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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
My war: The forces DJ

Jonathan Bennett has been the voice of British Forces radio throughout the war. He is the Station Manager for BFBS in the Middle East and has been broadcasting messages and music to troops and their families from Kuwait and now from Um Qasr inside Iraq.

Being able to broadcast to the front line during a war was incredible.

Our engineers went forward during the first week of fighting to set up a radio transmitter to cover the Basra area.

There was massive fighting going on nearby and there were shells being fired over their heads as they did it.

But it meant that the guys that were doing the fighting for Basra could listen to us any time they wanted.

Technically speaking they could have gone into battle with their headphones on.

You normally do your best to be cheerful but on the bad mornings it was difficult
Jonathan Bennett

But the thing with war is that it's nine parts waiting, one part fighting. Most of the time the troops are just sitting around waiting, so it's good for them to be able to tune in during that down time.

For most of the guys it's the only way they can get any news because there are no newspapers or television for them to watch out here.

We also carry a lot of sport so they can get live football commentary, which may sound a bit strange in the middle of a war but it does make a big, big difference.

It's something to focus on other than the dangers you've been facing and are going to face again.

But in the first few days of this war, things were difficult, they got very, very heavy. We had the helicopter crash, the blue on blue ["friendly fire"] with the tanks and one with the American A10.

Casualty lists

We were losing quite a few guys and it was hard to know how to pitch the shows. You do your best to be cheerful but on the bad mornings it was difficult.

At the same time you don't want to be too morbid and miserable because the guys that are still alive don't want that and you're broadcasting to 40,000 guys at the end of the day, not just those in units where people have been lost.

During the live programmes we were getting the casualty lists ahead of time to make sure we weren't putting messages out to guys who had been hurt or, God forbid, killed.

Every morning I would dread the knock on the door - if there was a knock on the door at 5:30am I knew it was going to be this colonel and he was going to give us the latest list and I would have to check off any messages I was going to do that morning against this list.

Billy Joel
Billy Joel: A favourite with US troops

We kept the requests and dedications going - we had thousands and thousands from friends and family back home and between the units out here too.

A feature of forces radio more than any other is the banter between the units on the ground. The black humour seems to keep them all going.

As for the songs we played, with one channel for everybody it's a real mixed bag.

You've got to cater for the colonel requesting Abba on the one hand and the 18-year-old private sat in a tank on the other.

Interestingly nobody was very interested in the new stuff, people seem to really take refuge in the familiar.

There were the usual favourites, The Animals' We've Got to Get Out of this Place and D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better.

There are a number of popular songs that typified the mood and the moment, Billy Joel's We didn't start the fire, was a favourite for the American troops.

Rewarding work

Chumbawamba's Tubthumping , with the chorus of "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never going to keep me down", the Brits liked that one.

Living out in the desert hasn't been as bad for us as it has been for the guys on the front line, but compared to life in the UK, it's been pretty rough.

The food is awful, you don't get a shower very often, and my bed is in the corner of the studio so it's almost like being in prison because you never get out of here!

It was never that dangerous for us although there were Scud missile attacks which got very wearing - I think we had 17 on the first night so we were in and out of the NBC suits so for about 48 hours and I had hardly any sleep.

Trying to do radio programmes live when you've had hardly any sleep isn't very pleasant but I do enjoy the job.

Actually, enjoy isn't the right word. I find it rewarding and satisfying. Having missiles thrown at you and living in crap conditions isn't fun but it's incredibly rewarding.


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