|Permission to publish this article has been kindly granted by the author, Michael Bethge of the WWDXC.|
The American Forces Network Europe began broadcasting from London during World War II, using equipment and studio facilities borrowed from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Our first transmission to U.S. troops began at 5:45 p.m. on July 4, 1943 and included less than five hours of recorded shows, a BBC newscast and a sportscast. Our signal was sent from London via land lines and five regional transmitters to reach US troops in the United Kingdom.
Nazi bombing raids over England kept knocking the station off the air. In May 1944, AFN London moved from its original BBC studios at 11 Carlos Place to 80 Portland Place.
As D-day approached, the network joined with the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to develop programs especially for the Allied Expeditionary Forces. When the actual invasion began, AFN programs were beamed to the war fronts via long-wave transmitters from the BBC and re-transmitted by AFRTS mobile vans that were attached to the various U.S. Army units attacking the European mainland. Mobile stations, complete with personnel, broadcasting equipment, and a record library were deployed to broadcast music and news to troops in the field. The mobile stations reported on front line activities and fed the news reports back to studio locations in London.
Although the network’s administrative headquarters remained in London, its operational headquarters soon moved to AFN Paris. In November 1944, AFN Paris was located in the Herald Tribune building on the Rue de Berri broadcasting on a 15kw transmitter given to the U.S. forces by an appreciative French government.
As Allied forces continued to push German soldiers back into their homeland, AFN moved east as well. The liberation of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands saw AFN stations serving the forces liberating Biarritz, Cannes, LeHarve, Marseille, Nice, Paris, and Reims.
It’s now the end of World War II in Europe, May 1945 and AFN Frankfurt goes on the air from a mobile van parked behind the famed I.G. Farben building, General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters building in Frankfurt. This building was later known to U.S. troops as the General Abrahms building, home until late 1994 to the U.S. Army’s V Corps.
On June 10, 1945 AFN Munich began beaming its signal out of Kaulbach Strasse to two 100kw transmitters in Munich and Stuttgart. In August 1945, AFN Europe moved its headquarters from London to Frankfurt. AFN services in Berlin, Bremen and Nuremberg soon followed.
On December 31, 1945, AFN London signed off the air, and during 1948 AFN closed all its stations in France.
During the late 1940s, AFN covered the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, the Soviet blockade of West Berlin, and the Berlin Airlift.
On March 17, 1948 AFN Stuttgart signed on the air, and in 1949 AFN Bremen moved north and changed its name to AFN Bremerhaven.
The decade of the fifties saw expansion for the network. In 1950, AFN Nuremberg began broadcasting from the Grand Hotel in downtown Nuremberg.
In February 1953, AFN Kaiserslautern began broadcasting from a mobile van, and on October 21, 1954 moved into its present facility near the Vogelweh Military Shopping Center.
On May 23, 1958 AFN France was reestablished when AFN Orleans began broadcasting to US military personnel in Camp Des Loges, Dreux Air Base, and Orleans. AFN Poitiers joined the AFN France network on November 20, 1958, and AFN Verdun followed on October 16, 1959.
AFN France grew into a collection of almost 50 FM radio transmitters. However in 1967, because of France’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, AFN France was turned off, closed down and moved north with NATO and SHAPE to Chievres, Belgium.
From the late 1940’s to 1966, AFN Europe headquarters was located in the Hoechst Castle, on the Main River in a Frankfurt suburb. In 1966, Hessen, Germany state radio Hessischer Rundfunk provided a building in Frankfurt to house AFN Frankfurt and the network headquarters staff.
During the 1970’s, AFN assumed responsibility for AFRTS television service in Central Europe from Air Force Television (AFTV) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
AFN SHAPE began radio studio broadcasts from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Casteau, near Mons, Belgium on February 5, 1974.
On October 28, 1976, AFN television moved from AFTV’s old black and white studios at Ramstein Air Base to the network’s new color television studios in Frankfurt.
In the 1980’s the network added affiliates with studio capabilities in Wuerzburg, Germany and Soesterberg, the Netherlands.
In 1984 AFN network headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany started receiving regular satellite transmissions from the AFRTS Broadcast Center in California.
Using an uplink facility at Usingen, Germany, a satellite positioned over the Indian Ocean, and a system of television receive-only dishes, the AFN SuperStation began radio and television satellite transmissions on December 29, 1987.
The satellite distribution system increased the network’s audience, and using on-base cable systems, brought AFN television into U.S. military housing areas in England.
AFN networked its FM radio transmitters in 1989 and started the Z-ROCK radio service to meet the stereo radio needs of a younger audience.
By January 1991, the FM service evolved to Z-FM, a best mix contemporary format. The network dispatched news teams and technicians to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
These professional broadcasters reported to families of soldiers deployed from Europe, and provided direct support in the set-up of the Armed Forces Desert Network.
The US defense drawdown began in earnest after the Gulf War, and impacted AFN stations and the organization of AFRTS in Europe. Even though the Europeans are not our primary audience, many of their feelings are summed up in a German newspaper article in the early 1990’s that stated “the U.S. military can leave Europe, but AFN must stay”.
AFN began closing many established affiliates in Germany including Munich in 1992, Bremerhaven in 1993 and AFN Berlin and AFN Soesterberg, Netherlands in 1994. AFN Stuttgart relocated in 1993 to serve the Heidelberg military community.
In 1995, AFN Nuremberg closed and the staff and equipment moved to Vilseck, Germany and signed on as AFN Bavaria. In late 1998, U.S. forces vacated the beautiful southern German city of Augsburg and a large transmitter serving a number of active-duty and retired Americans in the region fell silent.
Let’s flashback to a very key statement made early in AFN’s life that epitomizes everything we strive to do today. It’s July 4, 1943 and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower is addressing the American Forces Network staff in London: “A soldier who is well-informed and knows this country’s national goals has good reason for being motivated and that gives him a fighting edge. It makes him a better soldier.”
The United States Army and the Army Broadcasting Service are still dedicated to this idea..
ABS uses top-rated stateside radio and television programming provided by AFRTS. These entertainment programs are interwoven with locally produced information programs prepared by military and civilian personnel to keep America’s military and family members informed about international, national and local issues and events.
At Christmas 1995, AFN Europe was called upon once again to bring radio and television service to troops deploying into the Balkans. You may remember the video of the first U.S. transport aircraft landing a Tuzla Air Base and the AFN/AFRTS vehicle rolling off as one of the first in this new location. We’re still on the air from Tuzla, Bosnia and Taszar, Hungary to inform and entertain U.S. forces in the region maintaining peace in that volatile region of Europe.
In late-April 1999, AFN again received a call for deployment; this time to Albania. May 29th, technicians turned on the power to the 93.1 FM signal radiating across the runway at Tirana airport. The network also has satellite decoders and 2 large screen televisions setup in common areas on the ground for television service to members of Task Force Hawk.
AFN is the largest network in the ABS inventory and regularly participates in contingency operations wherever called upon in the U.S. European Command. We have become so ingrained in the minds of military leaders that they know AFN will be with them on the next peacekeeping mission.
AFN pulled out several new transmitters and sent them to the Gulf to support DS/DS. We sent, as you mention, broadcasters and engineers as well. Meanwhile, we provided our own security force in Europe, and kept the station running 24-7. Our support continued with spare parts and personnel throughout the operation.
AFN Balkans wasn’t the first station in the former Yugoslavia during the 90’s. It was, in fact, the third if we count unmanned stations and the second if we count manned stations. Zagreb got a station in Nov ’92, and it lasted until ’95. Macedonia had an unmanned AFN site with two FM’s and cable TV. AFN-Balkans (Tuzla) is no longer manned. An AFN signal was on-air in Tuzla when the first general landed (something I’m proud of). That Hummer that rolled off the plane on CNN WAS the first tactical vehicle in theater (something else I’m proud of).
When the folks went to Albania in ’99, the followed the footsteps of two engineers from Frankfurt who put service in there in ’94 to support the USAF folks working UAV’s.
You missed AFN Mogadishu too. On-air and manned from Jul ’93 to Feb ’94. It was a joint effort of the Navy FSD-Norfolk and AFN, with some AF support. It was an AFN affiliate, though we took a direct feed from AFRTS.
There were several other operations during this period, mostly involving the military engineers from AFN installing satellite fed service. We even sent some folks to Haiti by request.
This was probably the most active participation in contingency missions by AFN since WWII. It was my pleasure to be there, and be heavily involved in most of it.
HQ, AFN 88-91, 92-96
I was reminiscing recently with friends about the American Forces Network radio show “Midnight in Munich” hosted by Sgt. (I think) Ralph “Muffit” Moffat. The “Muffit” nickname was earned by his tendency to get listeners’ requests mixed up, but for all that Moffat was a great DJ and introduced me to the likes of Stan Kenton, for which I will ever be grateful. This was way back in 1947, 1948 – yes indeed, 56 years ago. I have often wondered if Moffat took a job in civilian radio when he left the service – or did he stay on? I realise that this is a difficult item to trace back, but if you have any information I’d be very much obliged to hear/read it. Thanks Peter Roberts
Most of the transmitters pulled out of service in Europe and shipped to Southwest Asia (SWA) during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, along with the engineering staff that installed them, were from Southern European Broadcasting Service (SEB) Headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. SEB and Navy Broadcasting Service (NBS) were instrumental in bringing AFRTS services to military personnel in SWA. Headquarters AFN Europe in Frankfurt, Germany had little to do with the AFRTS presence in SWA, until the very end. Had it not been for the “We can do anything with nothing” attitude of SEB and NBS staff, much of the military command staff and military personnel in SWA would have had no access to CNN news and other information sources. Michael K. Godwin
A matter of interpretation of “late forties” perhaps, but AFN Frankfurt began broadcasting from the von Bruning castle,Hoechst, in MID-40s rather than the late 40s as posted on the site. I first reported for duty at AFN Frankfurt in the Hoechst castle in early 1946 where it had been some time prior to that. Ken Dunnagan, AFN Frankfurt 1946, AFN Berlin 46-47, AFN Franfurt 1951,52,53, AFN Kaiserslauten 1954, AFN Berlin 1955-56, in Military and civilian News,& DJ capacity.