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Listening Hayward Executive Tower on LiveATC in the night, I noticed ATC can be quiet for periods of more than 30 minutes, and sometimes the communication is not even with an aircraft, but with a maintenance car.

What do ATC operators when the airport is quiet?

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    $\begingroup$ I used to fly a lot of night freight back in the late 1980s and the 1990s, both in the U.S. and in Europe. While I can't answer your question, I can tell you that tower controllers always answered me promptly in the middle of the night (if the tower was shown as operating) when there was no other traffic but us. There was one exception; Valencia, Spain, where we would often land without clearance after repeated attempts to contact the tower. $\endgroup$ – Terry Apr 5 '17 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Center controllers will happily "name that tune" or look up trivia to settle bets during dead hours, too. It may be non-standard, but at least it keeps the pilots and ATC awake. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Apr 5 '17 at 6:48
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    $\begingroup$ They monitor 121.5 $\endgroup$ – Dave Apr 5 '17 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ Sometimes they take a nap. nbcwashington.com/news/local/… $\endgroup$ – JScarry Apr 5 '17 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ When I used to fly at night and there was nobody else in the pattern they'd rate my landings. $\endgroup$ – Sebo Apr 5 '17 at 21:58
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The same things people do when working jobs like night shift guard shack operator... catch up on paperwork, read, study, listen to music, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you provide a reference to this claim? $\endgroup$ – kevin Apr 8 '17 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ LOL! Sure, hanging out with my controller friends in the Marines. :) Do you have a reference to disprove it? $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Apr 9 '17 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Listening to music with speakers is frowned upon in the cockpit, and by the same principal it should extent to controllers too. I'm not sure how that applies to military operators though. $\endgroup$ – kevin Apr 9 '17 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ "Listening to music with speakers is frowned upon in the cockpit..." Ah, no, sorry, it isn't. Simple proof of that is that most modern intercom systems, either panel-mount or stand-alone, have connections for external audio and/or things like iPods, and features like auto-mute when there is audio coming from a source like a VHF radio. Dynon and PS Engineering are just two examples of manufacturers that do that. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Apr 10 '17 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ 100% Agree with your answer. And I have done all of them at some point, including doing the Exams I am studying for and writing new procedures for the tower I am in. Music is allowed in a lot of towers, it is in the local instructions for some towers or in the case in the local ANSPs regulations or operations manuals. Speaker is safer then headphones in a tower as most towers don't use full headsets all the time. Some towers have a commercial radio going all the time. $\endgroup$ – Bullfrog Apr 13 '17 at 12:09

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