American Forces Network

From Academic Kids

American Forces Network, or AFN - the acronym that it's most commonly known as, is the brand name used by the United States Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) for its networks worldwide.


History of American Forces Network

The American Forces Network can trace its origins back to 1942, when the US War Department established Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS). A television service was first introduced in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, called the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN). The television service spread to Korea and Japan later in the decade. All of the Armed Forces broadcasting affiliates worldwide merged under the AFN banner on January 1, 1998.

World War II

The U.S. Army began broadcasting from London during World War II, using equipment and studio facilities borrowed from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).

The 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 news and sports broadcast. That day Corporal Syl Binkin became the first U.S. Military broadcaster heard over the air. The signal was sent from London via telephone lines to five regional transmitters to reach US troops in the United Kingdom as they made preparations for the inevitable invasion of Nazi occupied Europe.

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 AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) 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 a French government that greatly appreciated the Allied liberation of the nation.

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.

In May 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, AFN Frankfurt went on the air from a mobile van parked behind the famed I.G. Farben building, General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters building in Frankfurt. This building was later known to U.S. troops as the General Abrams building, home to the U.S. Army's V Corps until late 1994.

Post war contraction and expansion

On December 31, 1945, AFN London signed off the air, and during 1948 AFN closed all its stations in France. This started the cycle of AFN stations where they would be built up during wartime than torn down or moved after the war was over.

On March 17, 1948 AFN Stuttgart signed on the air, and in 1949 AFN Bremen moved north to the port and became AFN Bremerhaven.

There was much expansion at the network in the 1950ís. AFN Nuremberg began broadcasting from the Grand Hotel in downtown Nuremberg in 1950. Three years later, AFN Kaiserslautern began local programming from a mobile van, and on October 21, 1954 moved into its present facility on the still-gigantic U.S. military complex at the Kaiserslautern-Vogelweh Military Shopping Center.

On May 23, 1958 AFN France returned to existence 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 scattered throughout the region to inform and entertain American troops stationed there. France withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1967 and kindly asked the United States to leave the country, sounding the demise of AFN France. The station was trucked north along with all the U.S. forces heading for a new Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. AFN SHAPE signed on the air in 1967 at Chievres, Belgium. From its conception in 1967 until 1974, AFN SHAPE radio service was actually originated in Frankfurt and was broadcast to the SHAPE audience. On February 5, 1974, AFN SHAPE became a full-blown staffed AFN affiliate and originated its own broadcasts to the local audience in Casteau, near Mons, Belgium.

AFN Television Services

Until the early 1970ís, U.S. military television service was provided in Central Europe by Air Force Television at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In the early 1970's, AFN assumed this responsibility for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS).

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.

FM Radio

Missing image
AFN radio studio - Wiesbaden, Germany 2004)
Before 1989, most AFN Europe FM stations played recorded music for an older audience and the primary information network was on the AM dial. In the late 1980ís and early 1990's, the AFN FM frequencies became the standard bearer for local radio services and acquired the Z-FM moniker. There has been speculation as to the origin of the "Z" within the moniker. Local nationals and visitors to AFN often ask about the meaning behind this letter and answers vary. Some believe that the use of "Z" is a reference to former AFN Commander Zachary Fowler. Other's think that "Z" is a common designator for a genre of contemporary music, vaguely defined, which originated with the introduction of Z-ROCK in late 1980s.

Gulf War

In January 1991, 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 staffed a number of the U.S. radio stations making up the Armed Forces Desert Network.

Ending operations in Western Europe

The US defense drawdown began in earnest after the Gulf War, and impacted AFN stations across 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".

Many of the AFN standard bearers shut their doors in the 1990ís, including Munich in 1992, Bremerhaven in 1993 and AFN Berlin and AFN Soesterberg, Netherlands in 1994. AFN Stuttgart relocated in 1993 to serve the troops in the Heidelberg and Mannheim military communities.

In 1995, the last U.S. forces in Nuremberg relocated and AFN Nuremberg closed and the staff and equipment headed to the hills of 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 a large number of retired Americans in southern Germany fell silent.

U.S. military radio and television service in Europe is responsibility of the Army Broadcasting Service (ABS). AFN uses many of the top-rated stateside radio and television programming provided at a relatively small cost to us by AFRTS. Locally produced radio and television messages are placed in these programs where normally in the USA you would see commercials. The AFN network and local stations work with military leaders throughout Europe to provide information in these messages to keep the military and civilian personnel in theater informed and updated on significant events around the different military commands.

AFN is 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 April, 1999 AFN was again called upon to bring a "touch of home" to forces deploying for missions in Albania. AFN went on the air May 29th with service at the Tirana airport with satellite decoders and large screen televisions placed in high traffic areas.

The U.S. military invited AFN along again on another adventure in late-May of 1999. AFN technicians advanced into the Yugoslav Republic of Kosovo along with NATO peacekeepers. Z-FM and Power Network radio services are broadcast in the U.S. sector from Camp Bondsteel and Monteith. AFN television service is via satellite in many locations and even over the air in a number of locations in Kosovo.

AFN viewers abroad witnessed live television coverage of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the attacks AFN and it's affiliates kept the community updated via television and live radio programming on a daily basis as events unfolded and fielded hundreds of calls of support from local nationals in their respective countries.

During military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq AFN provided non-stop coverage of the campaigns. AFN radio and television media personnel from Europe deployed with the troops to cover events. Today AFN has a staffed affiliate in Iraq, AFN Baghdad (launched 2003).

Missing image
The AFN headquarters building at Bertramstrasse 6, Frankfurt 1966-2004
In mid-2004, AFN Hessen (formerly AFN Frankfurt, redesignated AFN Hessen in 2002), the affiliate which shared the AFN Headquarters Building with the AFN Europe Command, relocated to Wiesbaden Army Airfield. This move was prompted by a command decision to relocate due to budget and security concerns as well as lack of installation support; the AFN Compound in Frankfurt, Germany was the only U.S. Military installation remaining in the city since major Army posts in Frankfurt closed in the early 1990's. Later that year in November the AFN Europe Command and Network News and Radio Services also relocated. The headquarters building in Frankfurt, Germany had served AFN for nearly four decades (1966-2004). Broadcast operations at the new AFN Headquarters location, the Robert J. Harlan Broadcast Center in Mannheim (named for the late AFN broadcast director), commenced in November 2004. The new building, on Coleman Barracks U.S. Army installation, is equipped with state of the art computer systems for audio-visual production and signal transmission.

AFN Europe Affiliates

  • AFN Bavaria
  • AFN Berlin (closed)
  • AFN Bremerhaven (closed)
  • AFN Frankfurt (transformed AFN Hessen 2002)
  • AFN Heidelberg
  • AFN Hessen
  • AFN Kaiserslautern
  • AFN Nuernburg (transformed AFN Bavaria 1995)
  • AFN Wuerzburg
  • AFN Sigonella
  • AFN Vicenza

Media Services

AFN Television service is encrypted, for copyright and licensing reasons, as it is intended solely for the US forces and their families. AFN Television is available with AFN Satellite Decoders purchased at military operated stores, a licensed/contracted commercial cable provider, or via terrestrial signal (though only one channel is available via antennae - UHF).

American Forces Network Radio, aka Armed Forces Radio, has a primary radio service known as the Interruptible Voice Channel, an audio newswire service featuring assorted ( network news radio bulletins and syndicated updates as well as long-form news/talk programs, is also sent overseas by shortwave radio on various frequencies (


AFN's TV regional and network wide channels include include:

  • AFN Atlantic - general entertainment; for Europe, Middle East; Africa and South Asia, also broadcast solely via antennae near military installations in Europe.
  • AFN Pacific - similar to AFN Atlantic but timeshifted for Asia and the Pacific.
  • AFN Korea - similar to AFN Pacific, but with a few program changes because of more restrictions placed on broadcast affiliates in South Korea
  • AFN News - news coverage from AFN and US domestic networks;
  • AFN Sports - football, baseball, hockey and other sports coverage
  • AFN Spectrum - variety entertainment programming
  • Pentagon Channel - military news and information programs (launched 2002)
  • AFN Movie Channel - popular movies (launched 2004)
  • AFN Family Channel - programs suitable for all ages (launched 2004)


American Forces Radio expanded in the early 2000s; while it was common for many decades to just have one AM radio station serving an area of installations, the new technology available has allowed the U.S. military to get space on the FM bands in their various host countries for niche programming. The most recent addition is AFN Iraq broadcasting news, information, and entertainment programs, including adult contemporary music, broadcast within Iraq

AFN also offers a variety of radio programming over its various frequencies throughout the world. Music programming spans Rock, Oldies, R&B and Country Music. Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 and the American Country Countdown with Bob Kingsley are broadcast weekly over AFN Radio. In addition to music AFN broadcasts syndicated talk radio programs such as Car Talk, Rush Limbaugh, The Motley Fool Radio Show, A Prairie Home Companion, Dr. Laura, Sports Overnight America, and other programs from National Public Radio and other sources.

Neither AFN Radio nor AFN Television carries advertising. Instead, public service announcements air in their place.


This broadcasting service employs military broadcasters. These servicemen and women hold a broadcasting occupational specialty. Military personnel working at AFN receive training at the same place -- the Defense Information School, located at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland. Many broadcasters have also worked for commercial broadcast outlets in the United States. AFN Broadcasters operate state-of-the-art audio and visual editing equipment and receive training from professionals in the broadcast industry.

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