THE AFKN STORY
Everyday throughout Korea, tens of thousands of American servicemen turn on their radios or television sets to enjoy the songs of Aretha Franklin, laugh at the antics on “Laugh-In” or marvel at the sly dexterity with which the Mission Impossible squad operates. In addition to all this, news on the hour and the top sports events wherever and whenever they happen are available with the mere flip of the “on” switch. Of course, we are talking about the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN).
This service is available to United States personnel serving in Korea all the way from the Demilitarized Zone in the north down to Pusan and the southern coastline. In fact, AFKN Radio provides service also to the isolated islands of P-Y-Do and Cheju-Do. There is something for everyone on AFKN. The same type programming offered by commercial networks stateside is available right here in Korea. All of this plus one advantage no commercials.
AFKN is an affliliate of the American Forces Radio and Television Service, Los Angeles (AFRTS-LA), under the staff supervision of the Public Affairs Officer, UNC/USFK/EA. It is a non-profit enterprise and organized just like any other military establishment.
Many of us listen to our radios or watch television daily, just as we did stateside, and never once think about how this service is made available or what is involved. All we know is that it is there and that is all that matters.
The basic missions of AFKN are to provide information and entertainment to American service personnel. It also serves as a Commander’s voice to the troops. Although entertainment is not listed as the primary mission, the bulk of the radio and TV programming is designed to entertain and thus to sustain troop morale.
EARLY HISTORY OF AFKN
During the early days of the “Pusan Perimeter” in the Korean War, the troops in Korea received their radio programming from transmitters located in Japan. As UN Command Forces strengthened, American Forces Radio was built up accordingly. Shortly after the Inchon landing in September of 1950, AFKN came ashore. Because of the swiftly changing front lines in the early part of the war, transmitters and studios were located in mobile vans and moved with ease to insure continuous broadcasting. It was a virtual “network on wheels.” Because of this frequent movement from area to area, the broadcasting stations used nomadic rather than geographical identification: “Vagabond,” “Mercury,” “Kilroy,” “Comet,” and “Gypsy.” They are still known as such today.
Pusan Radio, the only permanent location at that time, called itself Radio “Homesteader.” In addition to those, there is Radio “Tomahawk” serving the 2d Division and Radio “Bayonet” in the 7th Division.
Seven years after AFKN’s radio debut, television became part of the entertainment for the troops with filmed shows making up the programming. In early 1959, studios and facilities for live programs were added. Today, several hours weekly are devoted to locally produced TV programs including news, sports, musicals, documentaries and interview type shows.
LARGEST MILITARY NETWORK IN THE WORLD
Troops in Korean boast that the American Forces Korea Network is the world’s largest military Radio and Television Network.
The Radio network consists of one “Key” station in Seoul and seven affiliate stations capable of originating their own programs. In addition, there are ten AM rebroadcast stations situated near high troop concentrations throughout the Republic. All outlets are linked by a series of microwave, FM and land lines.
The Television network consists of one originating station in Seoul and six relay transmitters. Moreover, TV improves its signal through the use of several stategically-placed transmitters.
The two networks are the result of several years of effort to consolidate the radio and television systems. The affiliate radio stations are netted by land lines provided by STRATCOM and also use frequency modulated radio transmitters and receivers for back-up to insure continuous broadcasting. Television broadcasting is carried over a microwave network north and south of the Seoul originating station. The improved antenna system at the northern outlet, at Seoul, and at Taejon is making possible a back-up system of off-the-air pick-up and rebroadcast to reduce lost time.
Both AFKN Radio and Television have mobile units with the capability for remote broadcasts. Holiday events, chapel services, military ceremonies, sports and special events are carried by those remote units. The mobility is deployed also to provide entertainment programs to Korea-stationed servicemen.
SERVICE WHEN YOU WANT IT
AFKN Radio provides around the clock service seven days a week on all its outlets. This means that at any time and almost every place in Korea, AFKN Radio is there to entertain and inform you. In the Seoul area only, AFKN provides an FM service of “easy listening” music for 12 hours daily. Television is on the air about 70 hours weekly during prime viewing times.
Material for about half the radio time is supplied by American Forces Radio and Television Service in Los Angeles on high fidelity discs. The remaining hours originate in Korea. The Network headquarters in Seoul broadcasts 24 hours a day, but allows affiliate stations to cut in with some five hours daily of programming designed specifically for the local audiences. About ten hours weekly of TV fare are “live” or on videotape from studios at Network Headquarters in Seoul. The remaining 60 hours are supplied from AFRTS-LA on film and videotape.
THERE ARE SOME PROBLEMS
As stated earlier, the majority of programs are received from AFRTS-LA. AFRTS is dependent upon the goodwill of the Radio and TV industry to provide network shows to overseas personnel. The price to AFRTS is often no more that the actual cost of materials, deleting commercials, and processing of discs and films. A problem faced by all military broadcasting outlets such as AFKN is that sometimes the holders of copyrights and franchises of stateside programs anticipate foreign market outlets and therefore expect to make profits from overseas distribution. For this reason, some programs are not made available to AFRTS until they are at least one year old. Others are restricted from showing in certain foreign areas where there may be some commercial value, and their use in the AFRTS system would be “unfair competition.”
It is true that many of the movies shown on AFKN are old, but there is a reason. It is a matter of money. The only movies available for American Forces Television showing are those that were not designed by the producers for overseas distribution and these with price tags within the AFRTS budget. In simple terms, there is money enough to purchase one old movie or six old, old movies each week. And it is better programming to show six different movies one time each than one movie six times a week.
The AFRTS budget does permit the reproduction and shipment of two priority full-length sports events weekly to AFKN-TV. The programs appear on AFKN about two weeks after the event. So, every weekend you get college or pro-football or baseball or basketball games in season. Other sports films shown weekly range from golf to pro wrestling to auto racing to deep sea fishing. The sports events on AFKN Radio are relayed “live” from the states via the AFRTS Voice Circuit which was put into operation in Korea in January of 1967.
The AFKN News Center has newscasts 22 times daily on radio, five of them being major or comprehensive roundups. Television has three newscasts daily. News is the most popular program on AFKN. News sources obtained via teletype are AP and UPI, the major US wire services, and AFRTS Washington. The News Department at AFKN also utilizes the Voice Circuit to provide actualities of news events as they occur, as well as major speeches, press conferences and special events. In addition, UPI newsfilm, AP portraits and AP wirephotos are purchased to help visualize AFKN newscasts on television. News material is also provided by the various military Information Offices throughout Korea. AFKN does its best to keep you up on the news on time … all the time.
Music is popular to listening audiences worldwide and American troops in Korea are no exception. AFRTS-LA is the source for AFKN’s music library, and weekly shipments are received which are used on programs throughout the day. These range from Country-Western music shows to the popular easy-listening.
In addition, AFKN Radio operates a “good music” FM station in afternoon and evening hours. The program format provides a well balanced schedule of the best music available in the AFKN library in the Popular, Semi-popular, Classical and Show Tune categories. Except for the regularly scheduled newscasts, music programming on FM is uninterrupted. AFKN-FM operates on 102.7 megacycles. From 0100 to 1300 hours daily, Vagabond FM duplicates the AM schedule.
Many well known personalities have appeared before the AFKN camera and microphones through the nearly twenty years of its existence. This list includes movie, television and recording stars, Congressmen and Governors, religious leaders, sportes figures and even the President and Vice President of the United States.
The next time you sit down in front of that TV set or turn on your radio, remember that it is another service provided you by hard working people… people like yourself… and that AFKN is continuously expanding its services to provide the best in programming to the men of the world’s best force… the American Forces in Korea.
Source: Photography by Lynn Anderson http://www.imjinscout.com/AFKN_Newsletter.html