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Navy disc jockey building an audience

Name: Keith Jones

Rank: E-6

Branch: Navy

Age: 32

Hometown: Bridgeton, N.J.

Job: Radio disc jockey

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ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN—In a cramped radio station, petty officer first class Keith Jones speaks into a microphone to sailors aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

You expect him to scream like Robin Williams: "Good morning, Persian Gulf!"

He doesn't.

Jones is calm and collected, doing a radio show that can be heard throughout the aircraft carrier as 5,600 sailors spend an hour cleaning the ship every morning.

Jones calls it "Happy Hour!"

He speaks in a deep, gravel voice, reading the leadership tip of the day: "No organization is stronger than the quality of its leadership, or ever extends its constituency far beyond the degree to which its leadership is representative—Edgar Powell."

Jones, 32, of Bridgeton, N.J., about 45 miles south of Philadelphia, started this radio station in August.

"All of the carriers originally had radio stations, but a lot of them let it go by the wayside, because they think it's not important," Jones says. "I pretty much built this radio station. I told them what I wanted."

When the Lincoln was deployed in July, getting listeners was a challenge. "The first two months, no one listened," he says. "You thought you were just talking to yourself. We couldn't give away a CD."

The station is broadcast on the ship's television system. "After we put the camera in there, we found out how many people were listening," Jones says. "Ten people stopped me and said, `Hey, I saw you on television today.' "

The radio station carries live programming from 7:30 a.m. until almost 10 p.m. every day, using volunteer disc jockeys. "We have a guy who fixes airplanes," Jones says. "Every day, from 4 to 6, he's here, Monday through Saturday."

The Lincoln has been at sea since July, one of the longest tours ever for a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Jones misses his wife, Barbara, and his two children, Jordan, 7, and Joshua, 2.

"And I miss Philadelphia cheese steaks," Jones says. "And I was missing Tastykakes. Those are a Philadelphia delicacy. My mom sent me a box for Christmas."

What are Tastykakes? Are they donuts?

"How dare you," he says. "Scoff at the notion."

His favorites include butterscotch krumpets with the icing on top and jelly krumpets with the jelly in the center.

One time, on his radio show, he made a listener sing the Tastykake song for a prize.

"Nobody bakes a," the sailor started to sing.

Jones stopped him cold. "No, sing it with fire."

"Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake," the sailor sang.

More than Tastykakes, Jones misses watching the Philadelphia Eagles.

"The hardest thing about me joining the Navy was losing my season tickets," he says. "I had season tickets to the Eagles for five years. I would be at every home game. I had to sell them because I left."

Jones was on the Lincoln, following the Eagles on their run to the NFC championship game, trying to catch games on the radio.

"They went to the National Conference championship game," Jones says. "It will take me 20 years to get over that loss. Home field advantage! Against Tampa Bay! I was there the last two times they won. They kicked Tampa Bay's butt for two years in a row and I was there. And this time, I wasn't there and they lose. It's gonna take 20 years!"

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATIONS (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): FACES JONES face illus, FACES JONES radio illus

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