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volume 6
may 2003

Sixty years of AFN in Europe


  Review of:
  • Ingo Paternoster and John Proven, AFN Europe 60th Anniversary (LC 02319; ISBN 0-945794-12-6)
by Hans Knot
  Next July the American Forces Network will celebrate its 60th anniversary. Anticipating this occasion, AFN-experts Ingo Paternoster and John Proven compiled a double-cd set with a wide range of sound fragments, covering the whole lifespan of the station, or rather the stations, up until now. Hans Knot listened through all of it and now shares his opinions and memories with us. The photo's, accompanying this review, were taken on March 27, 2003, during the opening of the exhibition 60 Jahre AFN in Frankfurt in the "Historisches Museum" in Frankfurt, Germany.
1 Listening to the radio. When did my involvement with radio start? Looking back at my youth and thinking of radio, the first thing to come into my mind, no doubt, are the many fine evenings I spent listening to the radio from under the blankets in my bedroom. At that time, children were not used to watching television up till the late hours. No, instead, we had to go to bed quite early. Television in Holland was just in its infancy and the programs were aired for only a few hours a week. That is to say, if your parents were lucky enough to own a television set. Our parents were early starters as they already bought one in 1960, a Siemens from Germany. However, the programs had not much to offer to young adolescents and so we sought our refuge in listening to the radio.
  I shared a big bedroom with my brothers and so in the late 1950s the three of us had the opportunity to listen to the radio in our own private quarters. Given our taste for music, our choices were rather limited. We either could tune into the fading signal of Radio Luxembourg on 208 meters on the AM band or to that other station that also was transmitting in English though with a distinct signature. Here the presenters spoke their phrases with a clear American accent and they brought us music we never had heard before, including country music and rock and roll. The station was transmitting on AM and made itself known as AFN Bremerhavn. Bremen was not too far away from our hometown Groningen and so the signal came in at a reasonable quality.
2 Local and global programs. AFN, the "American Forces Network", was a military station and its programs were aimed at that part of the US forces in Germany, housed in Bremen. Once you started listening to AFN Bremerhavn, you were quick to find out that only part of the programming originated from the local station itself. The other part consisted of programs that were also aired on sister stations globally. It took some time before I learned how this construction worked. Next to AFN Bremerhavn, so I found out, there were many other AFN stations all over the world to provide the soldiers with news, information, sports, amusement, culture and music. The joint programs, being aired by all stations, in those days were put on record in the US and subsequently sent all over the world. Later the distribution was taken care of by tapes, cd's and, still later, through satellite feeds. Of course, during the last years also programming has been done with the use of the modern techniques, including the use of internet.
  My brothers and I, sure, were not the only ones in our hometown that were attracted by the sound of AFN. During playtime, at school, we soon learnt that more boys and girls of our age group were tuning in and we all shared the same reason. We were hearing things, which we were not allowed to listen to on our Dutch public station, Hilversum 1 and 2. It was music we never heard before. And, we liked it from the very start. In short, AFN was introducing us to American radio music. As was to be expected, the station had the same appeal to young people in many other European countries. It would take more than ten years, though, up till 1971, before I would be in contact with someone from abroad who also regularly tuned into AFN. His name was Ingo Paternoster and he came from Germany. It became clear to me that AFN was his most favorite station. Next we started to exchange the material we had recorded throughout the years as well as to send each other spoken letters in which we conversed our shared love for radio.
3 Information and amusement for the American forces. In time I met Ingo Paternoster in the flesh when he made his first visit to Holland. He came over to see me, and of course, more importantly, to listen to AFN Shape (Soesterberg) as well for a visit of the studio's of Radio Veronica in Hilversum. Now, after 32 years, Paternoster and I are still in contact and we are still exchanging radio material of all kinds. After that first meeting I really started to learn more about AFN and AFRTS. The idea of founding the station came about a year before the invasion of the Allies in Europe and was the brainchild of General Dwight Eisenhower, also known as Ike, in later years President of the USA. Eisenhower had the idea that the American soldiers, far away from home, would feel better if they could be informed on a regular base by radio and other forms of communications. His first target were the American soldiers, who were already encamped in — overcrowded — military camps in the United Kingdom.
  With the forthcoming invasion in mind, Eisenhower realized that the American soldiers had to be informed very properly to keep up the morale. There were some serious signs that things were not going well in this respect. In September 1942, a research project brought the information that more and more soldiers got disheartened by their long stay in the camps, far away from home, under harsh conditions. The camps were really overcrowded. And of course, there was a growing fear to be actively involved in the coming battles. To distract themselves from these daily concerns, the soldiers could tune in to the BBC programs. These, however, did not bring a feeling of close contact with home, as the BBC reserved only thirty minutes a week for American music and, yes, only five minutes a week for sports information. The American soldiers, moreover, didn't really like the stiff way of presenting of the British in those days. Information was sent to Washington's White House that due to these facts more and more soldiers started listening to the propaganda radio stations of the Nazi's.
  This disturbing outcome was serious reason enough for Dwight Eisenhower to contact a few of his best persons within the Ministry of War: General Everett Hughes and Mr. Brewster Morgan, who got the job of changing things on short notice. They responded to this task by proposing the start of a newspaper, a magazine, and also a radio station. Eisenhower gave them a free hand to start up these information systems. A newspaper, called "Stars and Stripes", already had been published during World War 1 and now was reinstituted. By the way, it still ex ists. The radio station was newly founded. This meant the birth of AFN, the "American Forces Network" with several low powered transmitters, nearby or on the several military Camps in Great Britain. The first program was aired, now almost sixty years ago, on July 4th, Independence Day, 1943.
  In due time, all over the world similar stations followed the American forces during their activities. They bring them information about the local situation they're in, but also news and information from home. Next to stations with a more permanent status, a lot of mobile stations were — and still are — used all around the world. After World War II, to mention only one out of many, the Blue Danube Network was grounded. The main station was in Vienna (Austria) while two sister stations were erected in the cities of Linz and Salzburg. As said, this is just an example. During the Cold War, countries such as Spain and Italy, and of course Germany, also got their own AFN stations. There even was an offshore AFN station as the Americans used a radio ship, the MV Courier, to transmit programs off the coast of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. And, for us, be it AFN Vietnam, AFN Bosnia, AFN Shape, AFN Berlin, AFN Heidelberg, AFN Balkans or AFN Iraq, all these stations were interesting enough to listen to. Of course for Ingo Paternoster and I and all those other AFN lovers, we mostly listened to them by the recordings we did trade with each other.
4 Sixty years. Since our very first meeting in 1971, I stayed in contact with Ingo Paternoster and, next to our tapes, we shared our love for radio — AFN and Offshore Radio being our most important interests. Up till March 1993 I could tune in and listen to AFN Bremerhavn , after which the local station was closed down. From that moment on, I had to rely on tapes being sent by friends like Ingo Paternoster, to enjoy the AFN programs. Paternoster, meanwhile, had moved from Northern Germany to Bavaria, and there he could listen to stations like AFN Frankfurt and AFN Munich, which, of course, he taped for me. His top favorite deejays, so I could deduce from these recordings, were Rick Damerest and Bill Switcher. Lucky enough we and other AFN friends did share and archived a lot of transmitted material. From this sound archive, Paternoster now has made an impressive selection, celebrating AFN's sixtieth birthday. It is a beautiful production, produced and edited by Ingo Paternoster. Almost 130 different tracks give the listeners of the double cd 60 Years of AFN Europe more than 2,5 hours of listening pleasure. It gives also a bright look at the fantastic history of this network of radio stations.
  The concept idea for this cd stems from Dr. John Proven and Ingo Paternoster, in turn, has done all the research and editing of the existing material. Just to mention a few of the many recordings that can be heard on this double cd. First of all you'll be hearing a comedian who was always related to American Army: Mickey Rooney. Then there is a speech of General Lucas, from 1946, which was well conserved. A report from the Nurnberg Trials is one of the other unique fragments on the cd. You also will be hearing recordings of the jubilee program from "5 years AFN Berlin". In respect to American popular music, the cd offers a recording of a visit by Frank Sinatra to one of the AFN studios. And, as everybody knows Elvis Presley served his time in the Army in Germany and during this period he could be heard a lot on the AFN stations over there and now also on this cd. It's nice too, to notice that some recordings have been saved from AFN Orleans and that at least one item from the early 1960s has been preserved from the program "On the scene" about President Kennedy. Many more can be heard on this double cd 60 Years of AFN Europe, including a lot of beautiful promo's, commercials, air checks, jingles and bloopers.
  As I told before, the cd really offers more than a full 2,5 hours of listening pleasure. No, I won't give you a complete survey of this double cd. I just suggest you to order your own copy. I'm sure that you won't regret it. For myself, I've put this cd on my special shelf with the ten best-produced cd's in the history on radio. The double cd 60 Years of AFN in Europe can be ordered by sending 20 Euro — including postage and packing. People outside countries with the euro currency can send a letter with 15 Pounds enclosed to: Ingo Paternoster, Postfach 127, 86439, Zusmarshausen, Deutschland.
  2003 © Soundscapes