and director.
Video distribution also evolved from 3/4-inch tapes to VHS to DVD to Blue Ray to the all-digital high definition files of today. The Hill team also led the transition from standard definition to HD and now to Ultra HD (4K). Most importantly, we continue to produce compelling, contemporary productions that resonate with an increasingly video-literate audience.
Out of necessity, Air Force Television started with mobile production trucks because the equipment was unwieldy and too maintenance intensive to allow for independent remote shooting. As equipment became lighter and more versatile, the truck mission evolved. Hill Television currently has two HD production trucks, one with satellite capability and the other with capacity for eight remote controlled cameras. These trucks record and broadcast live events to global audiences. Air Power demonstrations, Capstone, the Hill AFB F-35 roll out, and most recently, the Air Force Academy graduation, are just a few of the events covered by the Hill production team.
People make the mission happen
In 1967, the year Hill Television began producing training program s for the F-4, Amana introduced the first countertop microwave oven. Today it’s hard to imagine life without the convenience of a microwave. The same can be said for video. People are visual creatures and according to several studies, visuals increase retention by 42 percent. Another report states that by the year 2020, 75 percent of the world’s mobile traffic will be video. The Air Force’s need for visual imagery productions is growing. YouTube, the premier video sharing site, has greater reach than cable TV for those under 49 years of age. The average age of all military and civilian Airmen is 37. If you want to influence your audience, video needs to be a part of the communication strategy.
Video is a valuable Air Force tool and keeping that tool sharp requires an organizational culture that instills Airmen with the resiliency to glide through organizational turbulence while continuing to lead the way in their profession. Some civilian Airmen, still with the unit, have experienced seven major shifts in organization structure to include deactivations of the Aerospace Audio Visual Service and Air Combat Camera Service, and a move from the communications career field to public affairs. There is no question it’s the people of the organization, guided by a positive culture established 50 years ago, who continue to see the unit carry on a tradition of quality, innovation, and customer service.
Staff Sgt. Erin Mills, current NCO in charge of operations, stated it best. “How lucky we are to have the people we work with, the experiences we’ll gain, the equipment we use, and the productions we’ll get to make,” she said.
And it’s not over, we’re anticipating another change later in the year when we’ll become the 2nd Audio Visual Squadron. We’re ready because we’re believers! We believe in “Making It Happen” yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
To see more AFPAA OL-H productions, including the current 70th Air Force Birthday series, visit the following:
To watch the BEAST 360 Basic Military Training video go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj25_J5AGeI&t=6s.